Six people have been jailed in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia after police broke up a criminal gang that was using the internet to sell crudely forged paintings attributed to artists including Francisco de Goya, José Benlliure y Gil y Nicolás Falcó.
La investigación, carried out by officers from the historical heritage group of the Valencian police, began when doubts arose over the provenance of Falcó’s The Adoration of the Three Wise Men, which had been bought for €18,000 (£15,000) and was being resold for €45,000.
The painting – offered as a 16th-century original – turned out to be a fake, leading police to a ring of forgers who were trying to sell more than 30 paintings online. Officers seized 27 works valued at €1.2m and uncovered a decidedly unsophisticated counterfeiting operation complete with faked certificates of authenticity. Among them was a painting purporting to be An Immaculate Conception by Goya, with an asking price of €900,000.
"[The gang’s] methods were as simple as placing a small piece of paper over a signature to swap it for another one, reusing both sides of a canvas, and imitating cracked paint by burning the canvas with a blowtorch,” the Valencian regional government said in a statement.
Experts were called in from the Valencia Institute of Conservation, Restoration and Investigation, from Valencia’s Museum of Fine Arts, and from the city’s Benlliure Museum.
Eighteen of the 27 works turned out to be fakes, two to be authentic prints, while four were worthless decorative items. Investigators have been unable to determine whether three others were forged.
Gabriela Bravo, the regional justice minister, said the police’s efforts “had succeeded in shutting down a new illegal network that was buying and selling art and offering more than 20 works on the black market”.
Seven members of the gang were tried on fraud charges. Three were handed 10-month jail terms, three were given three-month sentences, and one was acquitted.
En marzo, Valencian police seized three fake paintings attributed to Goya, El Greco and Amedeo Modigliani that were being offered on the black market for €12.5m.
“The resale of forged paintings is a persistent problem in the art market, and one that worries not only the police, but also collectors, art dealers and artists’ descendants,” a police spokesperson said at the time.