Pace Gallery is suing over a fake Georges Seurat drawing purchased for $2 million from a man purporting to be the descendant of the famed Pointillist, according to a lawsuit filed this week. The news was first reported by the Daily Beast.
The lawsuit was filed in the New York Supreme Court on May 10. With “willful malice and abuse and intent to damage,” the lawsuit alleges, Jean-Pierre Seurat and his associates provided Pace with “false, misleading, and irreverent” documents to attest to the drawing’s authenticity.
The work was purchased in November 2021; after the sale, the gallery learned that the seller claimed to be the artist’s grandson — Seurat, however, had no grandchildren. (On the seller’s website, he claimed to be Seurat’s “distant cousin”).
The work in question is the 1882 conté crayon drawing Le Suiveur (The Follower), which depicts a man and woman ambling on a French boulevard; the couple has stopped outside of a storefront, which is brilliantly illuminated from within.
The lawsuit claims Jean-Pierre Seurat worked with fine art consultant and dealer Constance H. Schwartz, former director and chief curator of the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor. Schwartz, who is named as a defendant, allegedly contacted the gallery last year with an offer to acquire the drawing from an anonymous art collector based in France who the gallery “would be proud to know.” She reportedly said that if the gallery “dealt correctly,” it could gain access to other “masterpieces” in the seller’s collection.
ARTnews reached out to Seurat and Schwartz for comment but has yet to recieve a response. Pace Gallery declined to comment on the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Schwartz allegedly sent a PDF to Pace in August 2021 containing fake images of Le Suiveur in a frame, as well as documents appearing to prove its authenticity. Among the documents, the lawsuit says, were provenance papers claiming that the drawing originated from the collection of Félix Fénéon, the famed French critic and collector who championed young avant-garde artists such as Seurat, Henri Matisse, and Paul Signac. An exhibition dedicated to Fénéon’s life and art was staged by the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2020.
Among the documents submitted to the gallery was a typed message attributed to “Ms. Smeets Sand Dudevant,” Fénéon’s granddaughter. It reads: “I certify that I own by inheritance from my father Pierre La Brely, expert for French customs, this charcoal drawing by Georges Seurat, 1859-1891 –The Follower— A man in a night-time landscape, in a top hat, is following a young woman in a hat.”
The note continues: “On the back of the frame, my father handwrote two notes in pencil: ‘Seurat. The follower. Original charcoal signed at the bottom on the left — has been affixed — former collection (Félix Fénéon)’ and another expert appraisal note: ‘I certify that this charcoal drawing comes from the collections of Felix Fénéon. It has not been included in any public sale. It has always remained in the family.”
Georges Seurat, who was born in France in 1859, was a pioneer of the post-Impressionist movement. Rejecting the gauzy, spontaneous paintings of his peers, he developed Pointillism, the deliberate dotting of color for an optical effect. Paintings by Seurat have fetched upwards of $34 million at auction, while stellar drawings typically sell between $400,000 and $2 million.
The “defendants’ conduct has contributed to the erosion—with the general public, art merchants, dealers and collectors—of the trust essential to the operation of the secondary market for post- Impressionist art,” the lawsuit said.