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Art of deception: Collector awarded $500K after buying fraudulent paintings

  • Art collector Andy Hall is shown. Courtesy

  • Leon Golub’s original painting “White Squad X,” created in 1986, is shown. A millionaire art collector from Vermont was awarded about $500,000 after he was sold forged Golub paintings by a mother and son duo. Courtesy of Hall Art Foundation



Monitor columnist
Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Sometimes, even a man nicknamed God can be fooled.

Such was the case for multi-millionaire Andy Hall, who earned that lofty label for his instincts and vision on Wall Street.

Hall was tricked by a mother-and-son team of master manipulators, but justice was served last week – in Concord, of all places – when a jury ordered Nikolas Gascard and mom Lorettann Gascard to pay Hall about $500,000 for selling him forged paintings.

The verdict was handed down at the United States District Court on Pleasant Street, in a case, a national story, that focused on the work by the late figurative artist, Leon Golub.

“At the time, I did not see any reason to doubt what they were telling me,” said Hall, reached at his part-time residence in Vermont. “(Nikolas) was very convincing and I have to tell you that generally in life I find people tell the truth. Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I should have been more circumspect, but this had never happened to me until this time.”

He’s 68 and came here from London 35 years ago. His English accent still has Big Ben written all over it. His ability to predict oil markets led to great wealth, and now he has that home in Vermont and a gallery five miles away in Reading, Vt., where he uses a converted farmhouse to display his multi-million dollar art collection.

Hall began collecting Golub’s work about 15 years ago, and in fact met the man in New York City before his death in 2004.

In 2011, Hall discovered a mom and her son who shared his love for Golub. They would later prove to be an unlikely team of thieves who hoodwinked Hall out of more than $500,000 through the sale of 24 paintings.

You had the 70-year-old Lorettann Gascard, a former art professor at Franklin Pierce University, and her son Nikolas Gascard, 36, once a dean’s list student at Keene State College.

Lorettann told Hall she was in Golub’s art class in the 1960s and the two had formed a close bond that extended to other members of the Gascard family.

Hall bought it. And he bought the art as well, work he thought Golub had painted. The paintings were found, the Gascards said, in the closet of a relative in Germany who had died.

“Nikolas had a plausible explanation as how these works had come into the ownership of his mother and late father,” Hall told me. “According to Nikolas’s tale, they had become close friends with Leon and (wife) Nancy Spero and had received gifts. They continued to add to their collections, some gifts, some purchases.”

Nikolas and Lorettann, I figured, must have been brilliant con artists. Hall is no dummy, yet he never asked for documentation or receipts. When I expressed surprise, Hall made sure to mention that other experts in the field, both artists and leaders in the auction-house arena, had fallen for this lie as well.

“Prior to me buying the works, he managed to persuade other knowledgeable collectors and three auction houses to take the works on consignment from him,” Hall said. “In hindsight, I was obviously duped and did not do enough due diligence, but so were others. If I was stupid, others were too.”

Dudley Cobb and her husband, Charles, own the Cobbs Auctioneer in Peterborough. She said certain artists, like French expressionist painter Bernard Buffet, had their work forged all the time due to their style. She also explained some basic steps she takes to make sure the paintings she sells for others are the real thing.

She mentioned seeking out someone with affiliation to a catalog raisonne, an art bible documenting the work of specific painters.

“If we get something that is not in the catalog, a panel reviews the painting, and we have it taken to New York City and sometimes even Paris,” Cobb told me. “We’ll try to get it authenticated so it can be put into the catalog so we don’t buy a fake.”

Cobb also said that an unwritten code of ethics translates into a refund if a piece is proven to be a phony after the sale. She said it’s common for someone to ask for help selling a painting without realizing it’s not the real thing.

“It’s mostly a case of mistaken information, or they were misled,” Cobb told me.

Hall had no such thoughts that the Gascards themselves had been fooled and thus were innocent of deliberate deceit. He saw them as crooks. He had said that he believed Lorettann, an artist herself, had painted the forgeries, but he never knew for sure.

“I was extremely angry,” Hall said. “Not only for my monetary loss, but angry about the damage they were doing to the reputation and legacy of Leon Golub.”

He learned about the fraud without initially suspecting a thing, before hosting an exhibit at his Vermont museum in 2015. He approached the foundation in charge of Golub’s work, trying to catalog each painting in preparation for his art show.

Records couldn’t be found for the paintings once owned by the Gascards – bought by Hall from them directly or through an auction house – while paperwork existed for Golub’s work that Hall had purchased from other sources.

Experts later “studied the flesh and determined without a doubt that they were forgeries,” Hall told me.

Next, a woman from Hall’s foundation went to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., seeking evidence from the vast archives there about Golub. She went through countless boxes, looking for documentation, letters, something, anything that would link the mother and her son to the painter.

“She went there hoping to find evidence to contradict what the group foundation was telling us,” Hall said. “After nearly a week, she concluded these are forgeries.”

Hall says he then approached the Gascards and asked for proof. After he got nothing, “it was difficult serving summonses,” Hall told me, “because for several months they disappeared off the face of the Earth.”

The Gascards landed in U.S. District Court on Pleasant Street last month. An expert on Golub’s work was brought in from London and told jurors that the paintings in question did not match the artist’s style.

After deliberating for two hours, jurors awarded Hall $465,000, which he said equaled the amount he’d paid for the work from the Gascards.

Upon reflection, Hall put a positive spin on his experience. He trusted two people and got burned, swindled out of half-a-million dollars, yet the man known as God on Wall Street said this when asked if he’d lost faith in people:

“I’m not sure I would go that far. I’m 68 years old, so maybe I have been lucky at this point in my life, not dealing with too many bad people.”