Wendy Frew June 26, 2012
Seeing is not believing … the allegedly fake Brett Whiteley painting at the centre of a court battle involving Melbourne art dealer Anita Archer.
AN ART dealer at the centre of a court case about an alleged fake Brett Whiteley painting faced bankruptcy, was suffering from depression, and ''had her head in the sand'' about her own defence, the NSW Supreme court heard yesterday.
Melbourne dealer Anita Archer is being sued by Sydney banker Andrew Pridham for selling him a painting referred to as Lavender Bay, signed and dated ''Brett Whiteley 1988'', for $2.5 million, and for allegedly failing to exercise all the ''reasonable care, diligence and skill'' required to verify the painting's provenance.
If she loses the case, ''it's curtains'' for her, her barrister, Simon Pitt, told the court yesterday.
The disputed artwork is part of a much wider story that includes three alleged fake Whiteley paintings. Some of the biggest names in the Australian art world, including two auction houses, several art dealers and a number of wealthy businessmen, have become embroiled in disputes about the paintings.
Mr Pitt said Ms Archer, who runs a fine art advisory business, had been dealt a very serious blow to her reputation ''and, rightly or wrongly, she has found it very difficult to cope''.
He said she did not receive the full $2.5 million purchase price for the painting but only $300,000 as commission and yet was being sued for the full amount.
''That would simply spell financial ruin for Ms Archer.''
In a statement to the court, Ms Archer denied having an advisory contract with Pridham ''or alternatively, [denies] that the terms of the advisory contract are those terms alleged by the plaintiff''.
Mr Pitt told the court yesterday that Ms Archer relied on statements made by another Melbourne dealer, Peter Gant, from whom she allegedly bought the painting for $2.2 million, and Village Roadshow director Robert Le Tet, about the painting's provenance.
Counsel for Mr Pridham, Geoffrey Watson, SC, opposed the defence's application for an adjournment, saying, among other things, there was no point delaying the case because Ms Archer could not win.
An expert witness will be called to prove the painting is a forgery. Mr Pridham would destroy the painting after the case was over to ''stop it leaking back into the Australian art market'', Mr Watson said.
Justice Garling said Mr Pridham's case in its present form was ''strong'' but he was not persuaded there was no room for Ms Archer's case.
The matter was adjourned until August 10.