Fake Whiteley paintings sold for $3.6 million in Melbourne

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Two Brett Whiteley paintings that sold for more than $3 million were created in a Melbourne store room 15 years after the famous artist’s death, a court has heard.

Blue Lavender Bay, purchased for $2.5 million by Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham, and Orange Lavender Bay, bought for $1.1 million, are the work of art restorer Mohamed Siddique, Crown prosecutors allege.

Siddique and art dealer Peter Gant have pleaded not guilty to charges of obtaining financial advantage by deception and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception in relation to the sale of the paintings.

They are on trial in the Victorian Supreme Court where it is alleged they hatched a plan to use their skills and expertise in the art world to profit from the sale of fraudulent Whiteley paintings.

Whiteley twice won the Archibald prize and was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia before his death in 1992.

Prosecutor Susan Borg said the agreement was made around the time Gant purchased an authentic Whiteley painting, entitled View from Sitting Room Window Lavender Bay, in March 2007.

The two men used the original work as a template that would help them create paintings to pass-off as authentic Whiteley’s, thus inflating their sale price, Ms Borg said.

“They agreed that Mr Siddique would use his knowledge and expertise as a conservator and restorer of art to produce the paintings, and Mr Gant would use his expertise as an art dealer to approach (buyers) and sell paintings as authentic Whiteley paintings,” she said.

Ms Borg said the jury would be shown photographs of the paintings, along with a third painting entitled Through the Window, being created in a secure storage area of Siddique’s Easey Street studio and office space.

Book binder Guy Morel took photographs that capture the paintings at various stages of completion, the court heard.

Evidence will also be given by experts who assessed the authenticity of Blue Lavender Bay and Orange Lavender Bay and found inconsistencies between the paintings and Whiteley’s work, the court heard.

Infrared scans of Blue Lavender Bay reveal grey “underdrawings” that are the same as the underdrawings Mr Morel photographed in the Easey Street storage unit, Ms Borg said.

Gant’s defence barrister Trevor Wraight said the photographs taken by Mr Morel captured the creation of copies of original works – which was not illegal.

“The three paintings that were arranged to be sold by Peter Gant were not fraudulent,” he told the court.

“What happened at Easey Street and the sale of these paintings are completely different stories.”

John Ribbands, for Siddique, said his client created copies of Whiteley paintings, which was different from creating a fake.

“We say he painted a copy of what was an original Brett Whiteley,” he said.

“Once they left his premises he had nothing further to do with them.” The trial continues before Justice Michael Croucher.

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