One wrong decision can change the course of your whole life. This is probably what the prominent art conservator and restorer Mohamed Aman Siddique feels like after copying Brett Whiteley paintings, as he now faces the Victorian Supreme Court and possible incarceration. Siddique and the art dealer Peter Stanley Gant are now on trial after the charges of procuring financial gain by the acts of deception were pressed against them. The duo forged and sold Brett Whiteley paintings for $3.6 million to unsuspecting wealthy buyers in Sydney, Australia. They passed the artworks as 1988 Brett Whiteley originals, Blue Lavender Bay, sold for $2.6 million to a Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham in 2007, and Orange Lavender Bay, purchased by the Sydney car dealer Steven Nasteski for $1.1 million in 2009. In August 2013, Orange Lavender Bay was returned to Gant and sold to Steven Drake for $122,000.
The Crown alleges that the men have also tried to sell the third fake painting, Through the Window, which was offered for $950,000, but was allegedly used by Gant as a guarantee to postpone a personal debt. Gant has pleaded not guilty to four charges of obtaining financial gain by deception and one of attempting to obtain financial gain by deception with the involvement with the three paintings. Mr. Siddique, the infamous forger, has pleaded not guilty on two counts of obtaining financial advantage by the acts of deception and one charge of attempting to obtain financial gain by deception. The judge has stated that the paintings have been examined by experts who claim that they are, for a fact, fakes. But Mr. Gant disagrees. He says that he had the artworks for many years and that they are original Brett Whiteley paintings, and added that he has no interest in selling fakes.
Mr Siddique, on the other hand, claims that the paintings are originals and denies being a part of a plan Mr. Gant had to sell the artworks. Crown Prosecutor Susan Borg proclaimed that Gant bought a genuine Brett Whiteley painting View from the Sitting Room Window in 2007, and that Siddique used that piece to create fakes by copying the style of the artist. There is even evidence in the form of several photographs taken of the works in progress in the room with the original. However, an interesting event occurred during the trial. Gant’s defense lawyer Trevor Wraight told the jury that it is not illegal to copy another artist’s work, nor it is against the law to write Brett Whiteley’s name on it. But, he also said that the paintings that Gant sold were not forgeries. Mohamad Siddique’s attorney, John Ribbands, stated that his client had no financial benefit from the deal. He claimed that once the painting left Mr. Siddique’s premises he had no further connection to them.
Ms. Borg, the prosecutor said that the two men used their expertise both as conservators and restorers as well as art dealers to produce the fraudulent imitations and scam buyers into the purchase of such works. As the trial continues before Justice Michael Croucher, we are still left to see how it will end for the two men who thought they could cheat the system and gain financial benefit through fraud. As it was proven that the paintings were created 15 years after the death of the artist, the Australian Supreme Court will surely make the right decision in this movie-like case. Brett Whiteley was an Australian avant-garde artist who had won the Archibald Prize twice and was appointed an Officer of the order of Australia. He died in 1992 from a drug overdose.
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All images are for illustrative purposes only.
Featured images: Orange Lavender Bay was sold for 41.1 million. Picture: Nathan Dyer via theaustralian.com.au | Blue Lavender Bay was purchased for $2.5 million by Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham via theaustralian.com.au