A master forger and former head librarian at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts admitted in court yesterday that he had stolen more than 140 famed paintings from the school’s gallery and replaced them with counterfeits of his own making.
Xiao Yuan reportedly pilfered 143 master works, which included water-color and landscape paintings by renowned 20th century artists Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian, for two years up until 2006.
He sold 125 of the paintings at auctions for more than 34 million yuan, which he used to buy apartments and other works of art. Xiao essentially reasoned that everyone else seemed to be doing it, so he did too, according to the Associated Press:
He told the court in his defence that the practice appeared to be rampant and the handling of such paintings was not secure. He said he noticed fakes already hanging in the gallery on his first day on the job. Later, after he replaced some of the remaining masters with his own fakes, he was surprised when he noticed his fake paintings were being substituted with even more fakes.
“I realised someone else had replaced my paintings with their own because I could clearly discern that their works were terribly bad,” Xiao, 57, told Guangzhou People’s Intermediate Court, which posted a video of the two-hour hearing on its website.
Xiao said that he didn’t know who had replaced his fakes, but that students and professors could take out paintings in the same way as they could borrow library books.
Xiao pleaded guilty to a corruption charged in court and will be sentenced later.
It’s unclear if he had planned on selling the other 18 stolen paintings before his scheme was foiled, as they were estimated to be worth more than 70 million yuan.
[Image via artandcointv.com]