Italian police have confiscated nearly 500 works of art believed to be Francis Bacon counterfeits. The artworks, along with various other personal effects that were seized, are worth about €3 million (approximately $3.5 million). Five out of seven total suspects investigated have been charged with conspiracy to authenticate and trade forged works of art, along with fraud and money laundering, according to a statement released by Italian authorities on Friday.
The lead suspect apprehended in the operation is an art collector from Bologna. He was previously the subject of a 2018 investigation known as the “Paloma Operation,” in which two fake Picassos and other dubious Bacon works were found.
According to the Italian police’s statement, the seizure of 485 works was “preventive,” to halt the potential fraudulent sales of other forged art works. The works recovered are being examined by experts who will determine their authenticity.
In 2018, Italian police forces carried out the first investigation after uncovering a group of contemporary artwork, including two drawings with Francis Bacon signatures, in the possession of one of the five unnamed suspects.
Italian police also claimed there was a scheme to authenticate the forged drawings in the art market “through prestigious national and international exhibitions, catalogs, websites, foundations and companies under foreign law, so as to increase their ‘quotation’ and then resell them, as a result.”
Tax officials led a subsequent investigation, which found that the same suspect investigated in 2018 carried out financial transactions between foreign countries that were “incompatible with his legal sources of income,” according to the police statement. That statement said that a suspect in the case alleges that the works were gifted directly by the artist.
Forgeries of Francis Bacon works have previously caused a stir in the market. In 2016, a London gallery exhibited a selection of works on paper from on loan from the Bologna-based collector Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino that have since been disputed by experts. Though Ravarino, an ex-partner of Bacon, has claimed that the works were gifted to him directly from the artist, historians and the author of Bacon’s catalogue raisonné, Martin Harrison, have disputed the collection’s authenticity.
A representative for the Francis Bacon Estate did not immediately respond to ARTnews for comment.