Chief Art Collectors

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Welcome
To the Chief Art Collectors

A single piece of art can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But what influences this valuation? And who are the private collectors who are willing to spend the money to rise to the top of the art world? We explore the top 10 Chief Art Collectors – and their famous artworks – inside.

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Chief Art Collectors

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Guido Barilla

Born
30 July 1958, Parma, Italy

Net worth
$1.1 billion

Nationality
Italian

Notable for
Chairman and CEO of the Barilla Group, the world’s largest pasta company

Notable artwork owned
Boy with a Pipe by Pablo Picasso (1905)

What did the artwork cost?
$104.2 million (actual) | $135 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Pasta runs in Guido Barilla’s family. In 1877 his great grandfather Pietro opened a bread and pasta shop in Parma. Ever since, the business has been in the Barilla family’s hands, an eight-year stretch between 1971 and 1978 notwithstanding (when it was sold to an American multinational and then bought back).

As current Chairman and CEO, the suave Guido oversees a business that makes a reported 45% of Italy’s pasta and an astonishing 25% of the pasta in America. Guido has the fortune, then, to collect some of the rarest works of art on earth.

Speculation abounds, but Guido is believed to own Boy with a Pipe, created by Pablo Picasso when the Spanish painter was only 24 years of age.

About the artwork

According to PabloPicasso.org, the master painter struggled to get the composition of this artwork right. He experimented with the boy standing and sitting and assuming different poses, and finally liked the seated position we see in the final piece. But Picasso struggled to finish the work and was forced to leave the work untouched for an entire month. He finally settled on the garland of flowers as a finishing touch. The work was created in the Montmare region of Paris, and the boy is believed to be a local resident who used to “hang around” Picasso, watching him work.

Boy with Pipe is more “realistic” than Picasso’s other work. Why?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“The simple answer is that it predates his cubist period, which started from about 1911 onwards.

“Early Picasso works – before this phase of experimentation – were more traditional attempts at describing the world as a photograph might do.

Boy with a Pipe is one of Picasso’s charming works from his early ‘Rose Period’ of 1904-6, so named by commentators because his work in this short period made much use of pinks (‘’rose’’ in French) and was marked by a wistfulness and charm. Rose Period works often feature figures from the world of the circus and theatre and are set in a dreamy, nostalgic landscape.”

(To learn more about cubism, see Sir Leonard Blavatnik’s profile).

Leonard Blavatnik

Born
14 June 1957, Odessa, Ukraine

Net worth
$17 billion

Nationality
British-American

Notable for
Founding the Access Industries conglomerate

Notable artwork
Nude, Green Leaves and Bust by Pablo Picasso (1932)

What did the artwork cost?
$106.5 million (actual) | $119.5 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Sir Leonard, or Len, as he’s sometimes known, is a Soviet-born oil magnate who ranks as one of the wealthiest people in Britain. He was knighted in 2017 for his services to philanthropy and has been a major benefactor to British and American universities, museums and other cultural centres.

Blavatnik’s taste for art is well documented, but secrecy abounds about what he owns. It’s understood he paid millions for a Damien Hirst sculpture of a woolly mammoth encased in gold – Gone But Not Forgotten (2014) – but more significantly, he might be the owner of Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, bought at auction for $106.5 million in 2006.

A picture snuck onto Instagram showing the “home of the owner of Warner Records” featured the Picasso hanging prominently on the wall. And, since Blavatnik owns Warner Records, it’s a good bet he’s the mystery owner.

About the artwork

Picasso was well known to document his many lovers, and Marie-Therese Walter was a muse that he returned to.

In Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, the nude body of Walter is the central feature. She lies in front of a curtain, seemingly entwined with bands of shadow. A bust (i.e. a sculpted head), also based on Walter, presides over the scene.

The picture is languid and luxuriant and marks a departure from Picasso's angular and energetic Cubist works.

What was Picasso attempting to do with Cubism?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“The invention of the camera in the mid-19th century meant that the central role of painting – to describe how things in the world looked – disappeared. Artists began to focus on the things that painting could do which photography couldn’t; painting could offer an alternative view of reality, rather than an accurate documentation of it. For one thing, it could suggest the ways in which our visual awareness of things is distorted by subjective factors.

“Cubism, a label coined by art critics rather than the artists themselves, was a movement pioneered by Picasso. It arose around 1911 and flourished for the next ten years, declining somewhat in the late 1920s. Influenced by Paul Cézanne’s work, it took small planes (flat areas) of colour (though often nearly monochrome) as the ‘unit’ of the painting. With these planes, the Cubist work reassembled three-dimensional bodies onto the flat surface of the canvas. In this way, it rejected the traditional artist’s attempts to create an optical illusion of the visible world. Cubism was a vocabulary for representing a three-dimensional world (with height, width and depth) on a two-dimensional surface (with only height and width).

“Another important feature of a Cubist work was its suggestion of simultaneity. The planes that made up the objects allowed us to see multiple parts of an object at the same time – parts that in real life we would only see bit by bit by moving round the object. Painting had always struggled with the fact that it couldn’t represent the passing of time (as music or literature can). But Cubist representations overcame this by compressing different views into one image. The resultant picture seems to contain the energy of a roving eye.

“Picasso worked with a very austere version of cubism in the early period, then progressively made it more and more colourful and decorative. He continued to use the language of planes into his late career, while also sometimes working in non-Cubist ways.”

Hamad

Born
11 January 1958, Doha, Qatar

Net worth
$1.2 billion (estimated)

Nationality
Qatari

Notable for
Former Prime Minister of Qatar and member of the wealthy Al Thani family

Notable artwork owned
The Women of Algiers (Version “O”) by Pablo Picasso (1955)

What did the artwork cost?
$179.4 (actual) | $185.2 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Hamad Al Thani is a member of the Al Thani family that founded Qatar in 1971. He was prime minister of the country from 2007 until 2013. Besides helping to run the country, Al Thani has personal wealth reported to be in the billions and is understood to be a collector of antiquities and cultural treasures.

Little is known about the contents of Al Thani’s collection, but one gem that is known is Picasso’s Women of Algiers (Version “O”), which Al Thani bought for a cool $179.4 million. The sale price exceeded its pre-sale valuation of $140 million – one of the highest valuations ever recorded at auction.

About the artwork

Picasso created fifteen paintings in the Women of Algiers series and numbered each with a letter (A to O).

O, the final piece in the series, was finished in 1955.

The series serves as a nod to the work of Eugène Delacroix, whose two paintings with the same title – Women of Algiers in their Apartment – were displayed in the mid nineteenth century.

As is characteristic of Picasso, he channelled the earlier work in spirit rather than form, rendering the series in his own distinctive style, with women in harems contorted in impossible shapes.

What is significant about the Women of Algiers series?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“Picasso was working on this series at a time when his fellow artist Henri Matisse had just died. Matisse often painted odalisques also, and it has been suggested that Picasso’s series might be an acknowledgement of his great admiration for Matisse. One, or perhaps two, great influences are therefore being celebrated here by Picasso; he’s acknowledging the importance of great artists of the past (Delacroix) and their influence upon artists of the present."

Liu Yiqian

Born
1963, Shanghai, China

Net worth
$1.38 billion

Nationality
Chinese

Notable for
Chairman of Sunline Group, an investment group

Notable artwork owned
Reclining Nude by Amadeo Modigliani (1917)

What did the artwork cost?
$170.4 million (actual) | $175.9 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Liu Yiqian is one of China’s wealthiest people and an avid collector of art. The investment titan buys both Chinese works and Western works, including Amadeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude (1917).

Yiqian secured Reclining Nude at a hotly contested auction, then coolly parted with the requisite money using his credit card.

Modigliani was a relative unknown in his day. It’s ironic, then, that he should be responsible for one of the most expensive pieces of art ever sold at auction.

About the artwork

Reclining Nude is typical of Modigliani’s style. He favoured reclining women depicted in flattened and simplified planes, in a languid, portrait format.

Modigliani has long been popular with private collectors (perhaps in part because of his subject matter). But, according to art historian Anna Tietze, he has "not had a major reputation among art historians and critics” - until recently.

How do we account for Modigliani's chequered reputation?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“It’s an interesting question. For a start, Modigliani died young, after a notorious young adulthood of alcohol and drugs.

“In addition, during his lifetime, his nudes raised eyebrows. His sole one-man exhibition during his lifetime was censored by the authorities on grounds of indecency.

“His work was not catalogued during his life and this, plus the relatively familiar Modigliani ‘look’, has made his work prey to forgers; a 2017 exhibition in Genoa closed early when all but one of the 21 works on show were declared recent fakes. “A retrospective of his work later that year at the Tate (spanning Nov 2017 to Apr 2018) has helped restore his reputation and was hugely popular with the public.”

Steven A Cohen

Born
11 June 1956, Great Neck, New York, United States

Net worth
$114 billion

Notable for
Founding Point72 Asset Management

Notable artwork owned
Woman III (1953) by Willem de Kooning

What did the artwork cost?
$137.5 million (actual) | $166.9 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Cohen’s love affair with art began in 2000 and today his collection is impressive. Look no further than Roy Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece (1962), Pablo Picasso’s The Dream (1932) and Jasper Johns’ Flag (1954). For each of these he paid north of $100 million.

But the priciest piece in his collection – the one that lands him at number five on this list – is a Willem de Kooning painting which cost him $137.5 million in 2006. Adjusted for 2018, that’s a staggering $166.9 million.

About the artwork

Woman III by Willem de Kooning is the third painting in a series of six created between 1950-3. All of the paintings are variations on the theme of a frontally-viewed female figure who fills the space of a large canvas.

Upon first inspection, III depicts the woman in monstrous form, her body blending in with the frenzied brushstrokes of the background.

In reality, De Kooning was a careful stylist who perfected a look that many would consider “rushed”. He poured hours and hours of his life into each work, and often revisited the pieces to get them just right, chipping away and adding new details to the canvas.

Five of the six Woman paintings now reside in museums – the other, of course, belongs to Cohen.

What stands out about Woman III?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“These painterly studies of women have prompted criticisms of the de Kooning’s misogyny; in III, the female figure seems to be violated by the way in which she is painted. But others have admired de Kooning for his lavish, bold, sensuous painting style.

“Interestingly, this work was once part of the collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran, but after the 1979 Islamic Revolution it had to be put into storage as it transgressed the new strict religious codes regarding images.”

Dmitry Rybolovlev

Born
22 November 1966, Perm, Russia

Net worth
$6.8 billion

Nationality
Russian

Notable for
Owning Monaco Football Club

Notable artwork owned
Number 6 (Violet, Green and Red) by Mark Rothko (1951)

What did the artwork cost?
$186 million (actual) | $192 million (adjusted)

About the collector

A prolific investor and member of the Monte Carlo set, Rybolovlev started his career in the medical field offering alternative treatments to patients. Then he entered the potash market (salts containing potassium), a resource typically used in the making of glass and soap.

Today, Rybolovlev’s interests are more headline-worthy. He’s the owner of Monaco and Cercle Brugge Football Clubs and a prolific collector of art; particularly late nineteenth century and early twentieth century works. Rybolovlev owns at least two rare Paul Gauguins (Otahi and Te Fare Hymenee), Gustav Klimt’s Wasserschlangen II (1907) and a Modigliani dating back to 1917. But his signature piece? In terms of value, it’s Mark Rothko’s No. 6 (1951).

About the artwork

Rothko was a leading member of the Abstract Expressionist group and No. 6 (1951) is a signature Rothko piece. It features abstract expanses of colour whose bands bleed into one another, with a simple title that references the colours used.

Art critic Clement Greenberg helped bring fame to artists like Mark Rothko and advocated for painters to create works completely free of references to things or people.

The goal? A pure focus on colour and shape.

But Rothko was unable to keep his emotional state out of his work. He committed suicide in 1970, and his last works were drained of colour; in stark contrast to the vitality of No. 6.

(You can read more about another member of the Abstract Expressionist group, Willem de Kooning, in our Kenneth Griffin segment).

Why did Rothko title his paintings with a simple number, and reference to the colours used?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“This was not something invented by Rothko; many other earlier abstract artists (Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian) had resorted to similarly impersonal titles, and many of Rothko’s peers in the Abstract Expressionist group (Motherwell, Pollock, de Kooning) did also.

“Such titles invite two kinds of comparison: (1) between a painting and a technical/scientific experiment, and (2) between a painting and a piece of music.

“(1) The invention of the photographic camera in the mid-18th century had removed the usefulness of paintings. An alternative had to be found. Where the title only refers to colours, or some similarly anonymous concept like ‘study’ or ‘composition’, there’s the sense that the work is something like a laboratory experiment rather than a personal, creative act. Adding a number suggests it is part of a series, and this again is reminiscent of repeated experiments rather than a once-off creative statement. Abstract artists, in part, wanted art to be thought of as a series of experiments with paint, colour, shape, flatness – as if these were scientific elements whose properties they were discovering.

“(2) When the camera removed painting’s function of documenting appearances, artists claimed to be liberated by this. Now, they said, they were free to let painting be itself, rather than struggling to represent a three-dimensional, moving world on a still, flat piece of canvas. Formerly, they said, visual art had tried to do what literature does – describing people and objects and their changes through time. Now it could ally itself instead with music, which doesn’t describe. Music, without lyrics, pure melody or sound, is abstract: it can’t be translated into words. It is emotive, but again in ways which can’t be clearly described. Artists like Rothko, and many other abstract artists of the 20th century, wanted painting to ‘aspire to the condition of music’; to be like music rather than the other major art form, literature. Music, it was felt, was not a hand-maid to anything else – it didn’t serve the purpose of telling us about the world. They wanted visual art to be similarly free.

“The numbering of works is relevant again here because, of course, the composers of classical music (or their cataloguers) have always used simple numbering to individuate works.

“One other thing to say about Rothko and music is that colour has long been associated with the world of the emotions, while line (as in the outlining of objects) has been associated with the act of understanding and conceptualising. So when Rothko just presents bands of colour, with no sharp outline, he is trying to make painting as purely emotive as music: it is like the evocative notes of a melody.”

Leon Black

Born
31 July 1951, New York City, United States

Net worth
$6.5 billion

Nationality
American

Notable for
Founding private equity firm Apollo Global Management in 1990

Notable artwork owned
The Scream (pastel version) by Edvard Munch (1895)

What did the artwork cost?
$119.9 million (actual) | $127.8 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Black is a prominent American businessman and investor who specialises in private equity firms and is also a major backer of melanoma research. His wife, Debra, is a melanoma survivor. Together the couple has given a reported $40 million to melanoma research.

In the art world, Black is a notable for owning two of the most prized works in the world.

In 1987 he paid $53.9 million for Vincent van Gogh’s Irises (1889), but that was eclipsed in 2012 when he dropped $119.9 million on The Scream by Edvard Munch.

About the artwork

The Scream comes in four version and is believed to have originated with a crayon drawing on cardboard in 1893.

Crayon drawing on cardboard in 1893
The same year, Munch created a version using tempera (paint)
In 1895, he revisited the picture and created a new, colourful version using pastels, amplifying the blues and reds in the picture. This is the version Leon Black owns.
Finally, in 1910, he painted the image again, this time removing the eyeballs from the figure in the foreground.

Munch’s The Scream is believed to be an autobiographical work depicting Munch’s own internal torment; a lonely figure is left clutching their head while two people in the background keep their distance. The actual figure in the painting doesn’t resemble Munch, or anyone at all in fact, but Munch reflected that it was based on a real experience in his life.

I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Did you know?

Black’s version (the 1895 pastel) stands apart for its vividness, and the fact that it’s the only version where one of the characters in the background is looking over the bridge at the fjord below.

Why did Munch produce more than one version of his work?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“It wasn’t unusual for Munch to produce more than one version of a work. He was a printmaker as well as a painter, meaning he sometimes produced print versions of his paintings. Prints can be produced in multiples and sold much more cheaply than paintings. Old master artists often produced many copies of a popular work because they knew they would sell. These copies were often produced by the artist’s assistants rather than by the big-name artist himself, although the artist might cheerfully sign them as his work.

“With regards to The Scream, both painted versions (1893 and 1910) were stolen, and then, unusually, recovered: the first was stolen in 1994 from the National Gallery of Norway, the thieves leaving a note saying ‘thanks for the poor security’. In 2004, the version in Oslo’s Munch Museum was stolen. It was found a couple of years later.

“The Munch Museum in Oslo owns the 1893 crayon drawing as well, and all three Norway-based works have rarely travelled, probably adding to the value of Black’s acquisition.”

Elaine Wynn

Born
28 April 1942, New York, United States

Net worth
$1.85 billion

Nationality
American

Notable for
Co-founding Mirage and Wynn Resorts

Notable artwork
Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon (1969)

What did the artwork cost?
$142.4 million (actual) | $149.6 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Wynn has been a powerhouse of the casino industry since she and her ex-husband Steve co-founded Mirage Resorts in the mid-1970s. The brand was bought out by MGM Grand in 2000, but, that same year, the duo started Wynn Resorts, of which Elaine is currently the largest shareholder.

Wynn’s career has earned her the nickname the “Queen of Last Vegas”, and she has helped shape Las Vegas into the casino capital of the world.

Her extraordinary wealth has allowed her to channel millions of dollars into philanthropic efforts while at the same time becoming a patron of the arts. She acquired her signature piece in 2013 when she paid north of $100 million to get her hands on a Francis Bacon classic, Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969).

About the artwork

This painting is of Bacon’s best friend and artistic rival Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud.

It depicts Freud painted in a triptych (three panels), fidgeting in different poses. Each canvas is nearly 2 metres tall and 1.5 metres wide. Side by side, the panels create a sense of movement, and are rendered in a lighter range of colours than is typical of Bacon’s other work.

The Freud on canvas doesn’t immediately resemble the Freud in real life. That’s because Bacon never strived to capture a physical likeness. Rather, he strived to bring across a sitter’s “essence”. He relied on intuition and spontaneity, in stark contrast to Freud, who could spend months or even years on one portrait.

The two men fell out a few years after Three Studies was finished, though no one knows precisely when – or why. Some have suggested that it started when Freud bought an old Bacon painting and then refused to let it be used for exhibitions.

Whatever the case, both men provided one another with a great deal of artistic impetus (when they were on speaking terms, at least). Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), therefore, is a famous remnant of a volatile, passionate friendship.

Bacon’s portraits famously feature sitters with disfigured faces. What was Bacon attempting to do when he drew someone?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

"Bacon was an Expressionist artist whose portraits in the 1950s established his signature style. They feature anguished, disquieting faces and bodies. Bacon had a troubled life - he was an alcoholic, had an extremely violent relationship with his first male lover, and had a fascination with violence and suffering throughout his life.

"The 18th/19th century Spanish artist Goya was also an influence; Goya had worked with similarly dark themes. The recent experience of world war might have had something to do with it as well. Then there was the fashionable interest in Freudian psychology, which was popularly understood to encourage a plumbing of the depths of one's shadow self.

"In short, the disfigured face is a face disfigured by the artist's negative emotion."

Ryoei Saito

Born
17 April 1916, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan (died 1996)

Net worth
Unknown

Notable for
Presiding over one of the world’s largest paper factories

Notable artwork
The Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890) by Vincent van Gogh

What did the artwork cost?
$82.5 million (actual) | $154.5 million (adjusted)

About the collector

Little is known about Saito’s professional life – or his personal one for that matter – but the Japanese businessman did cause a stir when, in 1990, he snapped up van Gogh’s The Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890) for $82.5 million and then spent $78.1 million on Dance at Le moulin de la Galette by Renoir (1876).

These were obscene sums of money by ‘90s standards and Saito didn’t want to part with his treasures – even in death. He reportedly told friends that he wanted the works cremated with his body when he died.

While the Renoir is now on display in Paris, the van Gogh has never been found, prompting speculation the late Saito might well have gotten his wish.

About the artwork

Painted in the final year of his life, The Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890) is one of van Gogh’s best-known works, and depicts his caretaker and homeopathic doctor – the titular Gachet – resting with one arm on a table.

Of the painting van Gogh said: “I’ve done the portrait of M. Gachet with a melancholy expression, which might well seem like a grimace to those who see it... Sad but gentle, yet clear and intelligent, that is how many portraits ought to be done... There are modern heads that may be looked at for a long time, and that may perhaps be looked back on with longing a hundred years later.”

There are actually two versions of the painting. The version owned by Saito (which van Gogh is believed to have created first) is more typical of van Gogh’s usual portraiture style and features the swirling brush strokes he so often employed. A second, matte version was created by the master painter in the same year and currently hangs in the Musée d'Orsay. What happened to the first version, however, remains a mystery.

Why was van Gogh an important artist?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“Van Gogh has enormous mythical status, not only because of his work but also because of popular awareness of his difficult and ultimately tragic life.

“He worked during the post-impressionist period (approximately 1886 until 1905), when artists worked with bold, flat areas of colour and rich patterns. Post-impressionist works had qualities that seemed to make the painting less a reflection of the world and more a thing in its own right; an abstract image.

“They served as a progenitor of 20th century modern art, which took the tendency towards abstraction even further. Today, van Gogh and his contemporaries have value for this (historical) reason, but also, probably, because these works are very visually rich and striking.

“Again, van Gogh’s allure is heightened by our fascination with the artist’s life. And stories like the case of the missing Portrait of Dr Gachet only heighten it further.”

Kenneth Griffin

Born
15 October 1968, Daytona Beach, Florida, United States

Net worth
$9.9 billion

Nationality
American

Notable for
Founding Citadel, a billion-dollar hedge fund company based in Chicago

Notable artwork owned
Interchange by Willem de Kooning (1955)

What did the artwork cost?
$300 million (actual) | $310 million (adjusted)

About the collector

As one of the youngest members of this list, Griffin has wasted no time making his mark. At age 22, he started Citadel, a private hedge fund company that is now one of the largest in America.

Griffin’s success has allowed him to channel his considerable fortune into other pursuits. In art circles, he is famous for spending the most amount of money on a single artwork as a private collector*, a feat eclipsed only by an entire tourism department (Abu Dhabi’s).

The piece in question? Interchange by Willem de Kooning, which Griffin acquired at a private sale in 2015.

*Correct as of 14/11/2018.

About the artwork

Interchange depicts a townscape devoid of the recognisable markers you’d find in a true-to-life image. It is an abstract yet expressive piece, two elements that were key de Kooning traits.

Along with artists like Mark Rothko, de Kooning was a celebrated member of the Abstract Expressionist movement; a group of American-based artists championed by art critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg.

The aim was to make the act of painting as pure as possible. It wasn’t about rendering the world around us, but employing colour, gestural mark-making and grand scale to create a dramatic, emotive image that celebrated the artform itself.

As in many of de Kooning’s works, Interchange has a sense of “energy and violence”, says art historian and author Anna Tietze.

Interchange is one of the world’s most expensive pieces of art. But what actually influences the valuation of an artwork?

Anna Tietze
Art historian and author

“There are several factors that come into play. Scarcity is one – if the artist hadn’t produced many works, or if there aren’t many left on the market, it can raise the price of works that do come up for sale.

“Provenance is another – a work might have had one or more distinguished previous owners, which raises its status. In the case of Interchange, it was sold to the David Geffen Foundation, the philanthropic arm of DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen, before being sold to Griffin.

“Then there’s authenticity – very important. The work has got to be believed (at least by the collector) to be by the named artist, and not by an imitator or a forger.”