In its May issue, Vanity Fair delves into the ongoing saga surrounding the Knoedler gallery, the Upper East Side stalwart which closed last year after 165 years in business, and its former director Ann Freedman. The gallery made headlines when allegations surfaced that it sold fake works attributed to some of the 20th century’s biggest artists, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell.
While we’ve heard a lot about the scandal involving KnoedleR, and the various sales it made of works whose provenance is now disputed, Michael Schnayerson’s piece gives a colorful back story of Ms. Freedman, her rise at Knoedler and then her fall, challenging her due diligence in researching the provenance of her acquisitions for the gallery.
Also intriguing is the article’s exploration of the mysterious figure of Glafira Rosales, the “well-dressed and cultivated” Long Island art dealer who first dazzled Ms. Freedman with a work on paper by Rothko. Ms. Rosales then began bringing a steady stream of works, unrecorded and never-before-seen, by some of the 20th century’s biggest and best-selling artists, all of which were allegedly brought to Ms. Rosales by an anonymous collector who would be referred to as “Mr. X Jr.”
By far the most compelling portion of the article is the investigation into the identity of Mr. X Jr. This part deals with the various contradictory stories put forth by Ms. Rosales and believed by Ms. Freedman. According to Ms. Freedman, as reported by Mr. Schnayerson, Mr. X Jr. was initially a man whose parents were friendly with the Abstract-Expressionist artist Alfonse Ossorio. “Supposedly Ossorio brought the couple to artists’ studios, where they purchased paintings from the artists directly,” writes Mr. Schnayerson.
Ms. Freedman says that she was told by Ms. Rosales that these paintings remained in storage, so none of them appeared in the relevant catalogues raisonnés of the artists. By a seemingly contradictory account later put forth to Ms. Freedman by Ms. Rosario, Mr. X Jr. was the son of a wealthy man who was the lover of a gallerist and man-about-town David Herbert, who was part of the “gay art-world circle,” and a key player. Mr. Herbert, who worked for two prominent galleries, would bring Mr. X Sr. to various studios where Mr. X Sr. bought works “out the back door.” Mr. X Sr. then passed away, leaving his son to wait until Mr. Herbert passed away, before quietly selling off the undocumented works. In one particularly notable passage, Mr. Schnayerson writes the following:
Whatever the links from Herbert to Andrade to Rosales, suggests Carroll Janis, they don’t prove anything about the paintings. Janis, who worked at his father’s gallery in the 1950s and remembers Herbert well, says the story of Herbert’s selling major works on the side is hard to swallow. Sidney Janis kept careful records; so did the artists…. Yet no records exist for any of the David Herbert paintings—not from galleries or artists’ studios. “I mean maybe three weren’t catalogued,” says one dealer. “But 20?”
Curiously, Freedman never sought to learn more about the well-mannered woman who brought her such dazzling, newly discovered pictures.