I can’t believe I am just writing about this wonderful ethics saga from 2005 now, after it had been sitting in my files for all this time. The story has everything: fine art, cowboys, nasty tycoons, fraud, irony, lawsuits, unethical lawyers and condign justice.
In 1972, Steve Morton, heir to the Morton Salt fortune and a noted California art collector, bought the 21-by-27-inch watercolor above, “”Lassoing a Longhorn,” from the Kennedy Galleries in New York for $38,000. The Kennedy Galleries had purchased it from the Amon Carter Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, which had acquired it from its founder, Amon Carter, a collector of western art. The painting was signed by Charles Russell, along with Frederic Remington recognized as the master of Wild West fine art. Morton decided to sell the painting in 2001, as the value of Russell painting had ballooned.He arranged to have the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction in Reno, Nevada handle the sale, and as was their practice, the auction house had the painting appraised.
Before agreeing to sell the painting, the auction house contacted Western art expert Steve Seltzer to examine the work, and he announced that it wasn’t a genuine Russell at all. He concluded that it was forgery by a a lesser-known western artist who forged Russell’s signature on the painting. If anyone would know, Seltzer would: the forger was his own grandfather, O.C. Seltzer. Continue reading