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When art historian Nicholas Turner left the British Museum in 1994 for a new job in California at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the road to Malibu seemed paved with promises of money for buying works by old masters and plenty of time for research. But almost as soon as the Getty’s new curator of drawings set to work, that comfortable vision began to fade. And as the months rolled on, Turner found himself entangled in events that thrust him from the art world into the world of litigation. The authenticity of some of the museum’s drawings almost immediately aroused his suspicion. But museum administrators, he claims — most recently in a lawsuit filed on June 15 — chose not to act on his fears. Next, his working relationship soured after he refused to buy what he considered a suspect drawing whose purchase had already been negotiated. Thereafter, he sensed reluctance by the Getty to support his scholarly pursuits. And he saw much of his acquisitions budget slashed. Turner was disappointed again when plans for the new 110-acre Getty Center, opened in 1997, provided scant space for the drawings collection that was the main focus of his work. In 1996, he experienced a messy end to a six-month liaison with his secretary. In court papers, he claims that his ex-lover set out to destroy him for ending the affair, while Getty administrators ignored his complaints. This alleged inaction prompted Turner to sue the Getty for sex harassment, and he eventually secured a confidential out-of-court settlement which included terms that he believed would protect his international reputation as a scholar and expert on European drawings. They included, he says, the museum’s promise to publish a new volume of the Getty’s catalog of European drawings that he had been preparing for nearly four years. THE LATEST CHAPTER In the latest episode of this saga of sex and claims of art fakes, Turner has sued the Getty for fraud and conspiracy to renege on his settlement agreement. The museum’s main transgression, he claims, is its refusal to publish the catalog. Turner v. J. Paul Getty Museum, No. SC061951. According to the June 15 complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court, the Getty agreed in the 1998 settlement to publish the drawings catalog. But there’s one reason the Getty might not be so eager to comply with such a promise: Turner asserts in the appendix of that document that six of the Getty’s prized drawings are fake. It is Turner’s expert opinion that the unsigned drawings are the work of a modern forger, not the 15th- and 16th-century masters who are credited by the museum. Since the first public exposure of Turner’s opinions in his 1997 sex harassment lawsuit, Getty administrators have insisted that Turner’s conclusions concerning the drawings are simply misguided. The works were acquired by Turner’s predecessor at the Getty, George Goldner, now curator of drawings and prints at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Turner charges Goldner, a defendant in the new lawsuit, with conspiring with the Getty to thwart publication of his catalog and to undermine his reputation — all to conceal Turner’s opinions on the drawings. Scott P. Cooper, of New York’s Proskauer Rose, an attorney who represents the Getty, says that he cannot comment on the case because he has not seen the complaint. Goldner says that he’s concerned about any publication of the catalog because a catalog is seen as representing the official word of the museum, not just the particular author’s view. “The reason they publish it should be because they believe the substance of it,” he says of the catalog. “People generally don’t publish allegations about forgeries as the result of agreements about sexual harassment.” Since he submitted the completed catalog and resigned, as part of the settlement agreement, Turner has tried in vain to get the museum to publish his work and its embarrassing allegation. Attorneys for the museum have cited the prospect of a defamation case by Goldner (if the work is published) as the reason for the Getty’s refusal to publish the catalog, according to the June 15 lawsuit and its exhibits. Los Angeles attorney Peggy Garrity, who represents Turner, argues that the museum’s explanation proves that the Getty has violated the confidentiality clause of the settlement agreement because it let Goldner in on the publication negotiations. “They never intended to publish that catalog, and they tricked us into believing they would, which got Nicholas Turner to resign from the Getty,” Garrity said in an interview. “The Getty has made it clear to me that they’re hiding behind the threat of a defamation lawsuit by Goldner, and a threatened lawsuit takes precedence over a real settlement, as far as the Getty is concerned.” Goldner denies that he has threatened such a lawsuit, saying that he has not communicated with Getty administrators for more than a year. But he adds that he has made it clear he would view publication of the inflammatory appendix, which contains Turner’s opinions about the alleged forgeries, as unfair treatment, given the fact that he was not involved in Turner’s sex harassment case settlement. “What I have done is insist that whatever is published should be the result of a complete, fair, open, scholarly review because that is the standard of the field,” he says. “I have said I feel [the appendix] is not the result of a fair review, and if it damages me, I have a right to protect myself.” The Getty did submit the document for review by a Cambridge University art expert, who disagreed with some of Turner’s conclusions about fake drawings but insisted that the work should be published as a valid scholarly opinion. DAMAGES SOUGHT Turner’s lawsuit seeks compensation for lost past and future income and for damage to his professional reputation, as well as punitive damages based on the Getty’s net worth. But Turner says that his real aim is to see the publication of his work, which, nearly two years after he submitted it, has been released only in Superior Court. “All I want to do is see the volume published in the form that was agreed to,” he said in a telephone interview. “I am not having four years of my professional life just chucked aside for the sake of the Getty’s vanity.” To the Getty and Goldner, Turner’s claims are mere conjecture, lacking any scientific or historical support. “If there was scientific evidence I would not consider it defamatory,” Goldner says. “But if somebody acted purely on a whim, without any evidence, I would have to look into what their motivation was.” Turner, now a free-lance art historian living in England, stresses the subjective nature of art scholars’ conclusions. Some experts agree with his conclusions about the six drawings, while others disagree, he says. “Very few old masters’ drawings are signed. The whole field depends on expert opinion, and it’s all subjective opinion that is based on the artists’ styles.” In contrast, Goldner compared scholarly opinion to the legal arena: “It is, to a degree, a matter of opinion. You try to make the best case you can, but not everybody’s case is equally good.” The 53-year-old Turner does have considerable expertise in the field. He spent 20 years at the British Museum, where, as “deputy keeper merit” in the Department of Prints and Drawings, he specialized in Italian and French art. He also has scrutinized the artist he believes created the six Getty drawings — Eric Hebborn, an Englishman who became known as a master forger of European drawings. In his 1991 autobiography, “Drawn to Trouble, the Forging of an Artist,” Hebborn detailed his career in emulating the styles of old masters in works that duped art dealers, auctioneers and curators around the world, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the British Museum, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In his autobiography, Hebborn, who died in 1996, describes his targets as “those vulgar, avaricious creatures with good backgrounds, smart accents, fine educations and infinite pretensions, who control the art trade from the top and for whom a work of art is as good or bad as the amount it fetches.” A PROBLEM WITH CLAIMS OF FAKES Turner’s claims are not the first concerning possible fakes at the Getty. In 1993 Federico Zeri, the noted Italian art historian, resigned as a Getty trustee after the museum persisted in buying a Greek kouros he believed was bogus. The Getty subsequently dated the kouros, a statue of a boy, “circa 530 B.C. or modern forgery.” This time, it is drawings that have been called into question by Turner’s claims. According to court papers, the art works at the Getty that Turner is challenging are Studies of the Virgin and Child, attributed to Desiderio Da Settignano; Portrait of a Man, which is supposed to be the work of an “anonymous North Italian” from the 15th century; and Head of a Child in Profile, a Child’s Left Arm, a Winged Angel and Other Studies, attributed to Fra Bartolommeo. Also included: Female Figure with a Tibia, purportedly by Raphael; Standing Female Saint, represented as being from the “circle” of Martin Schongauer; and Reclining Old Man, attributed to Georges Lallemant. In the appendix, Turner details his reasons for believing the drawings are fakes. A key one: Their relatively low price — about $1 million for all six.

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