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French court thinks over long-delayed fake Rodin case

French judges are giving a bit of thought to whether casts of Rodin's works are counterfeits this week.
French judges are giving a bit of thought to whether casts of Rodin's works are counterfeits this week. AFP/Joel Saget

The trial of a private company accused of selling counterfeit sculptures of French artist Auguste Rodin has opened in the Paris Court of Appeal. Gruppo Mondiale is accused of using genuine casts to create reproductions of Rodin’s works and selling them as though they were artists’ originals.

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Investigators believe the Italy-based company, led by an American businessman Gary Snell, produced some 1,700 bronze reproductions of 52 of the artist’s works, including The Thinker and The Kiss, and sold them for an estimated 60 million euros.

The Paris-based Musée Rodin museum, which holds the moral rights of the artist, considered the reproductions to be counterfeits and filed a complaint for fraud and forgery in 2001.

In November 2014, a Paris court declared it had no jurisdiction in the case, arguing it had not been established that the sculptures were manufactured, exhibited or sold on French territory.

Prosecutors obtained a new trial on appeal in 2017 but by that time, Gruppo Mondiale had ceased to exist and Snell and other two accused were absent.

The trial was delayed again in 2018 until this week.

During the first trial, Snell acknowledged that 500 pieces had been created.

He argues the works are in the public domain and that the museum, which he says was notified of the “posthumous casts”, was seeking to protect a monopoly on sales of the artist’s works.

Prosecutors accused the company of “false advertising” and sold the works with “a certificate of authenticity susceptible to trick buyers”.

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