Laurent Kraemer, of Kraemer Gallery and Bill Pallot, both experts in 18th century furniture, were detained by art fraud officers from a specialist French police unit, ‘l’office central de lutte contre le trafic de biens culturels’ (l’OCBC) on Tuesday (7 June). They had been under investigation by the OCBC since 2012.
Suspicions were raised after another dealer, 18th century chair specialist Charles Hooreman, sent a letter to the OCBC in 2012. In it, Hooreman alleged that two out of four chairs bought by the Palace from Kraemer for €1.7 million (£1.3 million) in 2009 are in fact copies. Hooreman has also accused Pallot of mediating between antiques dealers and a forger in Paris.
It was thought the chairs were original pieces crafted by master chair maker Louis Delanois in 1769. Delanois built 13 chairs in total for the apartment of Madame du Barry, mistress of King Louis XV. The Palace has purchased 10 out of the original 13 chairs as well as a known 19th century copy.
However, Hooreman began to doubt the authenticity of the Kraemer chairs because of the great number of chairs circulating the art market. He has also noted that the tops of the Kraemer chairs’ legs are wrong and the wood on their underside lacks the discolouration one would expect to find. Their etiquettes are also “modern”.
Kraemer firmly denies any allegation of wrongdoing. “For us this furniture is perfect. What’s more they’ve been classified as national treasures,” he told Le Monde.
Former French culture minister, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who was President of Versailles at the time the chairs were purchased also rejects Hooreman’s claims. “Everyone would have had to be blind or in on it, which I cannot believe,” Aillagon said.
Pallot has denied Hooreman’s allegations and accused him of attempting to besmirch Pallot’s reputation as a dealer.
Commentators suggest that if the allegations are proved correct, they could devastate France’s antique furniture market and mire museum curators and government ministers in scandal.