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Fake Pro Hart prompts warning

Thursday, 28th April, 2011

FORGERY: The painting allegedly being sold as a Pro Hart. FORGERY: The painting allegedly being sold as a Pro Hart.

A Victorian artist who discovered a painting he sold for $300 was later being passed off as a Pro Hart original for $5500 has warned buyers against buying online.

John Cobby from Vermont said he couldn't believe it when he saw his painting renamed, framed and listed as the local celebrated artist's work on the auction site Grays Online.

Mr Cobby said it was pure coincidence that he stumbled across the painting.

"I was on the laptop ... (and with) my paintings on sale and out there, I have a look (online) now and again," he told the BDT.

"I'm not a great computer user ... when I was on there I noticed a painting advertisement for (Grays Online) and just by chance I looked at it."

Mr Cobby said the renamed painting, Farmer and his Dog, was definitely his. He sold the painting, originally titled Man Walking Dog, for $300, through his art dealer at Leonard Joel Auctions about 10 weeks ago.

The online description claimed it was painted by Hart in 1992 and that it is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. It was listed for sale at $5500.

Mr Cobby said if he hadn't been online he would have never known about it.

"When I first saw it ... it was in a long line of paintings ... I couldn't make them out and then a painting rang a bell with me," he said.

From what he could tell, his signature was taken off the painting and replaced with a copy of Pro Hart's. Mr Cobby said there was a dark part of the painting that was hard to pick up online.

The painting has since been taken off the site.

"I'd say the police are involved now and it is not for sale now ... (Grays Online) haven't got in contact with me," Mr Cobby said.

"(The only thing) I'm concerned about is that someone (could have been) paying a good deal of money for something it was not meant to be."

He advised people who are prepared to pay one thousand dollars or more for a painting to go to a reputable dealer.

"I think paying in the thousands ... (you are) better of not paying online and going through a reputable dealer, (it might cost more) but (you will have) peace of mind.

"It's like buying a stolen car."

Pro Hart's son, John, agreed with Mr Cobby and said the incident highlighted the need to check where paintings originate.

Mr Hart said if anyone was buying a Pro Hart original and they were unsure of its authenticity, they could contact him.

"I can authenticate stuff fairly quickly," Mr Hart said.

He said buyers should be wary of sites like Grays Online or Ebay.

"I police Ebay fairly regularly. We don't have that much trouble (with forgery) ... we had some trouble in the first year after dad died ... but most people know," Mr Hart said.

"Nine times out of ten everything is fine."

He said he could identify his father's paintings simply by looking at them.

"It's like hand writing."

He said people couldn't copy the way Pro Hart painted but they couldn't copy his gestures or the way he painted.

"Usually I can tell (if it belongs to Pro) ... all I need is the front and back to work it out," Mr Hart said.

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