The Pontoise public prosecutor’s office decided, Monday, November 13, to refer to criminal court the expert Bill Pallot, from the Aaron gallery, who had admitted the manufacture of fake period furniture sold at the Palace of Versailles between 2008 and 2014. Bill Pallot, 59 years old, was then considered the undisputed French specialist in 18th century royal furniture. He also wrote the world reference work on the subject. At his side, Bruno Desnoues, one of the best craftsmen in France from Faubourg Saint-Antoine and cabinetmaker.
From 2008, the duo produced and sold fake seats, presented as extremely rare period furniture which would have adorned the living room of Madame du Barry, the favorite of Louis XV, and the cabinet of Queen Marie-Antoinette. These fake pieces of furniture were purchased by galleries who then resold them to prestigious clients, like a Qatari prince or the Palace of Versailles.
For years, despite a few warnings, the subterfuge generally passed “like a letter in the mail”, recognizes Bill Pallot before the investigating judge, reports AFP. Their downfall came in 2014, when a report from Tracfin, an intelligence service, led to the opening of an investigation into a “organized system of manufacturing and concealment of fake 18th century furniture” by the Pontoise public prosecutor’s office.
The scandal broke out in 2016 when The Arts Journal reveals that Bill Pallot, placed in police custody by agents of the Central Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC), admitted to having sold forgeries made by Bruno Desnoues.
In the process, the Minister of Culture announces the opening “without delay of an administrative inspection” at the Palace of Versailles, relating to the acquisition of furniture “between 2008 and 2012, worth 2.7 million euros”. Indeed, out of five presumed fake lots, four were purchased by Versailles: two Foliot folding chairs from the Didier Aaron gallery in 2012, a Jacob chair acquired in 2011 at Sotheby’s, a shepherdess called Madame Elisabeth purchased in 2011 at the auction house Thierry de Maigret and two chairs by Louis Delanois purchased from the Kraemer gallery in 2008. The fifth lot, two chairs allegedly ordered by Marie-Antoinette for the Belvédère du Petit Trianon, had been refused by Versailles. But the State still classified them as a national treasure in 2013, while they were sold for two million euros to a London collector by the Kraemer gallery. The Kraemer gallery finally reimbursed the buyer in 2015.
In a report, submitted the following year and placed in the investigation, the administration denounced “dysfunctions” and one “lack of vigilance” from the public establishment and invited it to “revise as soon as possible and in depth” its procedures.
After seven years of proceedings, the investigating judge dismissed the case for a renowned art expert who was the link between Bill Pallot and the galleries, as well as the gilder from the Bruno Desnoues workshop, Joël Loinard. He felt that they had been misled by the expert’s notoriety.
On the other hand, the judge referred to court the Kraemer antique gallery and one of the brothers who runs it, Laurent Kramer, who had already been indicted at the same time as Bill Pallot before being released on bail. The judge dropped the initial charge of organized gang fraud and recognized that the Kraemers “were not in collusion” with the counterfeiters, but he reproaches them for “not having carried out sufficiently thorough checks” on the incriminated furniture and pursues them for “negligent deception”.
“The Kramer gallery was deceived, and with it the greatest French experts in 18th century furniture”protests to the Arts Journal their lawyers Mauricia Courrégé and Martin Reynaud. “We are impatiently awaiting the hearing to demonstrate that the Kraemers have no other place in this case than that of victims”they continue by denouncing “charges [qui] only melted like snow in the sun” since the first hearing of Laurent Kraemer.