ARTS & CULTURE
09/02/2011 03:14 am ET Updated Nov 01, 2011

Werner Jaegers Collection Forgery Trial Begins In Cologne (VIDEO)

The trial has begun on a massive art forgery case in which the suspects are accused of having made about €16 million from sales of meticulously faked paintings in the style of 20th century masters. The works included famed artists such as Max Ernst, Ferdinand Leger and Andre Derain. The trial, which a commentator in the BBC News video below called "the most exciting scandal in the art world after the War," is expected to call over 160 witnesses over its 40-day duration.

The forgery ring itself affected collectors all over the world, including Steve Martin, who bought a forged piece, sold it at a loss, but managed to get rid of it before the forgery revelations rendered it nearly worthless.

According to Artlyst, "A frenzy of buyer interest occurred over the last six years when Cologne galleries and auctions were offering previously unknown works by modern masters. Dealers, museums and art lovers were duped into thinking the masterpieces had been hidden for years by a secretive Cologne collector."

BBC News reports that "the forgeries came to light in 2008 after a buyer purchased what was thought to be a [Heinrich] Campendonk through a Cologne auction house for 2.5 million euro (£2.2m) and had the work scientifically tested."

The tests found that pigments used in the painting had not been invented at supposed time of creation, which led to investigations of the entire so-called Werner Jaegers collection. Four people are named as defendants in the case, including relatives of the late Jaegers and the man who allegedly created the works.

Deutsche Welle quotes Henrik Hanscheid, head of Lempertz, an art dealership that sold some of the fakes; Hanscheid said: "Artistically, they produced incredibly well-made paintings, including a complete provenance that took familial background and the historical art context into account."