Amagansett’s Alec Baldwin is a bit richer and fully vindicated—while Springs artist Ross Bleckner has to be a little embarrassed—this week after famed NYC art dealer Mary Boone handed over a six-figure settlement in a civil fraud suit the actor mounted against her last year.
Baldwin describes the case in “Wet Paint“—an article from the November 20 issue of The New Yorker—alleging that Boone agreed to sell him Bleckner’s 1996 painting “Sea and Mirror” for $190,000, but she was unable to procure the piece from the collector who owns it, so she secretly commissioned the artist to paint a copy instead. As The New Yorker explains, Baldwin received the painting in 2010 signed and dated with the proper “7449” inventory number designated to Bleckner’s original 1996 “Sea and Mirror.”
But something about it felt off. The colors of the flowers didn’t look right. The brushwork seemed inconsistent with the painting Baldwin fell in love with. “They were bright, like M&M’s,” Baldwin told The New Yorker, adding, “the brushstrokes were less feathery, and the paint smelled, well, fresh.”
When he asked Boone why it appeared to be so different from what he’d seen before, Baldwin says she told him the painting had been cleaned. “…she said the owner was a heavy smoker, so Ross had taken the painting off the stretcher and cleaned and repaired it for me, as a courtesy, before delivering it,” Baldwin told The New Yorker. He accepted the explanation because he wasn’t ready to believe Boone, and especially Bleckner, would lie to him, but five years later some of Baldwin’s artist friends advised him that the story sounded “fishy.” They told him no respectable dealer would have a painting cleaned without first getting the owner’s permission.
An expert from Sotheby’s confirmed Baldwin’s suspicions—the painting was not Bleckner’s original “Sea and Mirror” from 1996. Seeking further proof, Baldwin confronted Bleckner, who remorsefully admitted it was indeed a copy.
Finally, after numerous attempts to reach her, Baldwin told The New Yorker that Boone also admitted the painting was a fake. “Mary cried on the phone,” he says in the article. “She said, ‘You caught me. I wanted to make you happy.’ ” Boone offered to give Baldwin a refund plus interest, but he wasn’t going to let her get away so easily.
The statute of limitations had expired, freeing Boone of possible criminal charges, so Baldwin filed the civil suit, asking for “punitive” and “exemplary damages,” The New Yorker reports, noting the case was made to “deter defendants from continuing its fraudulent practices.”
Through her lawyers, Boone tried to say Baldwin had known he was buying a copy of “Sea and Mirror,” and they were set to go to trial next year. Everything changed, however, after Baldwin’s legal team produced some incriminating emails about aging the painting and making sure the paint was dry. Because, Baldwin’s lawyers surmise, Boone feared the emails would come to light during the trial, she agreed to a six-figure settlement that far exceeded the price he paid for the painting, and what a jury would have awarded, according to The New Yorker. The settlement also includes several paintings from Bleckner, one of which will be created to Baldwin’s specifications. Talk about awkward.
The actor, who still has the fraudulent “Sea and Mirror” stored in his basement in Amagansett, is donating half of the settlement funds to help rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema. He also told The New Yorker that he’d like to one day take the fake painting on a speaking tour about art fraud—sounds like a good show.