Dad and son sue art gallery for fraud, negligence

Among the paintings that Mr Denis Latimer bought were what were described to him as Balinese Women At Sanur Cottage by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur (above); Morning Prayer, 1973 by Affandi; and Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong.
Among the paintings that Mr Denis Latimer bought were what were described to him as Balinese Women At Sanur Cottage by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur (above); Morning Prayer, 1973 by Affandi; and Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong.PHOTO: COURT DOCUMENTS

They bought paintings said to be by famous Indonesian artists, but which have been assessed to be imitations

Believing they were investing in valuable art pieces, a Malaysian in the construction business and his father bought 13 paintings, supposedly the works of renowned Indonesian artists, for more than $2.8 million.

But they later discovered that the paintings were imitations.

Seven paintings, bought from Singapore-based Dahlia Gallery, were assessed by an expert to be fakes worth at most US$9,131 (S$12,300).

Mr Denis Latimer, 52, and his father Paul, 74, had paid more than $700,000 for them.

The Latimers have sued the gallery, its owners Koh Hwee Khoon and Pang Sau Mei, as well as Mr Quah Beng Hoe, a Malaysian collector who sold them the other six paintings for $2.1 million.

Their case against the gallery and its owners for fraud, negligence and breach of contract opened in the High Court yesterday. The case against Mr Quah is pending.

While the senior Latimer is named as a plaintiff as he paid for some paintings, it was his son who made the decision to buy the art pieces.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mr Avinash Pradhan, said in his opening statement that the younger Latimer was "duped" into buying the paintings by the fraudulent representations of Mr Koh. Ms Pang is accused of negligence.


Another of the paintings: Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong. 

In October 2011, Mr Latimer chanced upon Dahlia's exhibition booth at the Art Expo Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Two paintings caught the eye of his companion, Mr C. J. Thomas, who had been helping him build an art collection.

Mr Koh described them as Balinese Women At Sanur Cottage by Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur and Prayer, 1971 by S. Sudjojono.

The two men, who have no experience in Indonesian art, said they believed Mr Koh when he said the works were authentic and valuable.

Mr Latimer bought the two paintings for US$100,000.

After the Art Expo, Ms Pang sent Mr Latimer and Mr Thomas photos of three more paintings.

When Mr Thomas viewed the pieces at the gallery, Mr Koh showed him a stamp at the back of the frame of a painting described as Morning Prayer, 1973 by Affandi, saying it was from a museum specialising in the artist's works. Mr Latimer bought the three paintings for $300,000 in December 2011.


Morning Prayer, 1973, by Affandi was another of the paintings. 

In March 2012, he was assured that the gallery could remarket the paintings at an estimated profit of at least $100,000, though he was advised to keep the Affandi as its value "will definitely increase".

He bought two more paintings, including Rojak Seller by Lee Man Fong, for $270,000 that month.

Mr Latimer said after the third deal, Mr Koh revealed that the paintings were from Mr Quah's collection. Subsequently, Mr Latimer dealt with Mr Quah in buying the rest of the paintings. However, Mr Koh has denied ever telling Mr Latimer that Mr Quah was the collector.

He contended that he had told Mr Latimer he did not have any documents relating to the paintings and left it to Mr Latimer to decide whether he wanted to buy them. Mr Latimer disputes this.

The trial continues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Dad and son sue art gallery for fraud, negligence'. Print Edition | Subscribe