Bankrupt bullion dealer James Stunt has embroiled the Prince of Wales in an audacious scheme to raise millions of pounds from an art collection that includes at least four fakes.
Intermediaries acting on behalf of Stunt, the former husband of Formula 1 heiress Petra Ecclestone, tried to borrow substantial funds using the collection of 17 paintings at Dumfries House – the Palladian mansion that the Prince saved for the nation – as collateral.
The artworks were sent to the house, which serves as the headquarters of The Prince's Foundation, on a ten-year loan in 2017 and placed on public exhibition alongside authentic treasures.
Audacious: James Stunt embroiled Prince Charles in a scheme to raise millions of pounds from an art collection
But four of the supposed masterpieces, all of which belong to Mr Stunt, were created on the Los Angeles kitchen table of a convicted art forger.
In an attempt to add credibility to his loan negotiations, Stunt even styled the paintings 'The Stunt Collection on Loan at Dumfries House'.
Last month, The Mail on Sunday revealed the collection included a fake 'Monet', 'Dali' and a 'Picasso' with a combined value for insurance of £104 million. Today we reveal a fourth painting, Paris Con Amor, which Stunt claimed was the work of modernist Marc Chagall, is also a replica.
One art financier confirmed to this newspaper he had been approached early in 2018 by middle-men hoping to secure a loan using the artworks as a guarantee. He said: 'The way it was originally put to us was, 'There is a group of paintings on loan at Dumfries House, so they have to be good, don't they? We are in touch with the owner, he would like to finance them, but leave them in the house.'
'If you say an artwork is on loan to a place which is open to the public, it adds an extra layer of credibility. You assume that because paintings are where they are, certain checks have been done. You take it seriously. Dumfries House would give you some confidence. You would assume Charles's people had done their due diligence and the artworks on loan were what they said they were.
Kept secret: Stunt's name was kept out of of the limelight at first and it was unclear who had lent the paintings
'There are curators working for the Royal Family, not least with the Royal Collection. You expect them to have done their homework.'
Stunt's name was initially kept a secret, according to the art financier, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 'I did not originally know who had lent these paintings,' he said. 'I was only told they were on loan and that sounded plausible.
'People have loaned pictures to other [Royal] residences. I knew it could happen as I had been called on to value artworks on loan at Windsor Castle. I know private individuals can and do lend art.
'The initial inquiries did not mention a name [of the owner]. They mentioned Dumfries House but the rest was shrouded in mystery. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before I got to know who it was.'
The financier said when he established that the owner was Stunt, he declined to proceed because of his controversial playboy reputation.
'It was a non-starter. When we do these art loans, we do our due diligence on the artworks but we also do due diligence on the clients. We only ever work with clients who don't raise red flags. We never ran that kind of check on Stunt – it didn't get that far. He was always having spats, suing people and being sued. It was a nightmare.
'He might have had great art but those sorts of clients were not the sorts of clients with whom we were trying to do business.
'The people who approached me, they know I don't mess around. I said we wouldn't be going any further. They said, 'OK, we understand, thanks for looking.' It was amicable. I closed it down so quickly they just stopped talking about it. They went to the next person, I guess.'
Given their stated insurance value, the Monet, Picasso and Dali alone could have been used to raise between £10 million and £15 million, according to the financier. His company's loans were offered for a minimum of a year, with an interest rate of around eight per cent. As long as the interest was paid, the loan could be kept for longer and renewed annually.
Phoney: The paintings was not created by Marc Chagall but was an art fake created on a kitchen table
Fake Dali: Tony Tero said he painted the 'Dying Christ' on his kitchen table in California
Another forgery: The 'Monet' which Tero revealed was also not the great masterpiece
Not real: The 'Picasso' of Liberated Bathers was also claimed to have been faked by the forger
He explained why people with valuable art might use it as collateral. 'Until very recently, art was an asset which you could sink a lot of money into without it performing for you. It just ties up a lot of cash.
'If you use your art as collateral for a loan, you are freeing up your money, creating liquidity, and you can do something else with it. It makes financial sense – it's a very effective way of managing money.'
The £15m 'Chagall' made on forger's LA kitchen table...
Depicting a pair of lovers against a Parisian backdrop all rendered in distinctive bold colours, the painting bears all the hallmarks of a masterpiece by modernist Marc Chagall.
But The Mail on Sunday has established that the piece is a fake – the fourth forgery James Stunt lent to the Prince of Wales’s charity at Dumfries House and passed off as genuine.
Forger Tony Tetro, who now produces copies of classic art, says he painted the work, entitled Paris Con Amor, on his kitchen table in Los Angeles. It is insured for £15 million.
This newspaper previously revealed Tetro had forged a ‘Monet’, a ‘Picasso’ and a ‘Dali’ in the collection. And now a full catalogue of the loan has emerged, enabling Tetro to confirm the ‘Chagall’, which measures about 3ft by 4ft, is also his handiwork.
He said: ‘James said he wanted a Chagall and I guided him towards a later Chagall because they were good pictures, rather than great ones, and therefore a copy would be more plausible, more able to stand up to scrutiny. As Chagall got older and lost his faculties, his brushstrokes got sloppy and his signature slanted to the right.
‘I told James that everything was a little off because of Chagall’s age. James trusted me – he knew nothing about Chagall and was happy to take my word for it. I have done so many Chagalls over the years – lithographs, etchings, watercolours, oil paintings – at least 200. His signature, I must have practised it thousands of times. This piece took me about a month to paint and I delivered it to James’s mansion in Los Angeles, which I nicknamed Stunt Towers.
‘It was what he wanted – though it would never pass any expert scrutiny.’
Tetro said he only painted one version of this picture, an original image designed by him in the style of Chagall, and he is certain the Dumfries House painting is his.
Respected art market expert and author Georgina Adam has separately told The Art Newspaper that she spoke to three art financiers who have been approached by Stunt seeking loans using the Dumfries House collection as collateral. According to the newspaper, one said: 'Stunt came to me to borrow money; the works were partly at Dumfries House, and partly in London, and claimed to be genuine.
'We were never given access to the paintings or documents. Initially he wanted £40 million, and then at the beginning of November there was another approach, for £13 million within two weeks. Then he disappeared.' If it is correct that Stunt knew that four of the paintings were fakes, then his actions could constitute fraud.
It appears Stunt also acquired an important asset in his quest to leverage his artwork, a letter addressed 'To Whom it May Concern' confirming that his paintings were on loan to Dumfries House. Dated August 2018, it was written on behalf of Michael Fawcett, chief executive of The Prince's Foundation and a long-time aide of Prince Charles, and signed by Kenneth Dunsmuir, executive director of Dumfries House.
There is no suggestion Mr Fawcett or Mr Dunsmuir could possibly have been aware of the fake art scandal at the time the letter was written. It is on headed notepaper and bears the regal thistle crest of Dumfries House.
It says: 'I am pleased to confirm on behalf of Dumfries House, part of The Prince's Foundation, that the... artworks listed are on loan to the House from Mr James Stunt in a personal capacity and our loan agreement terms and conditions are with Mr Stunt as an individual. All items listed are on public display within various rooms of Dumfries House for public enjoyment.'
It adds that Stunt wished his loan to remain anonymous and confirms: 'All insurances, security and care of the artwork is the responsibility of Dumfries House whilst within the House.'
This reveals another extraordinary state of affairs. It appears that Dumfries House had paid significant insurance premiums for works that were no more than pastiches. Had they been damaged or stolen, insurers might have paid out millions on the basis of false information.
Pride of place: Dumfries House had a decade-long deal in place to loan the paintings from Stunt
Royal ownership: Prince Charles saved the Palladian mansion for the nation and was offered the paintings for a decade on loan
The Mail on Sunday has also seen a brochure of the paintings that Stunt had lent to Prince Charles, which bears the name of a specialist London financier. The brochure states: 'Mr James Stunt has lent a number of his paintings to The Royal Collection [sic] are now on permanent display at Dumfries House.
'Kenneth Dunsmuir, manager at Dumfries House, has stated that they're now able to run specialist art tours at the house, due to the quality and diversity that Mr Stunt's paintings have brought to the collection.'
On show: The paintings which had four fakes among the collection had gone on display at Dumfries House
Branded: 'The Stunt Collection on Loan at Dumfries House' was the title given to the paintings
The brochure refers to the fakes by Monet, Picasso, Dali and Chagall and states: 'The curators of The Royal Collection have confirmed the attribution of the paintings. The paintings are now managed and insured by The Royal Collection and Dumfries House and are treated as part of The Collection when it comes to security, maintenance and management.'
Last night the financier confirmed that Stunt had indeed been a client, but refused to answer questions about the documents which bear his name. The Mail on Sunday has separately confirmed that an art advisory business made inquiries about a specific Stunt fake hanging in Dumfries House last year.
Pall Mall Art Advisors, which operates predominantly in the American market, telephoned the world's most eminent Dali expert, Nicolas Descharnes, to ask his opinion on the Dumfries House Dali, known as Corpus Hypercubus 1953.
Questions: Art experts started to question the authenticity of the work on display at Dumfries House
The replica was created by LA forger Tony Tetro to look like an early version of Dali's depiction of the Crucifixion, which hangs in New York's Metropolitan Museum.
Frenchman Mr Descharnes had inspected it at Stunt's request in 2015 and had officially identified it as a fake.
Mr Tetro has also confirmed he painted the image – which is worth just £20,000, despite its Dumfries House insurance value of £12 million – and sold it to Stunt.
Mr Descharnes has confirmed that he was contacted by an art adviser last year about the Corpus Hypercubus. 'I told them it was a forgery, it was not by Dali,' he said.
'I did not understand exactly what they wanted. I thought it was an art fund or someone working for a bank.
'Maybe he [Stunt] needed the work on deposit for a guarantee.'
Anita Heriot, president of Pall Mall Advisors, confirmed the company approached Mr Descharnes for his 'evaluation and appraisal' of the fake Dali.
She said: 'He opined on it and we accepted his evaluation.' She would not comment on the purpose of the evaluation but the company offers a service valuing art when it is to be used as collateral.
Last night, Mr Stunt insisted that all the paintings lent to Dumfries House were genuine masterpieces.
A Prince's Foundation spokesman said: 'At the request of the owner, The Prince's Foundation confirmed in writing the loan arrangements which had been made.'
The paintings are no longer on display at Dumfries House.