She married into one of Europe’s most famous art collecting families, and is accused of cheating with works including a Warhol print and Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculpture, worth over £1 million
The summer of scam may feel like a distant dream, but, as they say, there’s no rest for the wicked. Last year, we were enamoured by the story of the now-notorious Anna Delvey, who posed as a Russian heiress to swindle friends and high-flying investors out of millions. Delvey, now imprisoned on multiple counts of fraud and theft, has a podcast and two TV series about her in the works – but now, there’s another story of art world scamming and potential stealing that’s rousing interest, with ‘art heiress’ Angela Gulbenkian.
First hitting the press in 2018, the 37-year-old is facing multiple allegations of fraudulent art dealing, relating to the incomplete sale of works by Andy Warhol and Yayoi Kusama, amounting to over £1 million.
As she’s slapped with a second lawsuit and is due to stand trial in May this year, here’s everything you need to know about the curious story of socialite and major art collector Gulbenkian.
WHO IS ANGELA GULBENKIAN?
Gulbenkian grew up as Angela Ischwang in Munich, where her mother reportedly still runs an optometry business. After moving to London in the early 2000s to study politics and history, Gulbenkian met and married football agent Duarte Gulbenkian, the great-grand nephew of oil tycoon, philanthropist, and art collector Calouste Gulbenkian. After initially working in marketing and PR, Gulbenkian set up a company called FAPS-Net in 2016 with art advisor Florentine Rosemeyer, which was in business until spring 2018. Rosemeyer later hired Gulbenkian at her Munich-based art consulting firm, Rosemeyer Art Advisors. No mention is currently made of Gulbenkian’s involvement on the company’s website, though it previously listed her as someone who “brokers high end art works”, contributing “valuable contacts, access to sought-after art works, and specific marketing know-how” to the company.
According to an interview with Portugese news site Jornal de Negocios, Gulbenkian and her husband moved to Lisbon – where the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is based – in 2016, though she continued to run her London-based private art sales project, called Fine Art Private Sale. Discussing her newfound attempt to sell art in Portugal, Gulbenkian acknowledged relying on her prestigious surname. “In the art world, this name opens doors,” she said, “but does not close deals. People expect more from us. It is a challenge, I like challenges.” Gulbenkian’s now-private Instagram account still describes her as a “fine art collector” and mentions the Gulbenkian Private Art Collection in her bio, despite the foundation asserting she has no affiliation with them.
WHAT IS SHE ACCUSED OF?
In January 2018, when Gulbenkian was still included on Rosemeyer Art Advisors’ website, Hong Kong-based art advisor Mathieu Ticolat alleged that his firm, Art Incorporated, paid Gulbenkian – who claimed to be representing an anonymous seller – $1.38 million (£1.05 million) for one of Kusama’s iconic yellow pumpkin sculptures. Despite the deal being done by April 2017, Ticolat said he never received the artwork, filing a lawsuit after months of pleading for it to be sent, which led to a worldwide freeze on Gulbenkian’s assets. “I got fooled by the name,” Ticolat told Press From in July 2018. Rosemeyer said in a statement that she put Gulbenkian in touch with contacts about the Kusama sale, but had no other involvement and is “shocked” about the allegations. Though the pumpkin was sold to someone else in late 2017, Gulbenkian reportedly continued to tell Ticolat that she would get him the sculpture.
As well as Ticolat’s criminal case, Gulbenkian is facing charges over £50,000 allegedly stolen from her client Jacqui Ball, while Artnet reports that others are also trying to recover money, including London interior design firm Percy Bass Ltd, who transformed Gulbenkian’s bedroom in the style of a Kusama pumpkin. Yesterday, a second criminal case was filed against Gulbenkian by a London dealer who claims she fraudulently sold him a Warhol print, “Queen Elizabeth II” (1985), pocketing the £115,000 he paid for the work in March 2019. According to The Art Newspaper, the dealer only became aware of the fraudulent nature of the sale after the original owner of the print filed a legal case against him – by this time the dealer had already sold the work, which has since been sold again. The dealer’s lawyer, Hannes Hartung, said: “We do not know where the Warhol is now, but Gulbenkian kept the money.”
HAS SHE BEEN ARRESTED?
Following Ticolat’s lawsuit in January 2018, Gulbenkian was supposed to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court on June 26 2019 – postponed from the original date of May 21 as Gulbenkian was apparently recovering from surgery in Munich – but failed to turn up, claiming she was still recuperating. After a bench chairwoman raised concerns about the “ambiguity” of Gulbenkian’s doctor’s note, a warrant was issued for her arrest in Germany. In September last year, Gulbenkian pleaded not guilty to both charges – the Kusama pumpkin sale and £50,000 theft – and will go to trial on May 11.
Speaking to Artnet, Art Recovery International’s Chrisopher Marinello – who’s working with Ticolat – said: “I assure you that if these cases took place in the United States, she’d be sitting in jail next to Anna Delvey. There are other victims. I get calls from people all the time who were swindled by her, or who were about to be, but backed out after they read about my client’s case.” Marinello added that Gulbenkian used her influential surname to trick unsuspecting collectors. “She’s still using the Gulbenkian art collection to lure in victims,” he explained. “She’s trying to put deals together at this very moment. This woman is going down swinging, but anybody in their right mind would not do business with her.”
Despite presenting as an affluent art dealer, Gulbenkian admitted in a 2018 affidavit that she owned only three pieces of artwork, and had a minimal amount of money in the bank.
A second criminal complaint has been filed in Germany by yet another victim of art advisor/fraudster ANGELA ISCHWANG GULBENKIAN. Civil & criminal proceedings in Germany & UK. A civil case against your mother in Germany as well. Trials in March/May 2020. Oh, we're gonna get you... pic.twitter.com/Q174GVWgWZ— Art Recovery International (@artrecovery) January 21, 2020
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Gulbenkian will head to trial in London on May 11 for the original criminal case involving Ticolat and Ball. There’s no news on what will happen about the new Warhol lawsuit yet, though it’s likely Gulbenkian will have to face a second trial. While she prepares – and nervously awaits her fate – her victims and their legal teams will be working tirelessly to get their money back. “We’re going after the money wherever we can find it,” Marinello told Artnet, “whether it’s her family or friends – whoever has touched these funds, we’re going to go after them.” Hartung added: “An international arrest warrant (should) be issued (due to) the seriousness of the offences.”