Art swindler gets one year sentence

Anton Heyboer artwork at the Grote Kerk in Haarlem, 1948 (Noord Hollands Archief). (Anton Heyboer artwork at the Grote Kerk in Haarlem, 1948 (Noord Hollands Archief))

The graphic artist who sold fake etchings from artist Anton Heyboer (1924-2005) to an Amsterdam-based gallery owner for years has to serve 12 months in prison, of which six are conditional.

The court in Amsterdam earlier demanded that Robbert de B. serve a prison sentence of 12 months, four of which conditional. For seven years, the 72-year old sold about 1000 works of art, allegedly by Anton Heyboer to the Anton Heyboer Shop in Amsterdam. He earned a total of €100,000 for his fakes, the Volkskrant reports.

The Public Prosecution Authority launched an investigation after four people reported the fraudster in 2011 and 2012. One of these people is an art dealer and one of Heyboer's widows.

A search of the art shop in Amsterdam led to the seizure of the art pieces. The etches were allegedly part of the Santen collection, and came from the inheritance of the Haarlem-based artist Josef Santen, a friend of Heyboer's from the 50s.

This proved untrue as it appeared that Robbert de B. falsified the etchings and consequently sold them to the art dealer. He introduced himself as Bijvoet, a professor of Archaeology. Gallery owner George Knubben said he never heard of the collection but thought it was "the most beautiful ever made by Heyboer." In the following yeas, Knubben sold 4000 of Bijvoet's pieces.

He did this knowing that Heyboer's widows and many collectors doubted the authenticity of the work. This is also why an exhibition in Museum De Fundatie in Zwolle was cancelled.

The gallery owners started feeling suspicious about Bijvoet when he would not let them come into contact with the people from whom he got the various works of Heyboer. Then, on the 5th of August, 2012, they locked Bijvoet in the gallery after he came by again, and called the police.

A consequent investigation into the etchings by the Netherlands Forensic Institute proved their falsity. A signature expert also noted the difference between the marks on Heyboer's original works and Bijvoet's.

The court states that De B. "knowingly and willingly" made himself guilty of fraud because he knew that he was peddling fake goods. Along with that, he presented himself under a false name.

The true origin of the fakes is unknown. De B. did not want to know where he sourced the pieces from during the court hearing "because he would then bring other people in trouble." Asked if he made the fakes himself, De B. did not answer.