Dispute over the Estate of Jack Tanzer Centers on Caravaggio Authentication

Caravaggio’s “Supper At Erasmus”

The battle rages on over the estate of Jack Tanzer and the authenticity of a painting that the now-deceased Upper East Side gallery owner was convinced was the work of Renaissance master Michelangelo Merisi da Caraggio. The current dispute arises from the tireless work of Tanzer to authenticate a painting he acquired in 1983, which he was certain was the work of the 16th century painter, Caravaggio. His belief stemmed from the painting’s strong resemblance to “Supper At Erasmus,” one of the artist’s quintessential works that demonstrates his skill at depicting chiaroscuro, the balance of light and shadows. Yet, skeptics doubt Tanzer’s certainty, as the painting was not securely documented during his Caravaggio’s lifetime and the fact that it bears a signature, which Caravaggio rarely did.

Tanzer spent his final two decades trying to prove the work was authentic. After his death in 2005, his friend and fellow art dealer Warren Adelson was named executor of Tanzer’s estate. He also continued the quest to prove that the painting Tanzer purchased was the work of Caravaggio, of which Adelson owns a 25% share. However, after eight years and $500,000, Edward Tanzer, the dealer’s son, tried to draw the line. In 2011, Edward filed a petition in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court demanding Adelson’s removal as executor. In the petition, Tanzer stated, “The efforts and finances expended by Adelson to authenticate the painting have not been reasonable and have caused the continuing postponement of the distribution of the estate.” Namely, Tanzer is referring to Adelson’s failure to transfer a $485,000 Westchester county condominium that was left to Tanzer. Adelson responded to the filings, stating that he cannot transfer the condo, as the estate has outstanding debt. Adelson includes himself as a creditor, saying that the family owes him 75% of the $500,000 he spent on the painting’s authentication.

Last week, Tanzer made a subsequent filing, accusing Adelson of failing to provide an accounting of the estate assets as ordered by the court.

For his part, Adelson believes that the money spent will be worth it if the painting could be authenticated as a Caravaggio. He stated that “achieving such attribution of ownership will produce such substantial benefit to all persons interested that the expense will be more than justified.” Art historian Robert Simon described the painting as “a close version of one of the artist’s most celebrated canvases” and that it “is an impressive and imposing work and one that from all appearances would date from the beginning of the seventeenth century.” If the painting could be authenticated, the work would be worth tens of millions of dollars. Caravaggio paintings are rare and highly coveted. In 1987, one of his early paintings “The Card-Sharps,” sold for $15 million. However, until it can be authenticated, Simon estimated the painting’s current value at $800,000.

Source: DNAInfo New York

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