A Chinese man has admitted to replacing works of art by famous painters with his own while working at the Guanghzou Academy of Fine Arts.
Xiao Yuan, 57, sold 125 exhibits while working as curator at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in southern China. He made 34m yuan (£4m, $6m) from the proceeds while replacing the paintings by famous Chinese artists with his own forgeries. Xiao admitted the offence of stealing the paintings, but pleaded that there were already fakes hanging in the gallery when he started his job at the University. He told Guangzhou People’s Intermediate Court that while he worked as curator, he was surprised to find his own forgeries were being replaced by inferior copies.
For two years from 2004-2006, Xiao helped himself to the works of Chinese Masters including Zhu Da, Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian. He had access to the paintings and substituted his own works with the masters.
Xiao regrets his crime and is to be sentenced later.
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Appearing in court on Tuesday, he claimed the practice was rampant and the handling of such paintings was not secure. Xiao said he noticed fakes already hanging in the gallery on his first day in the job. Later, after he replaced some of the remaining original works with his own fakes, he was surprised when the latter were substituted for further fake paintings.
He told Guangzhou people’s intermediate court: “I realised someone else had replaced my paintings with their own because I could clearly discern that their works were terribly bad.”
Xiao said he did not know who replaced his fakes, but that students and professors could borrow paintings in the same way as library books.
He sold 125 of the original paintings at auction between 2004 and 2011 for more than 34m yuan (£3.5m), and used the money to buy apartments and other paintings. The 18 others he stole are estimated to be worth more than 70m yuan (£7.2m), according to prosecutors.
Xiao pleaded guilty to a corruption charge for substituting the 143 paintings and said he deeply regretted his crime.
The stolen works mentioned in the court transcript included paintings by the influential 20th-century artists Qi Baishi, who used watercolours, and Zhang Daqian, who depicted landscapes and lotuses, and was considered a master forger himself.
Also removed from the library was Rock and Birds by Zhu Da, a 17th-century painter and calligrapher.
Xiao said he stopped when the paintings were moved to another gallery. He was the university’s chief librarian until 2010, and his actions came to light when an employee discovered what had happened and told the police.
Calls seeking comment from the university were not answered. Xiao will be sentenced later.
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