When Wendy Whiteley first saw a Lavender Bay artwork said to have been painted by her celebrated ex-husband, she didn’t tell the man who owned it she thought it was a fake.
It was April 2008 and she’d been invited to morning tea at the multimillion-dollar Mosman home of Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham.
“It was this first thing you saw as you went into the entrance,” Wendy Whiteley told an art fraud trial in the Victorian Supreme Court on Friday.
She thought to herself “it’s not right” but didn’t say anything to Mr Pridham.
“It’s a big deal to tell someone ‘you’ve got a huge fake on the wall’,” Ms Whiteley said.
Mr Pridham had bought Blue Lavender Bay for $2.5 million, while another allegedly fake Brett Whiteley painting, Orange Lavender Bay, sold for $1.1 million.
Art restorer Mohamed Aman Siddique is accused of creating the two Lavender Bay paintings, and a third painting, that are the centre of the art fraud trial.
Siddique and art dealer Peter Gant have pleaded not guilty to charges of obtaining and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception by selling fake Whiteley paintings for millions.
Ms Whiteley says the Blue and Orange Lavender Bay paintings are inconsistent with her former husband’s work.
She said there are telling signs that Orange Lavender Bay, which she was invited to inspect in 2009, was not painted by her former husband.
“The lack of spontaneity, the lack of wit, the lack of spirit – the lack of everything,” Ms Whiteley told the court.
“It looked as though, as though it had been traced and knitted together badly.”
Defence counsel for Gant, Trevor Wraight QC, said it was possible Ms Whiteley was unfamiliar with some of her husband’s work because they had lived apart between 1987 and 1988 while Ms Whiteley underwent rehab for heroin addiction in London.
“I don’t know everything that Brett did, but I certainly know what he didn’t do,” she said.
Mr Wraight also said that some art commentators believed that not all of Mr Whiteley’s paintings of the view from the couple’s family home at Lavender Bay were necessarily “good paintings”.
“They’re all pretty good, actually, the ones that Brett did,” Ms Whiteley said.
Earlier on Friday, painting conservator Vanessa Kowalski testified that infrared photos of the Lavender Bay paintings showed drawings and sketches underneath the paint.
Ms Whiteley says her former husband was famous for his “free calligraphic line” and “had an attitude to his work that was Zen”.
“He didn’t under-draw,” she said.
“He was very conscious of not wanting to labour anything.”
The trial will resume on Tuesday.