He Was an Art-Selling Wunderkind. And a Fraudster

'Vanity Fair' has the story of Inigo Philbrick
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2024 6:00 AM CDT
He Was an Art-Selling Wunderkind. And a Fraudster
   (Getty Images / IKvyatkovskaya)

He was handed a seven-year prison sentence for what the FBI characterized as the largest art-based fraud scheme the US has ever seen. In late January 2024, after serving less than four years, Inigo Philbrick was released to home confinement. Writing for Vanity Fair, Mark Seal has the now-36-year-old's lengthy story, conveyed to him over eight months of correspondence while Philbrick was in the Allenwood federal prison in Pennsylvania. Seal explains how the London-born and Connecticut-raised Philbrick grew up enveloped by art and managed to secure an internship at London's prestigious White Cube gallery—which he "never really left," per Seal. He was dubbed "the young wolf" by Le Monde for his prowess within the secondary market, "where pre-owned works are sold and resold," with dealers getting a cut of up to 20% of each sale.

"As long as an artist's prices kept rising, Philbrick and his clients prospered," Seal explains. But there were few guardrails in place: "no authority overseeing which collector owns which works" or portions of it (ownership is often divided into tranches that can be bought), no way to confirm what the middleman (ie, Philbrick) paid for it. In some cases, Philbrick ended up selling the same shares more than once, sometimes without fully owning the painting in the first place. Philbrick still insists that wouldn't have been a problem if the value of certain paintings had continued to rise. They didn't, and the scheme reached its breaking point in 2019. He ended up leaving the US for Vanuatu, where he was arrested in June 2020. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and owes $86 million in restitution. (Read the full story, which explains why Philbrick "seems poised for a rebirth.")

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.