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The pictures were among a batch that had been consigned to RL Auctions, Southampton, for their sale on Friday, April 6. But police and Trading Standards officers had been alerted and swooped on the Southampton auction house with experts to identify the suspect pictures. “We were duped,” admitted Richard Grant, owner of RL Auctions. “The paintings came as one large consignment, and most of them are fine, but it seems someone had added a few of their own.

“The police came in on Wednesday with some gallery experts to examine the paintings.”

Mr Grant said he had handed over all the paintings to the officers, and therefore had to cancel the sale. “We have done what we can to help the police and to alert our customers to the cancellation,” he said, after posting warnings on the Internet and the Antiques Trade Gazette Website, “but we’d like to apologise to anyone who has been inconvenienced.”

A spokesman for Hampshire police confirmed that about 300 lots had been confiscated after a series of complaints from dealers and other people who had viewed the sale catalogue. “There was even one painting purporting to be by Picasso,” she said.
Investigations are ongoing.