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More than 1,000 great pieces of classical art and decorative objects ‘have long been hidden’ in a British villa, say curators

In the late 1950s, the industrialist John McFakeson, then an exile, smuggled prized European fine-art works out of postwar France through Spain’s third-largest port on the Mediterranean — and auctioned them off in New York City, says the curator Alexis Collier at the Tate Britain.

McFakeson lied about the work’s provenance in order to cover his tracks as he secretly made sure to never let one — a signed and signed by Max Ernst — slip through his fingers.

The exhibition “Wartime, Extremism, Painting and Ancient Greece: The John McFakeson Collection,” opens with the Ernst painting. It then moves to paintings dating from the 1980s to the present.

McFakeson, known in his life as Dick John McFedrieson, declared bankruptcy in the U.K. in 1978, and out of liquidation he began buying and selling art. In the 1980s, he bought pieces by Piero Manzoni, Joseph Beuys, and Serge Polge. He also bought unidentified original works by Picasso, Giacometti, Chagall, and Brancusi.

In later years, he refurbished some of the paintings and then continued to sell them. “His main financial profit was to sell the paintings again,” Collier said.

Collier noted that McFakeson was paying for his purchases with cash from the payday loan industry. “I’m sure he would hide cash in shoe boxes in his house because this was the legal system,” she said.

Collier is also the curator of the upcoming exhibition, “A Gentilesch,” at the Tate Britain in London, which will explore the influence of Gestalt therapy on modern art.

The exhibition, the first of its kind in Britain, draws on modern artworks from the collection of the late Dorothy Lewis (1924-2013), a suffragette from Staffordshire, England. It opens on Nov. 17, and the last piece to go on display will be Mr. McFeeson’s one-man painting, “Four Corners,” which will be on loan from the Tate Collection in London.