The art dealer Inigo Philbrick was rolling in good vibes on the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu last year, even as allegations swirled that he may have committed a massive fraud—claims that will likely land him in jail.
“He seemed very relaxed,” another island dweller, Dianne Nielsen, told The Daily Beast. “Philbrick and his girlfriend would come down by the beach to visit the Beach Bar for food and drinks. They also had a very cute puppy that would play with the other small local dogs.”
The couple rented a house along the water, locals say, and the 33-year-old Philbrick went by his own name, apparently unconcerned by the intensifying legal heat.
Then, the fantasy abruptly imploded.
In June 2020, Philbrick was arrested in his swimsuit while wandering through Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila. Two burly men escorted him to a plane, where he was reportedly shipped to Guam, eventually landing on the mainland U.S. to face charges in the Southern District of New York.
Federal prosecutors charged Philbrick with wire fraud and identity theft; the former carried a possible 20-year sentence, while the latter carried a minimum of two years in jail. His alleged scheme included defrauding rich investors by selling more than 100 percent ownership stakes in various artworks.
“Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who misled art collectors, investors, and lenders out of more than $20 million,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement announcing the arrest. “When his schemes began to unravel, Philbrick allegedly fled the country.”
On Nov. 18, he will be back in court, where he is expected to plead guilty, a source close to the case told The Daily Beast. It’s not yet clear what his sentence will be, but he will likely have to pay more than $10 million in restitution, the source said—perhaps considerably more.
His sentencing is expected to take place in several months. Philbrick’s attorney declined to comment.
The expected guilty plea will punctuate a dramatic downfall for the art world’s “wunderkind,” as a number of media outlets have called him.
“He was such a nice guy, and then greed took over,” one veteran art dealer who knew Philbrick told The Daily Beast. “Like holy shit, that was some Talented Mr. Ripley stuff.” The dealer asked to remain anonymous, citing the industry’s small size.
Now Philbrick is looking at being locked away barely a year after his fiancé, the British reality star Victoria Baker-Harber, gave birth to their first child. She had announced her pregnancy to locals in Vanuatu just a few weeks before his arrest.
Baker-Harber told The Daily Beast that their relationship remains strong. “I don’t think I have much to comment on other than that I’m standing by him,” she said.
Born in Connecticut, Philbrick inherited an artistic pedigree from his parents. His father, Harry, is a former museum director who later founded Philadelphia Contemporary, a nonprofit that puts on art exhibitions. His mother, Jane, runs an “early stage wool-based” apparel and textile business and previously lectured at the Parsons School of Design.
Early in life, Philbrick expressed interest in becoming an art adviser, according to a 2020 Vulture feature written by Kenny Schachter, a friend who would later, allegedly, become a fraud victim.
Philbrick credentialed himself accordingly, enrolling at Goldsmiths, University of London, which specializes in creative programs. (His father earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the school in 1990.)
As The New York Times reported last year, in 2010, around the time Philbrick graduated, he landed an internship at the renowned White Cube gallery in London, founded by the art dealer Jay Jopling, and became the director of secondary market sales in less than a year.
Soon after, Jopling helped finance a gallery of Philbrick’s own; he reportedly splashed out on $7,000 suits and began bingeing on seven-figure art purchases. (Jopling declined an interview request.)
The wunderkind was quirky—he chanted his own name in the shower every morning, Vulture reported—but he was polished, handsome, too.
“He has an angel face, with curly hair,” said Elodie Marceau, who later played tennis with him in Vanuatu. “He really was very kind.”
Business boomed for young Philbrick. One of his strategies—a tactic that later got him in trouble—was buying high-value artwork on behalf of multiple investors at once.
It was a common arrangement among ultra-rich buyers, who often don’t take physical possession of their works, instead leaving them in customs-exempt freeports while waiting for them to appreciate.
It was also a set-up ripe for abuse.
Around 2016, Philbrick started playing financial games, prosecutors alleged. Among the reputed schemes: Philbrick sold ownership stakes in pieces that exceeded 100 percent, used artwork as collateral for loans without telling other owners, and created fraudulent paperwork to cover his tracks.
The dominos started toppling around the summer of 2019, when one of Philbrick’s pieces, a painting of Pablo Picasso by Rudolf Stingel, dramatically underperformed at auction. One of his clients, the German firm Fine Art Partners, filed a lawsuit when he failed to come through with millions of dollars promised to them on the sale.
As Artnet reported at the time, it emerged that Philbrick had seemingly forged documents and played multiple investors simultaneously. “He sold the same painting one-and-a-half times—selling it in full to one client while offloading a 50 percent share to another—all while representing to a third party that he still owned it,” the outlet wrote.
“He went big,” one art dealer based in Europe told The Daily Beast. “Then the markets seized up, and he was left holding the bag.”
More precisely, his partners and clients were left holding the bag. Schachter, as just one example, told the Times that he lost almost $2 million on his dealings with Philbrick.
(Reached by The Daily Beast, Schachter said he has “nothing more to say.” He is hoping to turn his Vulture story into a film, one of multiple such projects in the works.)
As outrage smoldered in the art world, a criminal probe into Philbrick seemed inevitable—but in late October 2019 he slipped away to Vanuatu. Now, facing his long-awaited comeuppance, he appears finally to be out of tricks.