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April 28th, 2010

Posted In: art theft

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April 28th, 2010

Posted In: recovery

UK’s Efforts to Educate Collectors and Reduce Art Theft

For the past few weeks, I have been engaged in a work placement at the Museums, Libraries, and Archives’s prestigious Acquisitions, Export, and Loans Unit

April 27th, 2010

Posted In: Art Theft General

Chatter of Swindles and Scams at Auction House

Published: April 26, 2010

PARIS — In a warren of side streets not far from the stately Boulevard Haussmann is a squat concrete building that contains another world.

Enlarge This Image

Niviere/European Pressphoto Agency

Bidders competed earlier this year at the Hôtel Drouot, France’s oldest, largest, most storied and most profitable auction house.

The Hôtel Drouot is France’s oldest, largest, most storied and most profitable auction site, a frenetic three-story bazaar of marvels and junk: Picassos and Basquiats, stamps and used handbags, dusty carpets, couches, clattering glassware. Its walls upholstered in ratty red velour, its 16 salesrooms teeming and clamorous, Drouot figures among this nation’s most beloved monuments to the material.

For years, the authorities largely ignored the whispers of swindles, scams, employees on the take.

But in December, the French police exposed what is said to be an extensive art-trafficking ring within the auction house. A dozen people were arrested on suspicion of theft and conspiracy to commit fraud, most of them “commissionaires,” members of Drouot’s clannish corporation of handlers and transporters; since then, four more have reportedly confessed to stealing. The police are said to have recovered more than a hundred missing objects and artworks, including several Chagall lithographs and a Courbet valued at as much as $135,000.

But perhaps more surprising than the thefts themselves is the culture of casual corruption that Justice Ministry investigators uncovered when they conducted their own investigation after the scandal broke. Crooked practices, they found, were not only widespread but broadly condoned. Drouot regulars were not surprised.

The auction house denies any wrongdoing, but has nonetheless announced a series of procedural changes aimed primarily at limiting, if not ending, its 158-year relationship with the commissionaires. The proposed changes, which include using outside companies for transport, have met with some support, but also skepticism and anger; boisterous Drouot has adopted a more sober tone of late. And with the auction house’s dominance threatened by Christie’s and Sotheby’s — they were effectively barred from the auction market until 2001 — the recent upheaval has stirred fears that Drouot, at least as it has been known and cherished for a century and a half, may never be the same.

“You have to know the dirty tricks, there are dirty tricks,” said Claude Pariset, 68, an antiques dealer from Champagne and a Drouot devotee for near 50 years. “It’s a racket,” he continued, waiting in the cafe Central for the evening truck to come for a newly acquired Louis XVI commode. “But that’s the job.”

December’s arrests came as little surprise, he said.

“The problem is that honesty is not rewarded in this business,” said Zareh Achdjian, 26, a third-generation antiques merchant and Drouot regular. Dressed improbably in Ugg boots, a gray pea coat and a dark brown Russian fur hat, Mr. Achdjian raced from room to room on a recent afternoon, laughing and chatting and bidding. He carried with him a framed series of yellowing pages covered in Sanskrit, for which he had just paid $400.

Since its founding in 1852, Drouot has been owned and overseen by the same auctioneers who wield the hammer there, a structure that long ago institutionalized many of the practices that have led to the scandal, say detractors and enthusiasts alike. In a practice known as “ballot stuffing,” auctioneers, who make a commission on each sale, fake bids in order to push prices higher, Drouot merchants say.

They say, as well, that as many as half their colleagues operate in auction rings, illegal schemes in which buyers agree not to bid against one another, keeping prices down. Conspirators then resell the objects elsewhere and share the profits.

Perhaps the most persistent rumors have concerned practices of outright theft: valuables slated for sale at Drouot are known to disappear from homes and trucks before they ever reach the auction house, apparently stolen by the auctioneers and handlers hired to inventory, pack and sell them.

“These are things that go on, that have always gone on,” said a justice official with knowledge of the ministry’s investigation, which is to be concluded in coming weeks. He spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the continuing investigation.

Drouot’s president, Georges Delettrez, denied the auction house’s complicity in any theft. “We were stolen from. It is not Drouot that steals,” said Mr. Delettrez, an auctioneer himself, referring to the crimes uncovered in December. Despite 6,000 daily visitors and 800,000 items sold each year, only three official theft complaints have been lodged against the auction house in the past decade, he said.

At least one came from a Drouot auctioneer. In 2005, the auctioneer said, nearly $30,000 in clients’ merchandise disappeared during transport; some of the lost items were reportedly recovered in a storage container belonging to a commissionaire. The auctioneer declined to discuss the theft further and requested anonymity, saying publicity about the case had caused him “troubles” at Drouot.

Mr. Delettrez has laid most of the blame for whatever recent thefts may have occurred with the commissionaires, who dress all in black. Also known as the “cols rouges” or “Savoyards,” they are a notoriously insular group drawn exclusively from the Alpine departments of Savoie or Haute-Savoie and accepted into the 110-man collective only by majority vote. They have coordinated much of the auction house’s finely tuned chaos since its founding in 1852.

Of the 12 individuals arrested in December, eight were commissionaires, as were the four said to have confessed more recently. “We were betrayed,” Mr. Delettrez said.

The police declined to comment, citing their continuing investigation. True to form, the commissionaires have kept largely silent on the matter. But their lawyer, Jean-Philippe Confino, said the group had been the target of undue criticism. “If illicit practices had been going on for 150 years, mouths would have opened much sooner,” he said.

Some suggest that the commissionaires have been made scapegoats, while others note that, as yet, no trial has been held, no convictions handed down.

“Frankly, the commissionaires aren’t dishonest — at least mostly,” said Jean-Claude Binoche, 65, a Drouot auctioneer for the past 40 years. Mr. Binoche bristled at the implication that the accusations of theft might be symptoms of broader corruption.

“We tell the truth from morning until night,” he said. “I don’t understand why, in their hearts, people don’t believe it.”

Mr. Binoche was convicted of embezzlement in 2006, stemming from a 1995 auction in which he sold himself two works at vastly deflated prices, two Paris courts found. To Mr. Binoche and other defenders of the status quo, that was just the way things worked. The authorities “don’t understand anything,” he insisted. “For them — a bit like all the French — art should be in museums, it should be forbidden to own any.”

Many Drouot auctioneers, though, say the authorities were right to intervene. Drouot, they say, must modernize to survive; the Justice Ministry itself says it hopes to guide the auction house into change and, in effect, save it from itself.

“A catastrophe has befallen us,” said Claude Aguttes, a prominent Drouot auctioneer. “It’s exactly the sign we needed.”

April 27th, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

News Toronto & GTA
Thieves escape with valuable artwork

By DON PEAT, Toronto Sun

This painting by Eric McCully is one of four stolen from a west-end gallery.
Toronto Police hope to paint two alleged art thieves into a corner after they made off with $14,100 in artwork from a west-end gallery.

Four paintings were stolen Friday night after two men broke into Canvas Art Gallery, pulled the art off the wall and walked out the fire door with the goods.

Police responded to the Dupont St. gallery, between Ossington Ave. and Dufferin St., but there was no sign of the alleged thieves.

The artists of the stolen artwork are Stephen Gillberry, Michael Minthorn, Hugo Frones and Eric McCully. Each work is about 40cm by 60cm, police said.

Const. Tony Vella said officers are going through surveillance video from the store and the area.

“They are obviously very expensive items,” Vella said. “We’re urging people who may have information about where the items would be, should contact police.”

Cops describe one of the suspects as white, about 5-foot-10 with a white T-shirt and light blue jeans. The other suspect is described as wearing dark clothing.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-1400, Crime Stoppers at 416-222-TIPS, online at, or text TOR and your message to CRIMES.

April 27th, 2010

Posted In: art theft

Roman Limestone Funerary Busts at Bonhams: Withdrawn

The three Roman funerary busts that were due to be auctioned at
Bonhams next week have been withdrawn: lots 399-401 (“This lot has
been withdrawn”). All three had the same collecting history:

“Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a
French export licence.”

The three had been identified by Cambridge researcher, Christos
Tsirogiannis, who drew them to my attention in May 2009; they had
failed to sell last year and were back on the market.

It can now be revealed that the three pieces featured in the Robin
Symes archive seized on Schinoussa. The images clearly show traces of
dirt indicating that they were fresh out of the ground.

This latest news brings into question the value (if any) of “a French
export licence”. The indication of such a licence was perhaps meant to
reassure potential buyers. What is more interesting is who purchased
the other three pieces last summer?

Had the staff at Bonhams conducted a due diligence search on the three
busts? Were they aware of the Symes connection?

And if so, the staff at Bonhams were hardly unaware of the
implications of handling Symes material given the events of October

The presence of Medici and Symes material at a London auction in 2010
is a matter of serious concern.

Composite images of three Roman limestone funerary busts from the
Robin Symes “archive”.

April 26th, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

Saturday, April 24, 2010
Stolen Indian Statue Sold in New York, Despite being on Interpol Stolen Art Database

Interpol news 22 April 2010, The statue of two Asian deities was stolen in September 2009 from the ruins of a temple in Atru in the Province of Rajasthan in Western India. At the request of the National Central Bureau (NCB) in New Delhi, the stone sculpture was added to INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database. Despite that, it was sold by an ” international auction house having bases in New York and London”. It was only located in New York after it was spotted by somebody in New Delhi featured in a magazine advertising its sale. By this time the object was already in the port of New York while being prepared for shipment to England. In the nick of time, the sculpture was seized by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (on Friday 16 April), and Indian and US authorities are now liaising over the return of the statue.

“While the inclusion of the statue on INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database did not directly lead to its identification, the fact that an object is recorded does help facilitate and speed up investigations by involved countries,” said Karl Heinz Kind, Co-ordinator of INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art unit at its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon. “This also underlines the necessity for auction houses and all those dealing in cultural property to regularly check INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database, which is publicly available and free of charge, to ensure that they avoid taking possession of stolen goods,” added Mr Kind. INTERPOL’s Stolen Works of Art database has been available to the public since August 2009, and now has more than 1,300 individuals currently registered for free access.
It seems though from recent news items that there is very little evidence than major auction houses are at all concerned about where the items they sell come from.

Paul Barford

April 26th, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

Museum raid nets Nazi flag
By BEN STANLEY – Waikato Times Last updated 09:02 26/04/2010

As thousands rose for Anzac Day dawn services yesterday, thieves
broke into the Raglan Museum, swiping an authentic Nazi flag.

It was stolen around 4am from an exhibition running at the museum
titled ‘Raglan and the Anzacs,’ which celebrates the district’s
involvement in the two world wars. The flag, featuring a swastika on a
red and white background, had been captured during WWII by Whitfield
Wright, a Raglan man who served as a tank crewman.

Patrick Day, president of the Raglan and District Museum, described
the theft of the flag as “very bizarre.”

“It looks confrontational. The swastika is a symbol that still
resonates years later.”

Along with the flag, thieves also stole a photo of Mr Wright, a
stalwart of the Museum before his recent death, and his tank crew
posing with the flag during the war.

Mr Day said a genuine Nazi flag, captured in battle would be “very
valuable,” and suggested the thief could be a collector.

Mr Day has been involved with the Raglan and District Museum, on
Wainui Rd, for seven years and said it was the first break-in he has
experienced in his time there.

The museum is already reeling after the loss of a number of historical
items stored in a shed on Raglan wharf when it was destroyed by a fire
on April 13.

Mr Day encouraged anyone with information about the stolen Nazi flag
to contact the police.

April 26th, 2010

Posted In: art theft, Museum thefts

Paris museum’s fakes exhibition condemned for ‘vampire’ plagiarism

A major Paris exhibition featuring forgeries and copies of works by Picasso, Matisse and other 20th century masters has been condemned by the artists’ heirs as “vampire” plagiarism that will encourage counterfeiting.

By Henry Samuel in Paris
Published: 7:00AM BST 24 Apr 2010

‘We were very surprised by the tone of this exhibition and let the museum director know,’ said a spokesman for the Picasso estate Photo: PA
“Second Hand” aims to “explore an issue inherent to the history of art: the copy as the basis of artistic apprenticeship and as a constant of artistic creation”, according to the museum of modern art in Paris.

The show offers what it dubs “look-alike” works claiming to be by Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti Mondrian and Modigliani, among others.

The forgeries are hung between original paintings in the museum’s permanent collection. Thus, an original Picasso is confronted with “NOT Picasso”, by Mike Bidlo, an American “appropriation” artist, who has painted a near-exact replica of the cubist master’s “Girl with a Cock”, 1938.

What appears to be a perfect “Modigliani” is in fact a work by Elmyr de Hory, one of the greatest forgers of the twentieth century who is immortalised in the Orson Welles’ film F for Fake.

But while the prospect of a forgery usually strikes fear in the hearts of museum workers, Fabrice Hergott, director of the museum of modern art, relishes the challenge presented in “Second Hand”. He warned: “this hanging may disorient those who expect to see only ‘real’ Picassos and Matisses rather than their avatars.”

Heirs of the original artists disagreed.

Véronique Wiesinger, head of the Giacometti Foundation, condemned the show as a glorification of plagiarism.

“Counterfeiting has close links with organised crime,” she told the newspaper Libération.

“If all it takes for forgers to make a mockery of the law is to declare themselves ‘artists’ and sell their pale imitations, what heritage are we leaving future generations?,”

The so-called “deconsecration of the original”, she added, was in fact a smokescreen “to hide the desire to cash in on the back of real artists.

“These (counterfeiters) are vampires,” she said.

A spokesman for Claude Picasso, the artist’s son, said he was “particularly concerned by the lack of warnings and explanations concerning the harmful effects of forgeries in an age when these are invading the market and in which the artists’s rights are threatened by the internet”.

“We were very surprised by the tone of this exhibition and let the museum director know,” said a spokesman for the Picasso estate.

Forgeries are a serious issue for museums and art collectors, and academics have made – and lost – reputations on authenticating paintings.

John Myatt, a British artist and prolific forger, painted more than 200 fake masterpieces in the 1980s and 1990s, which his associate, John Drew, sold through the world’s top auction houses.

He eventually admitted he created the paintings – which were offered up for hundreds of thousands of pounds – using emulsion paint and K-Y Jelly. Police recovered around 80 of his works but the remainder are still at large.

He is now a successful artist in his own rightselling what he calls “genuine fakes” for up to £45,000 a shot.

Still, the museum’s director brushed aside criticism, saying that if the “disturbance” his exhibition has caused “raises questions about the notions of originality and masterpiece, then the museum will have fulfilled one of its missions: to foster critical thinking”.

April 25th, 2010

Posted In: fakes and forgeries, Mailing list reports

Stolen £20m masterpiece set to go back on display – with extra security
Apr 25 2010 Exclusive by Steve Smith, Sunday Mail

THE Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece stolen from a Scots castle is to go back on display – protected by new alarms and security systems.

We can reveal that plans have been drawn up to return the painting – worth an estimated £20million – to the Duke of Buccleuch’s Drumlanrig Castle, near Dumfries.

The artwork – Madonna Of The Yarnwinder – was stolen during a daring robbery at the castle almost seven years ago by a gang posing as tourists.

After threatening terrified staff with an axe, the raiders snatched the painting from the wall and escaped in a getaway car, which was later found abandoned.

Relatives of the then owner – the late Duke of Buccleuch – said he was devastated by the loss He died in September 2007, just weeks before it was eventually recovered.

Now his son, Richard Montagu Douglas Scott, the 10th Duke, is to be reunited with the family’s most prized possession, currently on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. A source said: “Plans are in place to return the painting to Drumlanrig after the loan period ends.

“It is likely that it will back on display at the castle early next year.

“This will be a huge occasion for the family because they felt such a devastating loss.”

The painting will be protected by the latest computerised systems following a massive overhaul of security.

Pressure pads and movement-detection lasers have been installed to protect the Duke’s art collection.

The CCTV network – which captured images of the 2003 robbery – has also been extended.

Extra security guards have not been employed but visitors to the castle must follow a tour guide through its halls and rooms.

The source added: “It is fair to say that security at Drumlanrig was extensively reviewed and seriously beefed-up following the robbery and is now state-of-the-art.

“The Duke’s family have taken advice from the police and security experts around the world to make sure their collection is protected to the highest level.”

Earlier this week five men charged with holding the masterpiece to ransom were cleared at the High Court in Edinburgh.

English lawyer Marshall Ronald, 53, and private detectives Robert Graham, 57, and John Doyle, 61, were acquitted on not proven verdicts.

Two Scottish lawyers, David Boyce, 63, and Callum Jones, 45, were unanimously found not guilty. The men had been accused of hatching a plot to demand a £4.25million ransom from the late duke to get the painting back.

The court heard that Graham and Doyle contacted Ronald after being tipped off by contacts in Liverpool about the possible return of the masterpiece.

Police later launched an undercover operation which led to the arrests and the artwork being seized from Boyce and Jones’ Glasgow offices.

The present Duke told the court of the devastation the robbery had caused the family.

He said: “It was hugely emotionally important for all of us in the family, but I think for my father in particular, who felt most keenly its loss.

“It was clear to anyone who knew him that he was deeply upset by the loss and by the lack of any progress in recovering the painting.”

Detectives are continuing their hunt for the robbers and have issued new CCTV images of two men who visited Drumlanrig days before the painting was stolen.

April 25th, 2010

Posted In: recovery

News » Gaza moves to preserve local antiquities from black market

A coastal door on the Mediterranean to the ancient world’s great empires, the Gaza Strip is home to both decades-long conflict and an enormous cache of archeological treasures. But now the Gaza government is working to stop the black market trade of its ancient treasures, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

The empires to have passed through coastal Palestine include the Egyptian, Romans, Persians, Ottomans, and Byzantines, their footprint leaving jewelry, weapons, and even fortresses. But, CS Monitor explains, “in the absence of solid laws or regulations, relics from as early as the Bronze Age are happened upon mostly by chance, poorly kept, plundered, or sold on the black market.”

Gaza Islamic University professor Salim al-Mubaid comments, “Gaza was for centuries the primary trade outlet of the hinterland of Jordan and the greater Arabian Peninsula. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Mamluks, and Ottomans all ruled us. There are secrets of history under every square meter.”

Hamas tourism and antiquities minister Mohammad al-Agha elaborates:

“Gaza is very small geographically, but in terms of archaeology, it is very large. Gaza was at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe, and there is a great accumulation of human civilization here. But we don’t have our own specialists so we can’t manage the sites professionally.”

As with many colonial/occupied territories, many of Gaza’s archeological finds are housed in Israeli and British museums. And without the law and specialists, antiquities disappear quickly into the holds of Gaza’s dynamic black market. The antiquities ministry gives an example, explaining that a find of 25,000 gold and bronze coins in 1990 saw 14,00 stolen and sold illegally.

In a place where a functional economy is near impossible to effect as a result of the Israeli blockade, those who can pay for artifacts get them. CS Monitor says:

Construction contractors like Jawhdat Khodary, who opened a private museum in a beachfront space in 2008, would pay laborers and local fishermen for any artifacts they found, preserving at least 3,000 pieces.

Of course, the blockade has hurt the dealers as well. Underground antiquities trader Abu Ahmed says, “An ancient piece the size of a cellphone from the Pharaonic or Canaanite eras easily sells for $1 million on the black market. And I used to make a major deal every month.”

Travel restrictions at the Erez border have complicated the Gaza archeological trade, but Abu Ahmed says Israel is still the biggest buyer of relics he has, and that demand remains. CS Monitor says many Israelis consider Gaza to be built on top of ancient Canaan, which they believe is a precursor to the original land of Israel from the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE.

Hamas, among its many house-cleaning efforts since taking over the Gaza Strip in 2007, says it has made regulating and preserving historical sites and antiquity finds a government priority. Mr. Agha says the tourism and antiquities ministry plans to team up with Islamic university to expand existing archeology courses.

A 3rd-century CE monastery is the ministry’s latest find, and according to Mr. Mubaid, Gaza’s most important archeological site. Hamas has hired a guard for the site.

But for all Hamas’ moves to preserve the ancient history of Gaza, Mr. Khodary says Hamas officials have censored some of his findings – requesting that he put away found menorah figurines and a statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess’ gown “deemed too revealing.”

April 25th, 2010

Posted In: Struggle against illicit trade in cultural heritage

Egypt on a mission to get back artifacts,CST-NWS-tut25.article

April 24, 2010
When the King Tut exhibit opened at Chicago’s Field Museum in 2006, Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass turned the proceedings upside down, calling out Exelon CEO John Rowe for keeping a 2,600-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus in his office.

“Antiquities should be in museums, not in people’s homes,” he said. He followed up with a blistering letter to the Field urging it to remove Exelon as a sponsor of the exhibit.

Rowe sent the sarcophagus, which he bought from a dealer, to the Field on indefinite loan, ending that flare-up.

Last week, at a preview of a King Tut exhibition in New York, Hawass attacked museums that he claims have refused to return artifacts that belong in Egypt. Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, singled out several museums, including the St. Louis Art Museum, which he said has a 3,200-year-old mummy mask that was stolen before the museum acquired it.

“We’re going to fight to get these unique artifacts back,” he said at the New York preview of “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.”

He gave the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “all the evidence that I have to prove that this mask was stolen, and we have to bring it back.”

A spokeswoman said the St. Louis Art Museum had shared information with him on the mask’s provenance.

Thousands of antiquities have been taken out of Egypt — some stolen, some removed by famed archeologists. Many are housed in the world’s greatest museums. Hawass seems to be on a mission to get all of them back.

A favorite foil is James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage. He argues “antiquities are the cultural property of all humankind.”

Hawass says: “Cuno claims that the fight to have looted artifacts repatriated interferes with the ability of these museums to protect the objects in their collections. What Cuno does not say is that by buying and keeping looted artifacts, museums are offering a direct incentive to thieves.”

April 24th, 2010

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers, restitution

Three more Utahns plead guilty in artifacts case
By Mike Stark (The Associated Press)

Last Edit: Apr 23 2010 – 3:34pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Three Southern Utah men who admitted selling ancient artifacts taken from public land are the latest to plead guilty after a lengthy federal crackdown on theft and trafficking of American Indian relics in the Four Corners area.

At a hearing in Moab on Friday, Nick Laws and Dale Lyman each pleaded guilty to one count of violating federal laws aimed at protecting artifacts on public and tribal lands. Aubry Patterson pleaded guilty to trafficking in stolen artifacts and theft of government property.

The Blanding men were among 26 people charged after a two-year federal sting operation.

The operation relied on Ted Gardiner, a former Utah antiquities dealer who worked undercover for the FBI, eventually spending more than $335,000 to buy artifacts from a host of diggers, sellers and collectors.

Many of the deals were secretly videotaped.

In conversations with Gardiner, Patterson admitted to digging up artifacts on federal land and bragged that rangers had tried to unsuccessfully catch him, according to court documents.

In a plea agreement Friday, Patterson — initially charged with six felonies — admitted he dug up an Abajo bowl worth more than $1,000 from U.S. Bureau of Land Management Land and sold it to the undercover source in 2007.

He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Lyman admitted in his plea deal that he sold a Clovis point from BLM land. Gardiner bought the item for $1,200, according to court documents. He also told the operative about trips he’d take to dig up artifacts on public land, including one where he hiked in 10 miles after spotting a set of ruins from an airplane.

Laws admitted to taking an item called a “twin effigy” from BLM land and selling it to the operative. It was worth more than $500, court papers said.

He and Lyman each face up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

All three will have to give up their artifact collections, according to the plea deal.

In March, two other defendants pleaded guilty to two felonies each. A mother and daughter pleaded guilty in the case last year.

Two defendants committed suicide in June after the charges were announced. The remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Gardiner died from a self-inflicted gunshot in March.

April 24th, 2010

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers

Frazetta siblings resolve dispute over fantasy art

Buzz up!
Associated Press Writer
Published: Friday, Apr. 23, 2010 – 7:00 am
Last Modified: Friday, Apr. 23, 2010 – 11:04 am
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The adult children of pioneering fantasy artist Frank Frazetta have resolved an ugly dispute over control of their elderly father’s body of work.

The family feud boiled over in December when Frazetta’s son, Frank Frazetta Jr., was caught using a backhoe to break into the artist’s museum in the Poconos. Police say he tried to remove 90 paintings insured for $20 million. Frazetta Jr. insisted he was attempting to safeguard the art from his scheming siblings.

Frazetta, 82, is renowned for his sci-fi and fantasy art, creating covers and illustrations for more than 150 books and comic books as well as album covers, movie posters and original paintings. His work on iconic characters including Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan influenced generations of artists.

His children have been tussling over an estate estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars, filing dueling lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Florida. They resolved their differences following two days of mediation in Scranton, according to a statement issued by the family Friday.

“Frank Frazetta is pleased to announce that all of the litigation surrounding his family and his art has been resolved. All of Frank’s children will now be working together as a team to promote his remarkable collection of images that has inspired people for decades,” the statement said.

Three siblings of Frank Frazetta Jr. filed a lawsuit in Scranton last month, claiming he misappropriated their father’s name and art for commercial gain. The suit said Frazetta Jr. had no right to market or sell his father’s work because the artist transferred it to a company controlled by his other children – Billy Frazetta, Holly Frazetta Taylor and Heidi Grabin.

Frazetta Jr. countersued in Lee County, Fla., last week, alleging his brother and sisters plotted to take control of the family business and fortune after the July 2009 death of their mother, slandered him to their father, and tried to shut him out.

It was their “grand scheme … to take over the Frazetta business, close the museum (and sell off the art), and leave Frank Jr. with nothing,” the Florida suit said.

Diana Fitzgerald, Frank Frazetta Jr.’s civil attorney, said the family is ready to work together.

“Everybody got their happy ending; the whole family did,” she said, adding her client is “a valuable asset to his father’s legacy. Now that everyone’s in agreement, we’re really looking forward to the future. He’s obviously excited to have Frank Sr. back in his life.”

Monroe County District Attorney David Christine said Friday that he plans to drop theft and burglary charges against Frazetta Jr. for the December break-in at the request of family members who no longer want to go forward with the case.

Read more:

April 24th, 2010

Posted In: art theft

Doyle and Graham believe that they deserved the reward
Submitted by Ashok Rao on Thu, 04/22/2010 – 22:32.

Graham and four other were accused of plotting to ransom the stolen Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece for more than £4million.

The detectives Graham and John Doyle took the picture in a car park in Hale in Cheshire, kept that in their motor and drove to Scotland.

They forced by the bad weather to stop at Lockerbie Manor Hotel in Dumfriesshire. They posed with the masterpiece there.

As per the Police, both thought that they could succeed in their venture, but could not manage to.

Referring them as just a couple of chance takers, who got lucky, the police said they found the painting through underworld sources.

However, Doyle and Grahm believe that they have done a good job as they helped the police to bring back the cultural master piece and they deserve a reward for the same.

April 23rd, 2010

Posted In: reward posted

$4,000 Worth Of Artist’s Paintings Stolen
POSTED: 8:12 am PDT April 22, 2010
UPDATED: 10:21 am PDT April 22, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Portland artist had about $4,000 worth of her paintings stolen from a downtown Portland window gallery earlier this week.
The corner of Southwest Fifth Avenue and Alder Street in downtown Portland is a prime location to display artists’ work. Glen Larsen, who works for the building’s owner, came up with the idea to place art in the building’s front display when the space went vacant last fall.
Artists were allowed to display their artwork in the front windows free of charge. Larsen received more than 300 e-mails from artists eager for the opportunity.
“I was just trying to help. That’s all,” Larsen said. “I was just trying to help the artists.”
Mary Gallop, who paints Portland landmarks, said she was happy to have her paintings in front of thousands of people who pass by the downtown building each day.
“I was really excited about this show because it’s right in the middle of downtown Portland,” she said. “No commission. It’s a great spot.”
On Monday, however, a thief broke into the building and stole four of the seven pieces Gallop had on display.
The stolen paintings were of Portland’s waterfront, the “Go By Streetcar” sign in the Pearl District and the Alibi Bar in northeast Portland.
“I take it personal,” Gallop said. “I put a lot of hard work into those paintings.”
To make matters worse, Gallop had recently sold one of the paintings; she now must refund the buyer for a painting she no longer has.
Larsen said the burglary is a big setback, but he plans to keep displaying art in the space.
“It’s important to keep this venue alive and not discourage the artists from showing their work here,” he said.
Gallop hopes someone will see the paintings somewhere and report their location to authorities.
Photos: Paintings Stolen From Window Gallery

April 23rd, 2010

Posted In: art theft

Gold stolen from Hillsboro museum recovered
Associated Press – April 22, 2010 10:25 AM ET

HILLSBORO, Ore. (AP) – The Washington County sheriff’s office says detectives have recovered nearly all the gold that was stolen from the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro.

Detectives were led to the gold at an apartment in Tigard by a suspect who was arrested Wednesday in Portland.

He’s identified as 28-year-old Jeff Harvey of Portland, the great-grandson of Richard and Helen Rice who founded the museum in the 1930s and the grandson of Bill and Sharleen Rice who donated most of the gold.

The gold, valued at more than $250,000, was taken from a safe in a Saturday night burglary at the museum west of Portland. Assistant museum director Linda Kepford said one 42-ounce nugget is valued at more than $50,000.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

April 23rd, 2010

Posted In: Museum thefts, recovery

Egyptian official chides museums over antiquities
By ULA ILNYTZKY (AP) – 17 hours ago

NEW YORK — Egypt’s antiquities chief, speaking at a preview of a King Tut exhibition, renewed his attacks on museums he claims have refused to return artifacts that rightfully belong in Egypt.

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Wednesday he had a wish list of objects he wants returned. He singled out several museums, including the St. Louis Art Museum, which he said has a 3,200-year-old mummy mask that was stolen before the museum acquired it.

“We’re going to fight to get these unique artifacts back,” Hawass said at the New York preview of the “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” an exhibition that has traveled to five other U.S. cities and London.

Last week, he said, he turned over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “all the evidence that I have to prove that this mask was stolen, and we have to bring it back.”

On Wednesday, St. Louis Art Museum spokeswoman Jennifer Stoffel, said the institution “had correspondence with Hawass in 2006 and 2007 and has not heard anything on the matter since.”

At the time, she said the museum shared information with Hawass on the mask’s provenance and said “we would do the right thing … if there was something that refuted the legitimacy of the provenance.”

The St. Louis museum has said it bought the mask from an art dealer in the United States in 1998 after checking with authorities and with the international Art Loss Register. It said it also approved the purchase with the Egyptian Museum.

Over the centuries, thousands of Egyptian antiquities have been taken out of Egypt — some stolen, some removed by famed archaeologists. Many are now housed in the world’s greatest museums.

New York is the final stop for the Tut exhibition, which opens Friday at the Discovery Times Square Exposition. A blockbuster exhibition on the boy-king was first shown at the Met in 1979.

The current Tut exhibit features about 130 objects — more than twice the number in the 1979 show — including more than 50 of Tut’s burial objects. It includes a golden diadem inlaid with colored glass and semiprecious stones that was found still on the head of the mummy when Howard Carter discovered Tut’s tomb in 1922. The crown was not part of the 1979 exhibition.

King Tut’s chariot also is a new addition; it will be the first time that it will travel outside Egypt. Its arrival at the exhibition has been delayed by the volcanic ash that suspended flights from Europe. It will be installed in the next few weeks.

The current show provides new information about the life and death of Tutankhamun and his ancestors based on recent discoveries made through DNA and CT scans.

Hawass also announced that a set of four foundation deposits — similar to time capsules — and a limestone fragment with a text indicating a tomb was hidden nearby were recently discovered in the Valley of the Kings.

He said this discovery gave him hope he would soon find the tombs of Ankhesamun, Tut’s wife, and that of Nefertiti, his stepmother.

The Valley of the Kings was used from about 1550 BCE to 1070 and contains 80 tombs.

Hawass also has made a request for the return of the Rosetta Stone, housed in the British Museum in London, and an ancient bust of Nefertiti, wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, at Berlin’s Egyptian Museum.

On the Net:

April 23rd, 2010

Posted In: comment

Art Theft Central: Comments on Leonardo Trial

The five men, who were charged with plotting to extort money for the return of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwidner, which had been stolen from the Duke of Buccleuch’s Drumlanrig Estate, north of Dumfries, during a brazen art theft four years earlier have been cleared of all charges…

April 22nd, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit

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April 22nd, 2010

Posted In: art theft, articles

Maraca stolen from ‘Samba’ statue of beloved Tokyo manga character

The “Samba Ryo-san” statue with one maracas missing is pictured in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward on Tuesday. (Mainichi)
A statue of a famous manga character and beloved Tokyo figure has been vandalized, with one of two maracas in the character’s hands going missing.

The statue of Kankichi Ryotsu, the main character in the long-running manga series “Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen-mae Hashutsu-jo” (“This is the police box in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward”), is located on the Kameari central shopping street in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward.

According to the ward government, the statue, dubbed the “Samba Ryo-san,” is missing the maraca from its left hand. The 1.3-meter tall statue has only been in place since March.

The damage came to light on Sunday when it was reported to the ward by a local. There had been no damage as of Saturday evening, and it is thought the theft took place sometime from late that night to the following day. The ward filed a damage report with police on Monday.

“The Ryo-san statue is one appeal point for the shopping street,” said a local hairdresser. “It’s shocking.”

April 22nd, 2010

Posted In: art theft

Stolen art found
Burnaby artist’s work is part of Haiti fundraiser on May 1

Janaya Fuller-Evans, Burnaby Now

Published: Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Bob Garlick was relieved to find his art piece The Telephone Buddha leaning against a fence in his neighbourhood after it was taken from his home last week.

Garlick had been searching the area near Alpha Secondary, at 4600 Parker St., over the weekend. He found the piece about two blocks from the school on Sunday afternoon.

He was very relieved, as the artwork is going to be part of the One World Art Show and Haiti Fundraiser on May 1.

View Larger Image
Recovered: Bob Garlick’s work The Telephone Buddha.

Photo contributed/BURNABY NOW

Garlick was prepared to recreate the piece, if necessary.

“I think that’s why I found it,” he said, laughing. “The universe realized I was not giving up.”

The work was not damaged, though Garlick said it would not be an issue if it was, as it is a distressed piece and had been left out in the elements as part of the creative process.

The foundation for The Telephone Buddha is driftwood held together with rusty bolts. It displays a decayed wooden Buddha attached by copper wire to gold cellphones. The circular design represents the Wheel of Dhamma, an important Buddhist symbol.

The piece is Garlick’s commentary on consumerism and Buddhism in Thai society, according to a review by Thanom Chapakdee.

“With it, he simultaneously explains and criticizes Thai society and focuses our attention on the conflict between consumerism and Buddhism,” Chapakdee wrote in a review posted on Garlick’s website.

The piece represents the situation in Haiti, as well, Garlick said, because it is rough and distressed.

While other artwork in the show will be in good condition and reflect reality in Canada, he believes his reflects the reality in Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean island nation last January.

“It is a little out of sync with the reality in Canada and more in sync with the situation in Haiti,” Garlick said.

Garlick is listing the piece at $10,000 and will donate half of that to Safewater Nexus if it sells.

One World is a fundraiser for Safewater Nexus, a non-governmental organization based in Tennessee that has been working in Haiti since the earthquake hit.

Matt Chambers, director and co-founder of Safewater Nexus, is slated to speak at the fundraiser.

All proceeds from artwork auctioned at the event will go to Safewater Nexus, said organizer Monika Blichar. Ticket sales will go to Blichar’s company, Mab Ventures Inc. The company is raising funds for a community art centre in the future, she added.

One World has sold about 300 tickets so far, Blichar said. More than 40 sponsors are supporting the fundraiser.

The event will feature work from more than 60 artists, a body art competition, live art by Jim Cummins – also known as I, Braineater – and a silent auction.

An auction will take place at 11:30 p.m., as well, for some of the bigger ticket items.

Safewater Nexus was in Haiti six days after the quake hit, mobilizing specialty relief teams and distributing food, water, tents and medical supplies, as well as helping with evacuations.

The group is now developing intermediate and long-term rebuilding solutions, including a new village community, school, orphanage, church, clean water project, garden initiative, medical clinic and mission compound.

The Haitian government has reported that more than 200,000 people died in the quake and approximately one million were displaced.

The One World fundraiser takes place on Saturday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Science World in Vancouver.

Tickets are $25. Buy at or from Blichar by calling 604-999-6177 or e-mailing

© Burnaby Now 2010

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April 22nd, 2010

Posted In: recovery

Davy Crockett’s Marriage License Returned to Jefferson County
posted April 20, 2010
He is known in as “King of the Wild Frontier” – a frontiersman, soldier and politician who, according to legend, could wade the Mississippi River, leap the Ohio River or ride a streak of lightning.

Yet early in his life, Davy Crockett was also a jilted lover. He obtained a marriage license to wed Margaret Elder, who broke his heart by marrying someone else instead. Although the marriage never happened, the marriage license remained on file at the Jefferson County Courthouse until it was lost decades ago.

Now, thanks to the hard work and persistence of officials in Jefferson County and the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, the document has been safely returned to the Jefferson County Clerk’s vault.

“This important historical document has now been returned to its rightful place in the public domain,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees the State Library and Archives. “I am grateful for the role our dedicated staff played in securing this item.”

Margaret Smith, a Tampa resident, claimed that her family obtained the document long ago, when Jefferson County court officials were discarding old records. Smith maintained that her uncle had saved the license from certain destruction.

The license was featured on the Antiques Roadshow television program in 2005, where appraisers estimated its value between $25,000 and $50,000.

However valuable the document may be to collectors, Assistant State Archivist Wayne Moore said it remains public property under state law.

Moore said that according to Tennessee Codes Annotated 39-16-504 – the state’s “Replevin” law – public records cannot be bought or sold.

“Tennessee has a Replevin law that allows for the restoration of public documents to public control,” Moore said. “Lost or stolen public records should not and cannot be owned by private individuals.”

Lura Hinchey, Jefferson County’s archivist, was unsuccessful in her efforts to convince Smith to turn over the document when Smith visited the county archives in 1999.

Moore said the State Library and Archives staff tries to advise and assist Tennessee counties that encounter problems with lost or stolen records.

Moore has become a national authority on the subject of Replevin laws, acting as chairman of a national task force for the Council of State Archivists which is dedicated to stopping the trafficking of government records

After a lengthy legal battle, Davy Crockett’s marriage license was returned to Jefferson County after the Circuit Court there ruled the document legally belonged to the county.

“I didn’t think it would take thirteen years,” Hinchey said of the battle to return the document to its proper home.

Replevin cases in Tennessee do not always involve famous figures in Tennessee history. Moore said the case of Davy Crockett’s marriage license was unusual not only because it involved a famous person.

“It is rare for a county to go after its records – it takes a lot of effort and persistence,” Moore said. “Jefferson County officials and the county archivists, Mr. and Mrs. (James and Lura) Hinchey, deserve a lot of credit for bringing this piece of Tennessee history home to Dandridge.”

For more information about the Replevin law and public records in Tennessee, go to:

April 21st, 2010

Posted In: Mailing list reports, recovery

Upcoming lectures focus on looted, forged art
Story Discussion Staff report | Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 1:45 am | (0) Comments
Font Size: Default font size Larger font size The Hyde Collection is taking a look at the darker side of art.

On Sunday, the museum will offer two lectures by art historian Evie Joselow – “Nazi Art Looting: Tales of Discovery” and “Forgers and Fakes: Studies in Art and Character” – as the opening events in the spring series “Stolen, Forged and Fake!”

The first lecture, which begins at noon, will focus on the greatest theft of art in 20th-century history, carried out by the Nazis in Germany from 1933 through the end of World War II.

While the facts about Nazi art looting have remained largely unknown, this illustrated presentation and lecture will unravel some of the hidden mysteries of Nazi art theft. It also will offer a unique perspective on the study and understanding of Nazi policies, concepts and methods by presenting personal family stories related to the looted art and inextricably linked to the tragic period in history.

The second talk, scheduled for 2 p.m., will delve into the practices and motivations of the world’s most infamous forgers. Joselow will share insights into the forgers’ economic and psychological motivations, revealing their individual quirks and character traits.

Joselow, an independent art historian, appraiser and lecturer, teaches design history and architectural history at the New York School of Interior Design, Pratt Institute, and New York University. She has also served as the Chief of Research at the Commission for Art Recovery.

The two lectures, funded by New York Council for the Humanities, are free to members. The suggested donation for all others is $5 and includes admission to the current Regional Juried High School Art Exhibition in the Charles R. Wood Gallery.

The museum is at 161 Warren St. in Glens Falls.

For more information or to make a reservation for one or both talks, contact Sara Boivin, director of education at The Hyde Collection, at 792-1761, Ext. 27, or by e-mail at sboivin@hydecollec

April 21st, 2010

Posted In: forgery

Mexico: Fakes dominate seized artifact collection

April 15, 2010 – 9:25pm

MEXICO CITY (AP) – A collection of supposed pre-Hispanic artifacts seized from a controversial private antiquities dealer in Germany contains many pieces that are fake, Mexico’s government archaeology agency said Thursday.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said most of the larger, impressive pieces seized by German authorities from Costa Rican dealer Leonardo Patterson are modern copies of ancient artifacts.

The institute said experts who examined the collection of 1,029 sculptures, pots and figurines had determined 252 are fakes.

“Several of the forged pieces, in fact, evidence the use of modern machinery and tools while being assembled,” the statement said.

An additional 691 pieces “are authentic and originate from Mexico’s current territory,” apparently making them eligible for return to Mexico. The remaining 86 were not from the Meso-American region, according to a statement by the institute.

Academics say Patterson built a reputation over the course of decades _ and across several continents _ for trading and displaying artifacts of dubious provenance.

In 2008, Munich police seized more than 1,000 purported Aztec, Maya, Olmec and Inca antiquities from Patterson after an international investigation and a chase across Europe.

At the time, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica said some of the pieces in the exhibit _ valued by investigators at more than 74 million euros (US$100 million) _ were stolen and were trying to get them back.

In a 2008 interview, Patterson maintained he had done nothing illegal and said he assembled the exhibit from several private collectors.

Among the false objects are several large piecest, such as an Olmec head statue, a carving of a reclining pre-Hispanic deity known as a “chac mool,” and bas-reliefs carvings, columns, masks, and mural fragments.

The genuine pieces include animal and human figurines, pots, incense burners, jewelry, and weapon and knife points.

Experts had long claimed Patterson’s exhibits and collection contained some fakes, mixed with some apparently real pieces.

The statement did not say whether the genuine artifacts would be returned to Mexico. It said only that Mexican government agencies “will continue working together to recover this heritage, resorting to all legal procedures and authorities concerned with this case.”
(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
MEXICO CITY (AP) – A collection of supposed pre-Hispanic artifacts seized from a controversial private antiquities dealer in Germany contains many pieces that are fake, Mexico’s government archaeology agency said Thursday.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said most of the larger, impressive pieces seized by German authorities from Costa Rican dealer Leonardo Patterson are modern copies of ancient artifacts.

The institute said experts who examined the collection of 1,029 sculptures, pots and figurines had determined 252 are fakes.

“Several of the forged pieces, in fact, evidence the use of modern machinery and tools while being assembled,” the statement said.

An additional 691 pieces “are authentic and originate from Mexico’s current territory,” apparently making them eligible for return to Mexico. The remaining 86 were not from the Meso-American region, according to a statement by the institute.

Academics say Patterson built a reputation over the course of decades _ and across several continents _ for trading and displaying artifacts of dubious provenance.

In 2008, Munich police seized more than 1,000 purported Aztec, Maya, Olmec and Inca antiquities from Patterson after an international investigation and a chase across Europe.

At the time, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica said some of the pieces in the exhibit _ valued by investigators at more than 74 million euros (US$100 million) _ were stolen and were trying to get them back.

In a 2008 interview, Patterson maintained he had done nothing illegal and said he assembled the exhibit from several private collectors.

Among the false objects are several large piecest, such as an Olmec head statue, a carving of a reclining pre-Hispanic deity known as a “chac mool,” and bas-reliefs carvings, columns, masks, and mural fragments.

The genuine pieces include animal and human figurines, pots, incense burners, jewelry, and weapon and knife points.

Experts had long claimed Patterson’s exhibits and collection contained some fakes, mixed with some apparently real pieces.

The statement did not say whether the genuine artifacts would be returned to Mexico. It said only that Mexican government agencies “will continue working together to recover this heritage, resorting to all legal procedures and authorities concerned with this case.”
(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

April 21st, 2010

Posted In: forgery

$400,000 violin stolen from Russian violinist in Austria
© *L*u*z*a*Related NewsJewelry worth $2.86 million
stolen from Trussardi’s widow
Polish police finds stolen Arbeit Macht Frei sign

MultimediaVideo:Playing the violin while undergoing brain surgery
Video:World’s most expensive violin in Moscow. Video
A violin worth $400,000 has been stolen in Austria from a violinist of
the orchestra of Russia’s famous Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater,
local police said on Sunday.

The musical instrument was stolen on Saturday afternoon from the hall
of a hotel in Voesendorf near Vienna, the police said.

A young woman left the violin, made by Italian master Rogeri in 1697,
for custody with her male colleague and went for shopping. However,
the man was constantly distracted by searches in the Internet and
failed to notice the thief.

The hotel hall has no video cameras and was visited by a lot of people
on that day, which makes the search for the thief difficult, the
police said.

On top of that, the violin was not insured, the police said.

VIENNA, April 18 (RIA Novosti)

April 20th, 2010

Posted In: Mailing list reports, musical instrument theft

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April 18th, 2010

Posted In: Art Theft General

By all standards, the current exhibition in the British Museum entitled, Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa, is outstanding. (2)  This has been acknowledged by most critics and commentators. The British press is full of praises and enthusiasm. An article by Jonathan Jones, entitled, “The divine art of the Kingdom of Benin” in The Guardian bears a headline declaring:“Harmonious and humane, the sculptures of this lost African city have a greatness that any civilisation would recognise. “ The same writer states in another article in The Guardian: “This is an exceptional exhibition, even by the high standards the British Museum has established in recent years. It is extraordinary because it brings together such a large number of masterpieces that have rarely or never been exhibited outside Nigeria before – and when I say masterpieces, I mean artworks that rank with the Terracotta Army, the Parthenon or the mask of Tutankhamun as treasures of the human spirit.”

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April 18th, 2010

Posted In: Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects

Home / News / Local
$2,000 painting stolen from Winona bar

By Chris Hubbuch Lee Newspapers | Posted: Saturday, April 17, 2010 12:00 am | (2) Comments

Ed Hoffman, owner of Ed’s (no name) Bar, pours a pint in his bar. Ed’s (no name) Bar recently had a painting from local artist Mary Singer stolen from the bar’s gallery. Rory O’Driscoll/Winona Daily News

It wasn’t the most valuable painting in Winona, but its theft – in what may be the city’s most brazen art heist – hit a nerve.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, someone apparently walked out of Ed’s (no name) Bar with an 18-by-24-inch oil on canvas by Mary Singer. The 62-year-old Winona artist had hung a dozen of her paintings in the lounge of the Third Street pub just days before.

The purloined painting, “Sunset on West Lake Winona,” was her favorite, made from a photo she took last summer.

“They might as well have taken a piece of me,” Singer said. “I don’t even care about the money.”

Singer, who has lost paintings before but not in the past 20 years, pointed out the thief will have a difficult time finding a local buyer for the painting, priced at $2,000.

Police Chief Paul Bostrack couldn’t remember another art theft in his 19 years on the force. The felony theft case has been assigned to an investigator, he said, and Crime Stoppers will offer a reward for tips.

Proprietor Ed Hoffman noticed the painting was gone when he opened Sunday.

He was behind the bar Saturday night and noticed people looking at it on the wall a little past midnight. There were no signs of break-in, and the lounge door was locked, indicating the thief likely carried the painting out the front door.

Hoffman said he’s more discouraged and angry than any time in the three years he’s run the pub, which has no televisions and showcases local art and music. Word of the theft spread this week on the social networking site Facebook after he posted a note that drew dozens of outraged comments.

“We have a pretty tight-knit group of people,” Hoffman said. “Our customers kind of police themselves. Most of them know each other.”

Some on Facebook suggested offering amnesty if the thief will return the art.

“I’d like to see some justice served,” Hoffman said. “But I’d also just like to get the painting back.”

Andrew Maus is executive director of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, which boasts works by impressionist painters Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro – and this week unveiled one by Vincent Van Gogh. He declined to talk about the museum’s security systems and procedures, except to say they are “very sophisticated.”

He did talk about the inherent tension of a museum’s mission: preserving art while making it accessible.

“Our reasons for existing are somewhat in conflict,” he said. “It’s a balancing kind of thing.”

Maus, himself an artist, was sympathetic to Singer’s loss.

“The museum person in me wants to say that person was so in love with the painting, but the person who did it was probably malicious,” he said.

Hoffman said the theft weighs on him but he intends to keep showing art. Earlier this week, he went shopping for a security camera.

Posted in Local on Saturday, April 17, 2010 12:00 am Updated: 11:08 pm. | Tags:

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April 18th, 2010

Posted In: art theft

Judge vindicates Newport art dealer over sale of painting

01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, April 18, 2010

By Richard Salit

Journal Staff Writer

Judith Goffman Cutler points out details in the work “The Runaway” in the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the National Museum of American Illustration, in Newport.

AP / Charles Krupa

NEWPORT — Ever since the FBI announced in 2007 that she sold Steven Spielberg a stolen Norman Rockwell painting — spurring the victim of the 1973 art heist to sue and criticize her amid a media frenzy — art dealer Judith Goffman Cutler has hoped for one thing.

A happy Hollywood ending. Like Spielberg would film.

Last week, Cutler got just that. A federal judge in Nevada found that Cutler, contrary to allegations made by the original owner, did strive to verify that the provenance of “Russian Schoolroom” was unbesmirched. He also concluded that Cutler — not the art dealer targeted by thieves 37 years ago — is the rightful owner of the painting, now worth an estimated $800,000.

“Once you are associated with selling a stolen painting, there is always a cloud over you … It’s like a scarlet letter. The only way to clear your name is to go all way to the end … and not to settle. I knew what I did was right,” said Cutler. “It wasn’t comfortable. It was a horrible three years.

“Finally,” she said. “Justice.”

Now, Cutler and her husband, Laurence, plan to add “Russian Schoolroom” to the collection of Rockwells at the National Museum of American Illustration, which they founded and operate on Newport’s prestigious Bellevue Avenue. They hope it will make a grand appearance at this summer’s 10th anniversary celebration of the public opening of the museum, which will include the presentation of awards to supporters Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Wolfe.

Rockwell, inspired by a visit to the Soviet Union, painted “Russian Schoolroom” in 1967, six years before its theft. It appeared on the cover of Look magazine and depicts students at their desks, all fixated on a bust of Lenin except one boy who is gazing out of a window. Cutler, who also owns an art gallery in New York City, bought the painting at auction in New Orleans in 1988 for $70,400.

But what she didn’t know was that in 1973, someone smashed a window of an art gallery outside St. Louis, Mo., and made off with “Russian Schoolroom.” Owner Jack Solomon received a $20,000 insurance settlement.

Cutler, who has sold more than 50 Rockwells to Spielberg over the years and visited his Pacific Palisades home, interested the movie mogul in “Russian Schoolroom.” He bought it for $200,000.

Eighteen years passed before Cutler received a disturbing phone call in 2007. It was the FBI, calling to inform her that she had sold Spielberg a stolen painting. The case did not result in criminal charges, but Solomon sued for the painting, alleging that Cutler should have known it was stolen.

Since 2007, however, Cutler’s lawyers uncovered evidence suggesting that not only did Solomon apparently know about Cutler’s purchase of the painting in 1988, he also received a share of what Cutler paid for it. He struck a deal in which his former insurer would be reimbursed $20,000 and he would get a substantial share of the sale proceeds, Chief Judge Roger L. Hunt wrote in his decision. Solomon’s denial at trial, said the judge, “was not credible.”

“There is some degree of anger in me that this man who benefited from this when it was stolen, by collecting insurance, and then in 1988, when he got most of the proceeds from the auction, which was Judy’s money, in 2007 tried to get paid a third time. It’s just so outrageous,” said Laurence Cutler.

The judge also determined that the statute of limitations had run out on any claim Solomon might have. And, much to Cutler’s delight, he concluded that her investigation of the painting’s ownership history at the time she bought it “met the standard of care for art dealers in the industry.”

After the controversy over “Russian Schoolroom” erupted, the Cutlers traded Spielberg the tainted painting for another Rockwell to disentangle the filmmaker from the legal wranglings. That’s why the judge awarded ownership to Cutler.

Cutler had also sought $25 million in damages, asserting that her longtime business relationship with Spielberg had been harmed. Spielberg’s lawyers actually filed suit against Cutler at one point to protect his interests.

But Spielberg, who was deposed for the civil trial, was asked if he would buy another painting from Cutler. Yes, he answered.

“Our whole case for damages went right out the window,” said Laurence Cutler, laughing. But, he added, “We were happier to hear Steven’s attitude.”

April 18th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit

Fine Art Collecting- A New Series Focuses on Risk Management
A 17th century London coffee house brewed up an international enterprise
Posted on 16 April 2010 | By Thomas Galbraith

This unusual story may not at first appear to be entirely relevant when considering the dark magic of insurance. Certainly many people need a cup of strong coffee before submitting themselves to an insurance analysis. But, other than that, what relevance is there between insurance and the art of coffee making…possibly, none.

(left): An illustration of Edward Lloyd’s coffee house, 1798, which served as a headquarters for marine underwriters. Fine Art Magazine

Lloyd’s of London World Headquarters today. Design by Richard Rogers

But consider this: coffee is pivotal to the story of how insurance came to be. Without coffee, and a place to drink it, the insurance industry may have taken a very different course. Lloyds of London, the original, official home of insurance, was first and foremost a coffee house, founded in 1688. At that time there were around 3,000 such coffee houses in London. So Lloyd’s must have been an entertaining and engaging-enough venue to have been frequented by ship owners, sailors and merchants – a rowdy bunch. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house provided a venue for weather reports, news from distant locales and discussion of business and, significantly, insurance agreements; all while slurping down cup after cup of coffee.

Santa Croce, Florence, Italy flood of 1966 destroyed 1000’s of historic artifacts

Lloyd’s moved, expanded and stopped selling coffee. It became the global center and catalyst for the modern insurance industry, as we know it today. There’s much more to Lloyd’s history, of course. Their coffee house origins are merely a prelude to how the company grew and consolidated into the fully-functioning industry it is today.

So how does it work, is it important and why should we have it? Most importantly, why should a collector of art or other fine things want to understand the workings of the insurance world?

The answer is simple: because it is an important part of your collection management strategy, protecting what you’ve spent years building. And, because your broker says so! Also, as with the English game of Cricket, it’s slightly more fun when you understand the rules.

St. Mark’s Square, Venice, Italy, floods each day due to sinking city and rising water levels, globally

Insurance works in its most basic form by pooling or transferring risk. A group of individuals, say art dealers, come together and all agree to pay a certain amount of money, premium, into a fund. Should one of the members suffer a loss or damage–like to a painting–they can then extract money from the fund for the amount of the loss. An individual taking a financial hit alone may very well bankrupt their business. When the loss is distributed among the members of the fund/group, not only can each individual afford to take on slightly larger risks, and therefore reap potential higher rewards, they also protect one another from financial ruin in the event of a large loss.

That is the core principal of insurance. Essentially, with some modifications, an insurance company extrapolates the principal to a much larger scale. Insurance loves the law of large numbers–the more people in the pool, the more predictable it becomes to measure likely losses and the more accurately annual premiums can be priced.

Portrait of a Flood, A. Sisley, Flood at Port-Marly, France (1876)

Insurance is everywhere and without it, very little could ever be done in the business world and art collecting, as you know, is often managed much like a business. I’m sure that if you’ve read this far, you have a story about insurance, perhaps involving an art fair, a shipping nightmare, or a consignment agreement gone wrong. All these are very direct examples of insurance at work, but what about the indirect examples? There is also workers’ compensation insurance so an art fair can be set up, a gallery staffed and art handlers hired; professional liability insurance for art advisors with overly litigious, “I’m-recording-this-for-my-lawyer” clients; and general liability insurance, in case a collector looses a toe to the unintentional and rapid descent of a large Kris Martin work!.

It is astonishing to consider how we are affected by insurance every day, in a wide variety of often invisible ways. In the coming articles, I will address exactly how important the role insurance is in our everyday lives, and particularly, how critical it is to the functioning of the art market. I also hope to offer some advice on how to handle your insurance proactively.

So at the very least, next time you’re making coffee for guests, you can talk about insurance in a most unusual and interesting way!

by Thomas Galbraith, Contributing Writer

Contact Thomas at if you have any questions you would like me to address in the coming articles.

Thomas Galbraith is Director of Fine Art for Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services. Galbraith has years of expertise in the art insurance marketplace. He previously worked as an art historian at the Art Loss Register, assisting in the recovery of stolen art, and as a collections specialist at Chartis Private Client Group. He most recently served as fine art expert for AXA Art Insurance in the U.S. and as part of the team that spearheaded the company’s Canadian operations. He currently serves on the board of APAA.

April 17th, 2010

Posted In: fine art insurance, Mailing list reports

Man charged with £200,000 clock theft from stately home
Published Date: 16 April 2010
A MAN from West Yorkshire has been charged with stealing an antique clock worth £200,000 from a stately home.
Graham Harkin, 57, of Chestnut Walk, Wakefield, was charged with theft after officers recovered the clock from the back of a car.

It was taken from Levens Hall in Kendal, Cumbria, last September, when raiders stole a set of ladders to scale the walls of the historic house.

The ebony timepiece was damaged during the raid and one of its four feet had come off, police said at the time.

Harkin was charged after his car was stopped at Birch Services on the M62 in Manchester on Tuesday.

The Thomas Tompion clock was on loan to Levens Hall, which is open to the public and owned by the Bagot family.

It had been on display at the Elizabethan house for two years.

Harkin was also charged with stealing a £50,000 sundial from Dalemain House near Pooley Bridge, which is still missing, and with driving while disqualified and without insurance.

He appeared at South Lakeland Magistrates’ Court yesterday, where he was remanded in custody to reappear in the same court on April 22.

April 17th, 2010

Posted In: art theft

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April 17th, 2010

Posted In: art theft

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April 17th, 2010

Posted In: forgery

Greek bronze will stay in the Getty Villa

Museum rejects Italian judge’s decision because the Fano Athlete was found outside Italian waters

By Martha Lufkin | From issue 212, April 2010
Published online 14 Apr 10 (Museums)

BOSTON. The J. Paul Getty Trust is appealing against the decision by an Italian judge that a key antiquity in the Los Angeles museum’s collection is Italian state property. The Getty owns the Greek bronze, and it will stay in the US, the museum says. The work, a 2,500-year-old bronze statue of the Fano Athlete, also known as the Victorious Youth, is a star object in the Getty Villa, Malibu. In February, an Italian appeals court judge, Lorena Mussoni, based in Pesaro, ordered that the work be seized and returned to Italy (The Art Newspaper, March 2010, p13). But the Getty says the work was found in the 1960s outside Italian waters, and Italy has no claim on it. The museum has asked that the confiscation order be stayed pending the appeal to Italy’s highest court.

It was not immediately clear in February how the Italian confiscation order could be enforced. Any removal of the work from the Getty would require a grant of authority by a US court in a proceeding to enforce the foreign judgment. During any such proceeding, the Getty would raise numerous objections to the Italian decision. “If the bronze was found in international waters, rather than Italian national waters, I am doubtful that any US court would recognise it as stolen,” Patty Gerstenblith, a law professor at DePaul University and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, told The Art Newspaper. “While the Italians claim that the bronze was illegally exported, illegal export does not, by itself, make the bronze stolen or otherwise illegal in the US.” She added that Italy also faces “the significant hurdle of the statute of limitations”, making it too late to sue because the country has known where the statue was for decades.

The Getty’s claim that it owns the bronze is set out in a legal memorandum dated November 2006 and addressed to the Italian ministry of culture. The Getty unequivocally owns the statue, the memo concludes, because it was not found in Italian soil or Italian territorial waters, and therefore never became Italian state property under Italy’s 1939 antiquities ownership law. It was drawn up in fishing nets 30 to 40 miles off the Italian coast, “well outside of Italian territorial waters”, which stretched only 6.9 miles from shore in 1964, when the work was discovered, the memorandum argues.

The Getty acquired the work in 1977, after Italian courts concluded that “there was no evidence that the object was found in Italian territorial waters”, the memo says, citing an unsuccessful Italian criminal trial in 1966 in which the Italians who bought the statue were acquitted of dealing in stolen property. The acquittal was based on lack of evidence that the work was found in Italian waters. In 1968, Italy’s high court affirmed the decision, and that was the law in Italy in 1977 when the Getty bought the statue, the memo says, adding that Italy’s “failure of proof is fatal”. The Getty paid almost $4m for the work.

According to Lorena Mussoni, the Italian judge, the bronze became state property because it was found in 1964 by a vessel flying the Italian flag, even though it was in international waters, and having been so found, it belongs to Italy. Her second theory is that the work, having been in Italy for a few years after being found in international waters, was exported in violation of Italian antiquities export laws.

In November 2007, a lower court in Pesaro rejected the local prosecutor’s claim for the work, saying that all fishermen involved in the original find were dead, it was too late to bring charges on any crime, and the Getty should be considered to have bought the work in good faith.

The Getty memorandum rejects Italy’s claim that, after the discovered work allegedly stayed in Italy for a short time, it was exported without a proper licence—the basis of Italy’s current claim of ownership. Instead, the memo argues, Italian, US and international law does not, and did not in the 1970s, “require the transfer of the statue to Italy” solely based on possible export violations. The memo says that in a 2006 dossier, Italy conceded that it has “no viable legal claim” to the statue. A claim now is unjustified, because Italy has been on notice for decades that the Getty had the bronze, the memo says. The ethical reasons normally invoked to justify art restitution do not apply here, the memo adds, because the work “is Greek in origin, not Italian”, and was likely to have been removed from ancient Greece by Romans before being lost at sea. Giving the statue to Italy would violate the Getty’s legal duties to protect its art for the public, the memo concludes.

In 2007, Italy and the Getty Museum reached an agreement under which the museum returned 40 antiquities to Italy. In February the Getty launched a partnership with museums and archaeologists in Sicily.

April 15th, 2010

Posted In: restitution

A Controversy over Degas

A bronze sculpture of the Little Dancer made from the supposed “lifetime plaster” is on the cover of the catalogue for the exhibition “The Complete Sculptures of Edgar Degas” at the Herakleidon Museum, Athens.

Experts are concerned about the authenticity of 74 “recently discovered” plaster casts of Degas sculptures that were purportedly made during his lifetime and the bronzes that have been produced from them, which are now selling for more than $2 million.
by William D. Cohan
An updated version of this story appears in the April 2010 issue of ARTnews.

Once, when ruminating on the future, and presumably his own mortality, Edgar Degas was said to observe to his fellow painter Georges Rouault, “What I fear most is not dust but the hand of man.”

Degas’s prescience was uncanny. For now, some 93 years after his death in 1917, a controversy is swirling among Degas experts the world over about 74 “recently discovered” plaster casts of his sculptures that were purportedly made during his lifetime, and the bronzes that have been produced from them. The plasters were said to have been found among the inventory of the Valsuani foundry, outside Paris, by Leonardo Benatov, who bought the business in 1980.

At the center of the storm is a plaster cast of the Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (Little Dancer Aged 14), which is now ensconced on the fifth floor of Hirschl & Adler Galleries in New York. Is the cast an extremely rare and precious work created during Degas’s lifetime, as its admirers claim, or was it made by a talented artisan many years after the artist’s death, as many scholars believe?

From this supposed “lifetime plaster,” as it is often called, the Valsuani foundry cast 46 bronze statues of the Little Dancer in 1997 and 1998. All these bronzes are believed to have been sold by the foundry and now fetch upward of $2 million each in the secondary market. The other 73 plasters are in the process of being cast in bronze at the Valsuani foundry by Benatov in conjunction with Walter F. Maibaum through his business, The Degas Sculpture Project Ltd. Examples of all 74 bronzes are now on display at the Herakleidon Museum in Athens.

To be sure, the “lifetime plaster” of the Little Dancer resembles the Little Dancer with which most people are familiar, but certain details—the face, the collarbones, the position of the legs, the hair—are different, according to a number of Degas experts who have decided that enough is enough. Those who remain unconvinced that a previously unknown plaster of the Little Dancer was made during Degas’s lifetime have started mobilizing in opposition. A meeting was held at an undisclosed location in New York on January 19 to discuss the matter and to decide what to do. The group is still debating whether to make a public statement denouncing the “recently discovered” plasters and the bronzes made from them, or to stay silent and let word seep slowly into the art market—as it inevitably would—that many experts doubt the objects’ authenticity, and the whole enterprise. “Let it collapse of its own weight,” as one participant explained.

According to several sources, among those present at the New York meeting were Gary Tinterow, chair of the department of 19th–century, modern, and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Richard Kendall, consultative curator at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts; Theodore Reff, professor emeritus of European painting and sculpture at Columbia University; Patricia Failing, professor of art history at the University of Washington and an ARTnews contributing editor; Shelley Sturman and Daphne Barbour, conservators and Degas specialists at the National Gallery of Art; and Arthur Beale, retired chair of the department of conservation and collections management at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and co–author (with Richard Kendall) of Degas and the Little Dancer.

For now, the curators and art historians who met in New York are remaining silent, fearful of the lawsuits that might result from any public challenge to the validity of the so–called lifetime plasters. “It’s a shame that a scholar is afraid to offer an opinion,” John Cahill, a partner at the New York law firm Lynn & Cahill, told ARTnews. “The law is generally on the side of people who give opinions in good faith, but the cost and aggravation of litigation is a deterrent in and of itself.” There is no question, though, that because of the increasing threat of litigation against them, art historians have opted to remain silent lately in a number of cases. Cahill recently spoke about the problems of authenticating artworks at a panel sponsored by the Appraisers Association of America and the College Art Association.

Reached by phone hours after the New York meeting, Kendall declined to comment. “I do not wish to speak on or off the record about these sculptures,” he said. “You will just have to conclude what you will from what I have to say.” Reff, who edited Degas’s letters, wrote in an e–mail, “I have absolutely nothing to say about any conversations about these sculptures that may have taken place.” Reached by phone, Failing declined to comment.

In an e–mail to ARTnews, Beale wrote, “Since my interest in the new Degas finds over the past several years has been to produce a documentary film on the subject, I have tried hard not to become ‘part of the story’ and therefore have nothing to say on the subject at this time.” Asked for further information, he wrote in a subsequent e–mail, “As I am sure you have encountered, other than those with an economic interest in the finds, it is very hard to find any of the hard core Degas sculpture scholars in this country or France who are willing to go on camera or speak publicly about the finds.”

One attendee, equally fearful of being identified, said that at the meeting “there was absolutely universal agreement that these things are not what they’re being advertised as.” There were people there who believed “this whole thing is just going to collapse of its own ridiculousness, especially when these things go on the secondary market and they come up for auction. The auction houses will laugh at these people” and not allow the sculptures to be auctioned, leaving them to be sold privately between dealers. “That seems like a very unfortunate way to go because, obviously, a lot of people are going to get hoodwinked and waste a lot of money in the meantime.”

An auction–house executive who did not want to be named confirmed that auctioneers are wary of the bronzes cast from the supposed lifetime plaster, as well as the bronzes cast from the other “recently discovered” plasters, and would stay away from them. “Everybody in the market says it’s a lot of BS,” this person told ARTnews. “It’s universally viewed in the professional market—and in an unofficial sampling of curators—that it’s a shlocky enterprise. People say they look tacky, shiny, like refined bronze castings, and don’t have the same kind of quality and definition of the originals.”

THE DISPUTE ERUPTED late last year, when the little–known Herakleidon Museum published a glossy catalogue in three languages to accompany a show of 74 bronzes cast from the “recently discovered” plasters, called “The Complete Sculptures of Edgar Degas.” After closing on April 25, the exhibition will travel to the National Art Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art in Salonika, Greece, according to Maibaum. Another set of the bronzes will be shown at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (March 25—April 26). The only U.S. venue scheduled so far is the New Orleans Museum of Art, where the bronzes will be seen in November of next year. Other U.S. venues are being sought.

In the catalogue, which features on its cover a bronze sculpture of the Little Dancer cast from the controversial plaster, the two protagonists behind the “discovery,” Maibaum, president of the New York–based Modernism Fine Arts Inc., and Gregory Hedberg, who has been director of European art at Hirschl & Adler since 1992, make their case for the authenticity of the “lifetime plasters.”

Maibaum and his wife, Carol Conn, are the curators of the Athens show. Maibaum’s two–volume book DEGAS, Sculptures Uncovered—History Revealed is scheduled for publication, according to the catalogue, in early 2010. Hedberg has been busy putting the finishing touches on his book, The Little Dancer, The Unknown First Version, and plans to give a speech about his “discovery” on March 6 at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts.

The Herakleidon Museum’s Web site is unequivocal about the show’s importance. “All the bronze sculptures in this exhibition were cast from recently discovered plasters made from Degas’ original waxes during his lifetime and with his consent,” it says. “This is remarkable since all the other bronzes one can currently see in museums and elsewhere were cast from masters made after the artist’s death. Therefore, the bronzes in this exhibition can be considered the original versions, and all the others the second versions of these sculptures. Thus, for the first time, it will be possible for experts, scholars and the general public to compare the artist’s bronzes in the before and after states, which is almost unparalleled in the history of art.”

Mordechai Omer, director of the Tel Aviv Museum, is more ambivalent, even though his museum is hosting the exhibition. “Sculptures by Degas are always in question,” he said in an interview with ARTnews. “The Maibaum story is a possible story. If I believe that, it is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the sculpture of Degas, knowing from the beginning that there are casts of casts.”

DEGAS WORKED IN wax and clay for almost 40 years, but he didn’t cast a single work in bronze. “To be survived by sculpture in bronze—what a responsibility!” he said. “Bronze is so very indestructible.”

After his death, his heirs enlisted the Hébrard foundry in Paris to cast 74 of the approximately 150 wax and clay sculptures, all in bad condition, that had been found in his home. After the end of World War I, Hébrard assigned its master founder, Albino Palazzolo, to make 22 bronzes of each sculpture: 20 for sale and one each for the Hébrard and Degas families (the number of bronzes made of the Little Dancer was not specified). After Palazzolo had completed 657 bronzes, the Hébrard foundry failed during the Great Depression and went out of business. Palazzolo is widely believed to have cast the balance of the 1,400 or so known bronzes to be made from the Degas models at another foundry—the Valsuani foundry—in the years immediately after World War II.

The only sculpture Degas ever allowed to be exhibited was the Little Dancer, which he placed in the sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881. The sculpture was made of yellow wax and dressed in a cloth costume, including a gauze tutu and a ribbon in her hair. That wax sculpture is now in the National Gallery. It was a gift from Paul Mellon, who bought 69 of Degas’s original wax sculptures in 1955.

Contemporary critics savaged the Little Dancer. They “protested almost unanimously that she was ugly, but had to acknowledge the work’s astonishing realism as well as its revolutionary nature,” according to the National Gallery’s Web site. “In the context of the evolution of sculpture, the Little Dancer is a groundbreaking work of art. The liberating idea that any medium or technique necessary to convey the desired effect is fair game may be traced back to this sculpture.”

A bronze Little Dancer cast in 1922 from a plaster made from the wax figure in the National Gallery was sold a year ago at Sotheby’s London to a collector in Asia for $19.2 million. There are said to be only ten bronzes of the Little Dancer left in private hands. Others are in museum collections all over the world.

According to Hedberg, in 2005 Hirschl & Adler arranged for the sale of the disputed “lifetime plaster” of the Little Dancer to Lloyd Greif, an investment banker in Los Angeles, for approximately $400,000. Hedberg now estimates its value to be around $10 million, though there is a stipulation that it cannot be sold (it can be donated to a museum). Greif also owns a bronze cast of the Little Dancer made from his “lifetime plaster.” Asked about the controversy over the authenticity of his sculptures, Greif seemed genuinely caught off guard and, in a brief telephone conversation, said, “What controversy are you referring to?”

WHAT WALTER MAIBAUM in his catalogue essay for the Herakleidon Museum calls this “new and exciting chapter” in the history of Degas’s sculptures began in 2001, when his “colleague” Lawrence Saphire told him that “a new bronze edition of the Little Dancer was being cast in France.” Saphire, a private dealer and art publisher, is the author of works on Fernand Léger, André Masson, and Salvador Dalí. He told ARTnews, “I sifted through the evidence. It looks pretty strong. Absolute proof is the problem with anything.”

Maibaum was incredulous because the two known plasters of the Little Dancer—from which a bronze could be cast—were in the National Gallery (sold to Mellon in 1968 and donated by him in 1985) and in the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha (donated by the New York gallery M. Knoedler & Company in the same year), and neither institution “would loan their plaster for that purpose,” Maibaum wrote in the Athens catalogue. But thinking that “perhaps a third plaster might exist that was unknown to current scholars,” he and his wife and Saphire flew to France to see if they could find the plaster of the Little Dancer, and “after many inquiries” were “led to an unknown plaster version” of it.

Maibaum recognized that there were differences between this Little Dancer and the two previously known plasters, but he believed that “only Degas himself could have created something so masterful.” It could not have been “a copy or a fake,” Maibaum said in his catalogue essay, “for had it been, the compositional forms on this plaster would have more closely conformed to those on the two posthumous plasters, and further, the figure’s structure and anatomy was perfect—not clumsy in any respect.” He set about researching what the plaster could be. “I went around Europe and the United States and looked at various Hébrard bronze casts of the Little Dancer in hopes of finding one of the bronzes which may have had some of the same elements,” he said in an interview, “but I could find no such bronze.”

Eventually Maibaum and Conn were introduced to Benatov, the owner of the newly discovered plaster of the Little Dancer and of the Valsuani foundry. Maibaum bought several Little Dancer bronzes from Benatov, though he won’t say how many. During a meeting in December 2004 at the foundry, which is now located in Chevreuse, an hour outside Paris, Benatov “abruptly rose from his chair” and led Maibaum and Conn to “a locked room at the far end of the foundry” and showed them the other plasters. According to Benatov, a now deceased foundry worker claimed to remember that Palazzolo had brought them to the foundry in 1955.

“It was a shocking sight,” Maibaum wrote. “To me it was the equivalent of opening King Tut’s tomb in Egypt or uncovering the terra cotta warriors in China. The moment I gazed upon these remarkable plasters I instantly knew that everything that had been written about Degas’ sculptures in the past had to be reconsidered.”

COINCIDENTALLY, IN 2003 Gregory Hedberg heard from his friend Alex Cornot, a young lawyer–turned–art–dealer in Paris, of a bronze cast of the Little Dancer that was for sale at the home of a wealthy Parisian. An art historian educated at Princeton University and the New York University Institute of Fine Arts and a museum curator for more than 20 years, Hedberg prides himself on finding undervalued artworks.

The e–mail from Cornot, he said, “changed my life.” Cornot wanted to know if Hedberg had a buyer for a bronze Little Dancer in Paris. “So I e–mailed back, ‘What, nine, ten, eleven million?’ And he said, No, it was only at that time, only a few hundred thousand. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ So he e–mailed me an image of one of those bronzes.”

Hedberg said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “I’d never seen it before,” he said of the bronze version of the Little Dancer that Cornot sent him. “And it was like, ‘What the hell is this?'” The price was $300,000. “It wasn’t $10 million,” Hedberg said. “I mean, it was nothing.”

In May 2004, Cornot took Hedberg to the private home, near the Rodin Museum, to look at the bronze Little Dancer. Hedberg thought immediately that it was superior to the other versions of the sculpture he had seen and therefore must have been made earlier, perhaps during Degas’s lifetime. “It was just so beautiful,” he said. “It was like if you had been listening to squeaking your whole life and then you heard Mozart for the first time.”

Hedberg spent the summer thinking about what he had seen and studying the academic literature about the sculpture. He read correspondence between Degas and Louisine Havemeyer, who had wanted to buy the wax Little Dancer in the 1880s, and between Havemeyer and Mary Cassatt, the American Impressionist painter, who acted as Havemeyer’s go–between with Degas. He also reviewed the lengthy correspondence between Degas and his friend Paul–Albert Bartholomé, the sculptor.

In the fall of 2004, Hedberg’s friend and fellow Princeton graduate Christopher “Kip” Forbes, an heir to the Forbes publishing and art fortune, urged him to round up a few wealthy art collectors to go to Paris to attend a meeting of the American Friends of the Louvre and to take a look at the bronze. Hedberg invited Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and Greif, a former student of Emmons’s who had founded Greif & Co., a boutique investment banking firm in Los Angeles. Hedberg wrote to Emmons and Greif that he thought the bronze in Paris was superior to the posthumous bronzes cast from the plasters now in Washington and Omaha, and might represent “an earlier moment.” Greif called Hedberg immediately after receiving the letter and said he would buy the bronze, sight unseen.

After seeing the sculpture in person, Emmons announced that he wanted it, and Hedberg had to deliver the news that Greif had already bought it. But he promised Emmons he would find him another one of the bronzes for around the same price. After he returned to New York, he happened to be speaking with another art dealer, who told him that Maibaum had a few of the Little Dancer bronzes in his apartment on 57th Street. Maibaum had already spent two years studying the sculpture and had decided that it had been made from a third posthumous plaster. He had even written a manuscript about the discovery that he hoped would be published. Hedberg called Maibaum and told him he had a buyer for one of his Little Dancer bronzes. He added, “But I got to tell you, I think that this is from a lifetime plaster.”

“He was shocked out of his mind,” Hedberg said. The bad news, Hedberg told Maibaum, was that his book had to be revised, but the good news was that his bronzes were far more valuable than he had previously thought, because they seemed to have been cast from a plaster made during Degas’s lifetime. Nevertheless, Maibaum agreed to sell a Little Dancer bronze sculpture to Emmons through Hedberg.

The next mission for Hedberg and Greif was to find the plaster from which the Little Dancer bronzes had been cast. In November 2004, Hedberg said, he told Maibaum, “Find out more about this plaster.” The next month, Maibaum and his wife met Benatov at the Valsuani foundry and after their lunch, Benatov showed them the cache of previously unknown plasters. Maibaum then bought them through his Degas Sculpture Project Ltd. business.

Benatov also gave Maibaum an “official attestation,” dated December 23, 2004, to wit: According to the “precise memories of the old foundry manager, M. J. Sokolowsky,” after 1955 Albino Palazzolo “dropped off numerous plasters by Edgar Degas, one of which was the Little Dancer. He himself worked on the realization of some of the bronzes.” Neither Sokolowsky nor Palazzolo is alive.

Benatov wrote in an e–mail to ARTnews that the Valsuani foundry had contracted in 2004 with The Degas Sculpture Project Ltd. (Maibaum and Conn) to cast 29 bronzes from each of the 73 plasters, not including the Little Dancer, which Valsuani had already editioned. The Degas Sculpture Project was financing the casts and had “the exclusive right to purchase all the bronzes and . . . buy them in sets of 73,” Benatov wrote.

He added that Valsuani had sold the Little Dancer bronzes “directly to many clients, including Mr. Maibaum. Many were sold in Europe, and some went to the U.S. and elsewhere. It would not be right for me to tell you anything about the purchasers or the prices they paid.”

“No one to my knowledge has questioned the authenticity of the bronzes, and I do not know of any reason why anyone would,” Benatov concluded. “The Degas heirs authorized the editions and the bronzes are being cast in France under French law.”

Hedberg flew to Paris in February 2005 to see the plaster in a warehouse. “I thought it was magnificent,” he said. It was then, Hedberg said, that Benatov, urged by Maibaum, decided it was “time to get this thing into the art world.” Hedberg bought the plaster for Hirschl & Adler. There were conditions attached: no additional bronzes could be made from it, nor could it be sold to anyone else. “There would be huge penalties if it were sold,” Hedberg said. But it could be donated to a museum or other nonprofit organization.

Indeed, some representatives of nonprofit organizations are already circling in hopes of getting the plaster. One, Joseph Carroll, a member of the French Legion of Honor and the leader of the American Friends of the Institut de France, visited Hedberg at Hirschl & Adler in January to discuss the possibility of repatriating to French museums some of the “recently discovered” Degas plasters in exchange for “tax donations to the owners.”

Hedberg said that Carroll had “studied” the plasters three times and had “absolutely no commercial interest” in the matter. “Mr. Carroll just wants to do something for France,” Hedberg wrote in an e–mail. “He would not want them for the Institut if he was not 100% convinced they are correct and lifetime casts.” Carroll told Hedberg, as well as ARTnews, that he believes the Degas plasters to be “one of the great art historical discoveries of the 20th Century,” though he conceded he is no expert on Impressionist art—his specialty is Korean Buddhist art. And, he added, though the Little Dancer plaster at Hirschl & Adler is “profoundly better than what we know today” and “completely changes everything written,” it was important to “step back and study it” before drawing any conclusions about it.

HEDBERG IS THOROUGHLY convinced that Degas himself authorized the making of the “recently discovered” plaster Little Dancer. He says that after Degas displayed the wax sculpture in 1881, he took it back to his Paris apartment. Hedberg believes that a plaster was cast from the wax “at some point between 1887 and 1903” by Bartholomé, who died in 1928. As evidence that Bartholomé did the casting, Hedberg cites an undated letter from Degas to Bartholomé about a bust Degas was working on. “The moment I return, I intend to pounce upon Mme Caron,” is how Hedberg translates the letter, based on a translation made in connection with a 1988 Degas show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “You should already reserve a place for her among your precious bits of plaster.” (Rose Caron was an opera singer whose portrait Degas had painted.)

Marguerite Kay, who has translated Degas’s letters into English, rendered chastes gravats as “precious relics.” Hedberg translates the same phrase as “precious bits of plaster.” Observes one Degas expert, anonymously: “The sentence is clearly ambiguous. There are no records at all—aside from this one sentence, if that’s what it supports—to substantiate the claim that Bartholomé made an entire collection of Degas sculptures for himself during Degas’s lifetime.”

Nevertheless, in the footnotes to his essay in the Athens catalogue, Hedberg cites Reff, who dates the letter precisely to “Tuesday, 30 August 1892.” Hedberg then concludes that “by 1892, Bartholomé was routinely casting plasters from Degas’ waxes.” Hedberg cites as further evidence another letter from Degas to Bartholomé, dated February 22, 1901, in which he addressed Bartholomé as “My dear friend and perhaps fondeur,” which Hedberg translates as “someone who casts bronzes, typically using plasters.”

Hedberg also puts forth an elaborate argument to explain the substantial differences between the “lifetime plaster” that he claims Bartholomé made from the 1881 wax version of the Little Dancer and the wax itself in the National Gallery. According to Hedberg, Degas reworked the original wax sculpture after an April 1903 visit to his apartment by Havemeyer and Cassatt. This visit took place after Bartholomé had supposedly made a plaster cast of the wax sculpture.

Havemeyer admired the wax sculpture and wanted to buy it, Hedberg continued, but Degas would not sell it to her because “the wax had blackened.” So Degas set about “to repair the wax.” Hedberg cited a 1998 Metropolitan Museum publication saying that Degas had even set a price of 40,000 francs on the wax figure and asked Bartholomé for advice on repairing it since it “was going to go to America.” Apparently, though, according to Hedberg, “Degas never considered the renovations of The Little Dancer finished enough to sell the statue to Mrs. Havemeyer.” Two years after Degas’s death in 1917, Havemeyer asked Cassatt to examine the wax sculpture again to decide if it was worthy of purchase. But Cassatt reported back to Havemeyer via telegram (in the Met’s archives), “Statue Bad Condition.” That ended Havemeyer’s interest. The wax remained unsold until 1955, when Paul Mellon bought it.

These scraps of written evidence aside, Hedberg believes that the irrefutable proof for his theory is in the plasters themselves, many of which are lined up against the walls of his office. Hedberg owns two of the bronze Little Dancers made from the “lifetime plaster”—together worth $4 million, he believes. One he intends to bequeath to his son, and the other he says he will donate to a museum.

One thing Hedberg has done in his research that is especially irritating to the art historians who doubt his “discovery” is to cite them in his essays about the “lifetime plasters” to bolster his own conclusions. He refers to X–rays made by Beale of around 20 of the plasters and to Beale’s change of mind about the dating of the Little Dancer plaster, owing to the presence of strands of steel rebar that Hedberg believes may have been made in the 19th century. (Beale declined to comment on his examination.) He writes about the laser scans that the National Gallery’s Barbour and Sturman have done and their discovery of “chromium on the bronze” of a Degas sculpture. In his Athens essay, he cites the work of Tinterow, Kendall, Beale, and Reff. “This research is in the public domain,” Kendall said in a brief conversation after the New York meeting. “What can one do?”

Hedberg also ignores several preparatory drawings Degas made for the wax sculpture of the Little Dancer that show the precise body type and pose of the wax figure in the National Gallery. He relies instead on a single drawing in the Morgan Library in which, according to one Degas expert, “the position of the legs might roughly correspond to those of his dancer,” but even this “is not entirely clear.”

Hedberg points to his four years of research, the carbon dating of the wires and fibers clinging to the plaster, the 300 measurement comparisons, the test cleanings, and the comparisons he has made between photographs of the original waxes taken in 1918 after Degas’s death and the plasters he “discovered.” He dismisses as petty jealousy the claims of Anne Pingeot, general curator of the Musée d’Orsay and co–author of a catalogue raisonné of Degas’s bronzes, who wrote him a letter claiming that the plasters were “computer generated in the 1960s.” Pingeot is “mortified” that she let the plasters leave France and is now embarrassed, he says. “But she never got off her butt.” Pingeot did not respond to e–mail requests for comment.

Hedberg has a long list of “sculpture experts and art historians who have carefully studied the actual plasters themselves and who basically concur that these plasters must be lifetime casts,” including Steven Nash, director of the Palm Springs Art Museum and former director of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas; John Bullard, director of the New Orleans Museum of Art; June Hargrove, chair of the department of art history at the University of Maryland, who contributed an essay to the Athens catalogue; John Tancock, former senior vice president in the department of Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s New York; and Michael Conforti, director of the Clark Art Institute.

Contacted by ARTnews, Bullard conceded that he was not a Degas expert, but said he had friends who are. “There’s no way the plasters could be fakes,” he said. “They had to be cast from Degas originals, and had to be done during his lifetime.” Steven Nash agreed. “To me,” he said, “the preponderance of evidence indicates that they have to be early Degas plasters made mostly during his lifetime.” He added, “The burden of proof is on the skeptics to determine what they are if they are not original plasters.”

Tancock said he had seen the plasters, but “I did not express an opinion about them, nor do I feel comfortable doing so now. It’s a complicated issue.” Conforti seemed surprised to be cited as someone who could speak about the authenticity of Degas’s sculptures and denied expertise on the subject. “My opinions wouldn’t count, if I had any,” he said. “Which I don’t.”

Maibaum, who was once convinced that the plasters were posthumous, now relies on Hedberg’s conclusion that they were made during Degas’s lifetime by Bartholomé. “I’m not the one who said they are lifetime,” he said. “That was Greg. But of course I would wish them to be.” He said he has worked on the project for nine years and “invested everything we could,” without specifying how much. “I took a big risk, and I’m entitled to make a profit if I can.” Maibaum said he would welcome a symposium where the evidence could be presented and opposing views aired. “A great art discovery such as this one is truly hard to accept unless it’s associated with a major institution,” he said. “This is not associated with an institution, so it’s troubling to some.”

As for Hedberg, in the end he seems inured to the controversy. “What’s harder to believe is that somebody made 73 copies of Degas’s waxes and from those copies made these plasters and then never made bronzes,” he said. “That’s impossible.”

But, he said, “I was kind of naive. I thought people would be like, ‘Oh, how exciting and wonderful.’ Joyous. Some people are. But others are doubtful of a new theory. People hang on. There’s still some people I know that are not sure about the Big Bang.”

William D. Cohan, author of House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, is a columnist for the New York Times and writes for many publications. Additional reporting by Eileen Kinsella and Milton Esterow.

April 15th, 2010

Posted In: authenticity, Mailing list reports

Retrieving Art Stolen By Nazis a Tough Task

The Holocaust claimed about 6 million Jewish lives during World War II. Survivors not only endured the loss of loved ones, but also lost billions in assets looted by Nazis — including valuable pieces of art.

Ori Soltes, the Goldman Professorial Lecturer in Theology and Fine Arts at Georgetown and attorney Tom Kline said the odds of owners or heirs recovering paintings stolen by Nazis are slim.

“It’s like restitution roulette, ” said Kline, a partner at Andrews Kurth LLP — a law firm specializing in art and cultural property litigation. “Whether you get it back depends on where you find it.”

Soltes and Kline spoke at an April 7 discussion on “Final Restitution: Recovering Art Stolen by Hitler,” sponsored by Students Against Looting Valuable Antiquities — a Georgetown Endeavor (SALVAGE) and the Jewish Law Students Association in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 11.

‘Acceptable’ Art
The two examined the cultural, historical and legal issues surrounding the recovery of art stolen by the Nazis. They explained how Nazis devised a plan to purge European museums of what they viewed as “degenerate” art – works unfinished, abstract, by Jewish artists or displaying Jewish subjects.

“That could be [Pablo] Picasso’s cubism or anything with a Jewish connection,” Soltes said. “So, a Rembrandt in a Jewish context would be worthy of destruction, and other types of Rembrandts would be worthy of admiration.”

Under the “policy of plunder,” Nazis to confiscated “acceptable” paintings from European museums and private collections. Works were often kept by Nazi officials or displayed in German museums.

Rough Road of Recovery
Aside from attempting to locate artwork, claimants must contend with different laws around the world that limit the time for recovery and allow good-faith purchases by people unaware of the stolen status, the Kline explained.

While an Allied Declaration of 1943 and U.S. military law attempted to provide restitution or return of the objects immediately following World War II, Kline said a “valley of amnesia” existed during the second half of the 20th century along with secrecy and a lack of diligence on the part of buyers to investigate whether their treasures may have been stolen.

That secrecy is dissipating. The speakers said that a number of conferences in the late 1990s have shed light on the legal and moral implications surrounding stolen Nazi art. The 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-era Assets, for example, has tried to provide solutions to the problems surrounding restitution.

“The idea is to get the information out there, to encourage donors to make their claims, and try to have [them resolved],” Kline said.

Michael Goldman, Jewish chaplain at the Law Center, introduced the discussion between Soltes and Kline, and pointed out that time doesn’t act as an ally for art recovery.

“While the moral decision is incontestable between, say, Nazi looters and the families who had owned the works of art,” he said, “it becomes much trickier when 50 or more years have intervened — statutes of limitations have run out — and there are a number of truly good-faith purchasers in between. … It will take people of good will and perhaps the spotlight of public exposure to help us address these ongoing conflicts.

— Ann W. Parks

April 14th, 2010

Posted In: WWII

Trails leading to purloined paintings had surprising twists…

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2010

There are no gentleman art thieves. There is no dashing playboy who,
after lifting a Titian and stashing it in the hidden compartment of
his Bentley, unzips his jumpsuit to reveal a bespoke tuxedo and then
waltzes into the gala, pausing only to lift a champagne flute from the
tray of a passing waiter.

“There’s no such thing as the dashing connoisseur,” Anthony Amore told
me. “That’s almost unprecedented in history. It’s more the common
criminal. It’s never Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.”

Which, frankly, is a bit of a disappointment to those of us who
enjoyed “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

But Anthony should know. He is the director of security at Boston’s
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and he was in Washington not long ago
for the opening of a new exhibit at the National Museum of Crime and
Punishment,”Uncovering the Dark Arts: Thieves, Forgers and Tomb

Most museum security folks like to keep a low profile, as if
acknowledging their own existence might somehow encourage people to
steal from them. Not Anthony. He likes the limelight, possibly because
it’s hard for his museum to avoid it. The Gardner was the scene of the
biggest art heist in recent history: the theft on March 18, 1990, of
13 works of art, including a Vermeer, a Manet and three Rembrandts.
None has been recovered. (Anthony mentioned more than once that he was
not the head of security at the time of the theft.)

It got me thinking: What about Washington? We have plenty of museums.
Is our stuff not worth stealing?

Not at all. Washington Post researcher Meg Smith found all sorts of
robberies, mainly of artifacts, including a diamond-encrusted gold
snuffbox that once belonged to Catherine the Great. Stolen from the
Smithsonian in 1979, it was melted down for the metal.

But it’s a 10-year period at the Phillips Collection that intrigues
me the most. In 1953, someone stole a small painting by Swiss artist
Paul Klee called “Little Circus.” It was eventually returned to the
Phillips in the mail, wrapped in a copy of the Christian Science
Monitor along with a note that read, “Here ends two years of

Weird, huh?

In 1959, a still life by Henri Rousseau titled “The Pink Candle” was
taken from the Phillips. The next day, the painting’s frame was found
in Rock Creek Park. Not long after that, the museum received a phone
call from a man who said his “friend” knew where the painting was. The
“friend” hadn’t stolen it — heavens, no — and he wanted a reward.
The Phillips told him that it would not give a reward for stolen
property. The man then called a lawyer in an attempt to broker a deal,
but that fell through, and eventually the mysterious phone-caller said
he would leave a key inside the door of the attorney’s office that
would lead them to the painting.

The key fit Locker No. 318 at the Trailways bus station. Inside was
“The Pink Candle.”

The Phillips beefed up security after each theft, but that didn’t stop
a thief from ripping another Klee — a watercolor called “Little
Regatta,” valued at $20,000 — from the wall on Jan. 12, 1963. There
would be no quick reunion with this painting.

For more than 30 years, the work was listed as “stolen” in the
museum’s records. In 1997, it was returned by Edward Puhl, a retired
Boston area businessman. Puhl had purchased it at an outdoor antiques
fair in Southern Maryland a year or two after the theft. He said the
dealer selling it couldn’t guarantee it was a Klee, but it sure looked
like one to Puhl. When an expert who was brought in decades later to
appraise his works traced the painting to the Phillips, Puhl contacted
the museum.

Except for whatever pains pricked at their consciences (“Here ends two
years of torment”), no one was ever punished for these thefts.

But I doubt the thieves were too troubled. Anthony Amore says most
thieves are common criminals, in it for the money. They don’t know
their Manets from their Monets. He thinks it’s likely the Gardner was
robbed by a criminal gang eager to have a “get out of jail free” card,
an insurance policy against prosecution in other crimes: Go easy on me
and I’ll tell you where you can find the Gardner loot.

Anthony is confident that the works will eventually return home.

Hey, the Phillips’s did.

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: comment

£50,000 of artwork stolen from studio…

London Evening Standard/London

A ‘professional’ gang of thieves stole more than £50,000 of paintings
in a burglary at a gallery.

American artist Haidee Becker had four canvases taken from her studio-
cum-gallery in Archer Street, Soho.

Becker, 60, who has work in the National Portrait Gallery, said she
believed the thieves could have stolen the paintings to order.

“They must have been professionals. They knew what they were doing.
They took two of the largest paintings, ones that had been published
in a catalogue,” she said.

“There were other framed paintings that look more valuable, but they
chose to steal paintings that had to be removed from their stretchers
and then probably rolled up before they could be taken away. They also
took out all the paintings from the store room and looked through them

“It’s very easy to destroy a painting if you don’t know what you are
doing and they clearly did.”

The stolen paintings are Red Slippers (valued at £25,000), Blue
Delphinium-Indian Yellow (£12,000), Brown Vase-Pink Tulips (£15,000)
and Mandy (£5,000).

Becker said she was most saddened by the loss of Red Slippers (2007)
which is a portrait of her daughter Rachel.

“I’ll never be able to do that one again as Rachel was 17 then and she
is not the same person any more,” she said.

The artist is working on portraits of Mark Rylance and the rest of the
cast of hit play Jerusalem between performances at the Apollo

She only moved into the premises – a former massage parlour which was
closed by police – four months ago. It is opposite her son, Jacob
Kenedy’s restaurant Bocca di Lupo.

Her group portrait of the kitchen staff is a centrepiece at the

A Met Police spokeswoman said officers from Westminster Burglary Squad
were investigating the break-in.

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: art theft, Mailing list reports

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April 13th, 2010

Posted In: restitution
FBI Returns Paintings to Peru | April 11th, 2010 at 4:35 am

Today the FBI returned to the government of Peru two Colonial paintings that were recovered by the FBI Art Crime Team. FBI Assistant Director Kevin Perkins, Criminal Investigative Division, presented the artifacts to Ambassador Luis Miguel Valdivieso at a ceremony at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C.

“We are pleased to be able to return these paintings to the government of Peru,” said Assistant Director Perkins. “Unfortunately, Peru suffers from depredations caused by thieves and looters and these stolen and looted objects regularly are brought into the U.S. for sale or display. This deprives the Peruvian people of their religious and cultural heritage and corrupts the legitimate market for works of art.”

In 2005, Exipion Ernesto Ortiz-Espinosa brought two paintings into the United States from Bolivia. One of the paintings, the 18th century oil on canvas known as “Doble Trinidad” or “Sagrada Familia,” depicts the Holy Family with Trinity in a style characteristic of the Cusco School of painting. It has been appraised at $26,000. The other painting, “Saint Dominic,” an 18th century oil on canvas, depicts Saint Dominic offering a wedding veil to Santa Rosa of Lima and has been valued at $38,000. The works are of the Cusco and Lima style of religious painting created to inspire devotion and hung in churches, monasteries, and convents throughout Peru during the Colonial period.

Ortiz consigned the two paintings to a gallery for sale. Suspecting the paintings were stolen when he observed they had been cut from their frames and that the appropriate legal documentation could not be produced, the dealer called the FBI. The paintings were seized in 2007 and forfeited in 2009 pursuant to the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). Under the CCPIA, the 1997 bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Peru, it is illegal to import Colonial-era religious paintings into the United States from Peru without documentation certifying that the export did not violate Peruvian law.

(Source: FBI)

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: restitution

Restitution of Sri Lankan artifacts

Apropos my article on the above subject published in The Island mid last month, I regret that I have made an error when I referred to the King’s Crown which was stolen from the museum and melted was that of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha which was returned by the British government and the loss occurred at the National Museum, [Colombo].

Dr. P. H. D. H de Silva, who was the Director of the National Museum ,has sent a note to a common friend in Kandy after reading my article which the latter brought to my attention. I thought I would reproduce it rather than paraphrase it.

“Bandu had made a small error and that was about the Kandyan King’s Crown. What was burgled was the Crown of King Rajasimha II from the Kandy National Museum way back during Deraniyagala’s administration. They came through the roof and the Police recovered several small bars of gold and a few pieces of the Crown. During Mrs. Bandaranaike’s time, Nissanka Wijeyeratne, who was Secretary to our Ministry, arranged for a copper replica to be made and some of the gold from the recovered bars was overlaid on the replica. The rest he got me to hand over to the Central Bank. This was opened to the public by Governor-Genera William Gopallawa at the Kandy Museum which you see today.

“The Crown of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha is at the Colombo National Museum. Long ago, a lunatic had broken the glass and put the Crown on his head. He was quickly taken in by Police who arrived promptly and a dent in the Crown is the only evidence of the incident.”

I wrote that part of the story from recollections of a newspaper report which I read a long time back. I had mixed up the two events referred to by Dr. de Silva. I thank Dr. de Silva for correcting me and apologise to him for mentioning that the loss was at the Colombo National Museum which was under his able administration for a long time. I also apologise to the readers for this mix-up on my part.

Whether the incident happened in Colombo or Kandy, it does not take away from my argument that we as a nation do not seem to care much about even valuable patrimony like the Crown of one of our heroic rulers. It is unpardonable that King Rajasinha II’s Crown was spirited away in the very City where the King held Court a few centuries ago. Rajasinha II was a ruler who fought relentlessly to chase the Portuguese and the Dutch out of this country and left his indelible mark on the history of the country in many ways.

Sometime back I wrote about the pathetic state of the place where the King was cremated. I also wrote that the first century B.C. King Dutugemunu built a monument on the site of cremation of his adversary Elara and the place was honoured till the time of the early British rule on that King’s order. I may ask if today we have become a nation which forgets its heroes? What is then the point in trying to regain our artefacts which are under protective care overseas?

Not many months back, the Archaeological Museum of Kotte lost one of the few Kotte period sword sticks. The person who brought it to my attention has stated that up to now there has been no news about this loss. He laments that an article he had sent a newspaper (not The Island) has remained unpublished. He has made a sketch of the sword. He has come to the conclusion that writing articles like that seem to be considered “unpatriotic” and “traitorous” these days! I do not think so as far as one is ready to bravely expose wrongdoings and pitfalls.

Bandu de Silva

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: Mailing list reports, restitution
Exonerated: Steven Spielberg’s Art Dealer in Case of Rockwell Painting Stolen from St. Louis
By Chad Garrison, Monday, Apr. 12 2010 @ 1:56PM
Categories: Arts, News
russian schoolroom 3.jpg
Rockwell’s Russian Schoolroom disappeared during a 1973 gallery heist in St. Louis.
​Daily RFT spoke to a very elated Judy Cutler on Friday as the Rhode Island-based art dealer made her way back east from a Las Vegas courtroom.

For the past three years Cutler and her husband, Laurence, have been involved in a costly and drawn-out legal battle over a Norman Rockwell painting titled Russian Schoolroom that was stolen from a St. Louis art gallery back in 1973. As Riverfront Times first reported, the painting re-emerged three years ago when the FBI learned it was in the private gallery of movie director Steven Spielberg.

Judy Goffman Cutler and her husband, Laurence.
​Hearing of the discovery, the owner of the artwork at the time of its disappearance, Las Vegas art dealer Jack Solomon, filed suit against Spielberg and the FBI claiming ownership of the painting.

The FBI was later dismissed from the case as was Spielberg after Cutler stepped in to take his place in the litigation. Cutler, after all, was the person who sold the painting to Spielberg in 1989 for the price of $200,000, a year after buying the piece at auction in New Orleans for $70,400.

As Riverfront Times has chronicled over the years, the case of the stolen painting has had more plot twists than even the best Spielberg film — including clues linking it to a St. Louis art thief implicated in a plot to kill Martin Luther King Jr.

For the purposes of this post, however, will stick to the facts of the lawsuit. They’re interesting enough.
In his lawsuit, Solomon claimed that Cutler did not do a thorough background check prior to buying the painting at auction and selling it to Spielberg. Had she done her due diligence, argued Solomon, Cutler would known it was stolen and that its rightful owner was Solomon.

Jack Solomon
​Curiously, though, it seems that Solomon knew that the painting had turned up for action in 1988. Not only that, Solomon appears to have profited from the sale of the painting to Cutler.

That was the finding last week of U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt who last Thursday in his decision and statement of fact suggested that Solomon twice profited off the stolen painting. The first time was in 1973 when his insurance company cut him a check for $20,000 for the lost art work and the second time in 1988 when Solomon reached a decision with the New Orlean’s auction house that he get a split from the sale of the painting.

Furthermore, the judge found plenty of other evidence suggesting that Solomon knew the painting was up for auction in 1988 — despite Solmon’s claims to the contrary. These included testimony from his friends and former employees that they contacted him and left messages that they’d seen the painting advertised for auction.

In his decision Thursday, Judge Hunt wrote: “In light of the testimony of other witnesses, many of whom had no personal stake in this litigation, the court finds Solomon’s denial of these events is not credible.”

The Cutlers tell Daily RFT they were able to introduce the most damaging testimony against Solomon only after subpoenaing the FBI for transcripts of its depositions taken while investigating the provenance of the painting.

Russian Schoolroom, per Hunt’s ruling, is now the property of Judy Cutler who in 2007 swapped the title of the painting with Steven Spielberg for another Rockwell painting of “equal or greater value.”

Below: The judge’s nine-page decision and conclusion of fact.

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit

Fugitive art dealer Solly Sinai brought from France to NY to face heist charges

BY Alison Gendar

Monday, April 12th 2010, 12:57 PM
Related News

A jet-setting dealer has been dragged from France to New York to face charges he sold stolen art and antiques.

Solly Sinai, who worked out of Israel and Paris, has been linked to pieces stolen in three high-end break-ins in the late 1990s and then hawked at fire-sale prices.

The thefts include more than 200 Japanese antique miniature sculptures stolen from a Paris shop in 1997.

In a second burglary, more than 50 pieces worth more than $1 million – including several pairs of Napoleonic-era antique pistols and an antique silver bowl – were taken.

A third heist netted antique candelabra and valuable “first casts” by the artist Antoine Louis Barye.

Sinai allegedly bought the items on the black market and smuggled six of the pistols into New York in 2000 and sold them to unsuspecting dealers in California.

He also was accused of selling bronze statues and the antique bowl to other dealers in Manhattan, and hawking some of the Japanese miniatures to an antiques dealer in Germany.

He was indicted in 2004.

Read more:

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: Art Thief, Mailing list reports

I acted lawfully over stolen Leonardo, says solicitor
Lindsay McIntosh

The accused clockwise from top: David Boyce, Marshall Ronald, Robert Graham, John Doyle and Calum Jones

A solicitor accused of helping to hold a stolen Leonardo da Vinci painting to ransom has claimed that his law firm was used to give a “cloak of respectability” to a deal intended to return the painting to its aristocratic owner.

Madonna of the Yarnwinder was recovered after the police raided the Glasgow offices of the commercial law firm HBJ Gateley Wareing in October 2007. The painting had been stolen from the Duke of Buccleuch’s home at Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire, in August 2003. David Boyce, 63, resigned from the law firm after the raid and is now on trial for extortion, along with four other men, at the High Court in Edinburgh. Giving evidence yesterday, he denied that there had been any conspiracy in the “unusual” transaction.

Mr Boyce had been approached by Marshall Ronald, a Lancashire-based solicitor he knew from property dealings who was acting on behalf of two Merseyside private detectives. The clients claimed that they could get their hands on the painting, which was insured for £15 million but worth perhaps three times that figure. Mr Boyce told the court that, at the request of Mr Ronald, the efforts to return the painting had been kept highly confidential, but not secret.

The trial has been told that Mr Boyce’s boss, Malcom McPherson, claimed that he felt entitled to be angry at the way the firm had been let down “specifically by the non-disclosure of such high-risk, high profile activity”.
Related Links

* I deserved £2m reward, says Leonardo accused

* Police raided law office to recover painting

“I don’t see it like that,” Mr Boyce told the court.

He said he felt his law firm had been used to give “a cloak of respectability” to dealings aimed at securing the valuable painting’s return. “Things have come out in this trial which have changed my view of Mr Ronald,” he said.

Mr Boyce told advocate depute Simon Di Rollo, for the prosecution: “I have never had any involvement in any criminal transaction in my life. This was something that required to be done lawfully and was done lawfully.”

He said he had not seen an agreement that contained a clause demanding that “law enforcement agencies” should not be told what was happening. He said he had passed matters on to junior partner Calum Jones, another of the men on trial. “I am not a contracts lawyer,” he explained. “I had no reason to look at any of the documents. It was not my job.”

Mr Boyce told his own defence QC, David Burns: “If there was for a moment any doubt about the legality of this, I and my firm would not have been involved.”

Standing trial are Marshall Ronald, 53, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire; Robert Graham, 57, from Ormskirk, Lancashire; John Doyle, 61, also from Ormskirk; Calum Jones, 45, from Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire; and David Boyce, 63, from Airdrie, Lanarkshire. They are accused of plotting to obtain money from the 9th Duke of Buccleuch, his son and their insurers Hiscox UK. They deny conspiring to extort £4,250,000 or, alternatively, attempting to extort the money between July and October 2007.

The trial continues.

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit
Solicitor claims ‘no conspiracy’ in artwork transaction
Clockwise from top left, Robert Graham, John Doyle, Marshall Ronald, David Boyce and Calum Jones
Five men deny conspiring to extort money for the return of the Da Vinci

A solicitor accused of helping to hold a stolen Da Vinci artwork has denied there was a conspiracy involved.

David Boyce, 63, told the High Court in Edinburgh he thought the transaction to return the painting was “unusual”, but it was not suspicious.

He is one of five men who deny conspiring to extort £4.25m for the return of the painting in October 2007.

In the final evidence heard by the jury, Mr Boyce said: “I find myself embarrassed to be in this position.”

The Madonna of the Yarnwinder was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire in 2003.

Mr Boyce, who resigned from HBJ Gateley Wareing in Glasgow following his arrest, said he felt his law firm had been used to give “a cloak of respectability” to dealings aimed at securing the valuable painting’s return.

He said had been approached by Lancashire-based solicitor Marshall Ronald, a lawyer he knew from earlier property dealings, who was acting on behalf of two Merseyside private eyes who claimed they could get their hands on the painting.

‘Unusual transaction’

At the request of Mr Ronald, the business of returning the painting had been kept highly confidential, but not secret, he said.

Mr Boyce told advocate depute Simon Di Rollo, prosecuting: “I have never had any involvement in any criminal transaction in my life.

“This was something that required to be done lawfully and was done lawfully.”

He agreed the transaction had been “unusual” and unique in his law career, but denied it was suspicious.

“I thought the return of a stolen painting in these particular circumstances was something laudable, if it could be done lawfully,” he added.

He claimed he had not seen an agreement which contained a clause demanding that “law enforcement agencies” should not be told what was happening.

Mr Boyce said he had passed matters on to junior partner Calum Jones, another of the men on trial, and had “no reason” to look at any of the documents.
Madonna with the Yarnwinder
The painting was stolen in southern Scotland in 2003

He told the court: “If there was for a moment any doubt about the legality of this, I and my firm would not have been involved.

“Let me assure you of that. There was no conspiracy, no intention to extort.”

On trial along with Mr Boyce are Mr Jones, 45, from Renfrewshire, and Marshall Ronald, 53, Robert Graham, 57 and John Doyle, 61, all from Lancashire.

They are not accused of stealing the painting and deny conspiring to extort £4.25m or attempting to extort the money.

Closing speeches in the trial, which is in its seventh week, are expected to begin on Tuesday.

April 13th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit, Mailing list reports

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April 10th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs, Mailing list reports


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April 10th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs, Mailing list reports


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April 9th, 2010

Posted In: diefstal beelden, diefstal uit kerken

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April 5th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs

Reward offered for return of stolen paintings from Conrad Wilde Gallery…
by Carolyn Classen on Apr.04, 2010, under Arts, Life

Conrad Wilde Gallery was “robbed by unknown person(s) between the dates of 3/27-3/29/10. The major loss was 13 original works of art by 10 artists as well as all of the gallery’s electronic equipment. This is a locally owned small business that is well regarded in service to the community. The loss of these artworks is devastating to the gallery and to the individual artists whose works were taken.
A reward is offered to anyone with information leading to the safe return of these artworks. Phone 520-820-6410. No questions will be asked.”

For photos of the stolen paintings, log onto

I picked up the flyer about this stolen artwork at a reception at this gallery (439 E. 6th St., #171) last night. If you know anything about these stolen paintings, please contact the gallery. 3 paintings have been recovered.

Repeat, no questions will be asked. They just want the artwork back.

April 5th, 2010

Posted In: Mailing list reports, reward posted

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April 5th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit, Mailing list reports…
Police investigating bronze theft
Lisa Cassidy/Daily News staff
Someone stole a bronze sign from Temple Beth Israel Memorial Park in
By Joyce Kelly/Daily News staff
Daily News Tribune
Posted Apr 05, 2010 @ 02:01 AM

Police are investigating the theft of a bronze plaque marking the
Temple Beth Israel Memorial Park cemetery off of South Street, said
Detective Capt. Bill Stanton.

Waltham detectives are working with police in other cities and towns
to get leads, he said, “because we are not the only ones” targeted for
bronze thefts.

The plaque was reported stolen on last Monday, he said.

The theft angered Mayor Jeannette McCarthy. “It’s outrageous – robbing
graves in public places. I hope there’s no market for it,” she said.

Whatever the monetary value may be, such items are “priceless to
mourners,” she said. No one could be reached for comment at Temple
Beth Israel Friday.

McCarthy said she will close the park gate at dusk.

She said she has received reports of bronze thefts, and attempted
thefts, around the city recently.

Someone also tried to steal the bronze plaque off the monument at Bank
Square on Main Street, as evidenced by wedge marks, but was
unsuccessful, she said.

“This is the new wave. They’ll take the silver out of your mouth,”
said McCarthy.

Waltham Historical Commission Chairwoman Angie Emberly said she is in
regular communication with police over the spate of thefts in Waltham
and beyond in communities such as Belmont, Watertown and Boston.

She said it was Bill Durkee who first noticed that someone tried to
pry the plaque off the Bank Square monument, which honors Civil War
Gen. Nathaniel Banks.

Durkee, Community Preservation Committee program manager, was taking a
walk on Main Street when he saw the marks on the plaque, she said.

On March 20, a thief or thieves also stole a brass doorknocker at the
Gore Place mansion at 52 Gore St., Emberly said.

They damaged the other knocker while trying to steal it, but couldn’t
get it off, she said.

“It is believed to be the original doorknocker from the 1800s, and
(will cost) $700 to $1,000 to replace,” Emberly said.

Emberly said she is “distressed” that historical materials around the
city are being stolen and targeted for theft.

“These are Waltham’s treasures. They’re there for a reason, because
they’re historically significant. Any kind of thievery is very bad.
These people are taking something of value, even if it’s not
monetary,” Emberly said.

In a similar case of bronze theft, police last Tuesday arrested 52-
year-old Newton resident Vincent Cedrone, on charges of receiving
stolen property.

On that day at about 4 p.m., Newton Police detectives received
surveillance video dated March 21, from Belmont Police, according
District Attorney Gerard Leone Jr. spokeswoman Cara O’Brien.

The video showed someone stealing a plaque from the Belmont Town Hall
Annex building, she said. Police were able to identify the suspect in
the video as Cedrone and issued an arrested warrant, O’Brien said.

Police arrested Cedrone later that night at his home. During their
investigation, police said they located seven plaques, six known to
have been stolen from the city of Boston.

Cedrone pleaded not guilty at his Wednesday arraignment in Newton
District Court, and was ordered held on $2,500 cash bail. His next
court date is May 10 for pretrial conference.

Joyce Kelly can be reached at 781-398-8005 or jke…
Copyright 2010 The Daily News Tribune. Some rights reserved

April 5th, 2010

Posted In: Mailing list reports, metal theft

Protect Your Art With More Than a Handshake…. By PAUL SULLIVAN Published: April 2, 2010

Last month, Lawrence Salander, a top Manhattan art dealer who ran the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, admitted to stealing more than $120 million from clients, often by simply not paying them the full amount for art he sold on their behalf. Remarkably, he acknowledged that he had sustained the fraud for more than a decade before he was caught. His story offers insight into how wealthy collectors often trust gallery owners in ways they would never trust someone in any other type of business arrangement. One reason is the tradition of graciousness of the art world. Another reason is collectors’ fear of being blacklisted from buying prime works. Still, it would make sense that the wealthy would take more care in lending or consigning a multimillion-dollar piece of art than they would in lending their lawn mower to a neighbor. But in many cases, experts say, contracts are unspecific and collectors do not fully understand the legal risks. “It’s a market that tends to operate on trust and relationships,” said Jo Backer Laird, a lawyer at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. “Everything is O.K. until it isn’t, and when it isn’t you find yourself facing legal doctrines and situations that you have never heard of.” While most galleries are reputable — and have no incentive to upset multimillionaire collectors — the stories I was told in the wake of the Salander plea would boggle the mind. And this peek inside the art world revealed not only how little many collectors ask before lending their art but also how poorly some care for it themselves. TOO MUCH TRUST The Salander fraud was a case of a dealer deceiving his clients. But what a dealer is expected to do and what he can do with your art are not always the same thing. “Art is valuable and portable and it’s very hard to protect yourself,” said Norman Newman, who heads the fine arts and special risks department at HUB International, an insurance broker. He said many collectors were eager to have their art displayed in museums and at reputable galleries, because shows help increase the piece’s value. In their exuberance, collectors often neglect to have a properly worded contract drawn up. Such a contract would detail how long the gallery would show the art, the minimum price for it and where or if it could be moved. These all seem to be simple requests, but Mary Sheridan, the assistant fine arts manager for Chubb, the insurer, said families who had collected art for decades were used to doing business with a handshake. “Maybe nothing untoward has ever happened in those three decades,” she said. “But dealers can do whatever they want and not tell clients about it.” While a collector retains legal title to his art when he lends it to a gallery, the dealer can simply sell it. “Dealers are merchants in the kind of property you’re loaning them,” Ms. Laird said. “Once you’ve entrusted it to them, then they can sell it, and if they sell it in the ordinary course of business, that buyer gets good title to that work even if the dealer never pays you.” There is a simple way, though, to secure your claim to your own art: file a financing statement under the uniform commercial code. These forms are a public record of the owner’s claim. If the dealer then sells the art without the owner’s consent, the sale is considered theft. But filing these forms is not common practice. Likewise, if a gallery files for bankruptcy, as Salander-O’Reilly did in 2007, collectors who have consigned art without filing a uniform commercial code form may end up as unsecured creditors in bankruptcy court. This means their art could be counted an asset of the gallery and used to pay secured creditors first. HUMAN ERROR The insurance industry uses the phrase “mysterious disappearance” to describe a missing item when the owner does not know how it vanished. This is not all that unusual if the missing item is an earring, but a painting by Marc Chagall? That was what happened to one collector who had had a Chagall painting displayed on his yacht. In fact, it took the owners months to realize the painting was not on the wall. “The original had been replaced by a poor copy,” said Katja Zigerlig, assistant vice president of fine art, wine and jewelry insurance at Chartis Insurance. “The yacht had been to 30 different ports in the past year, changing crews, hosting charity events — there was no way to figure out the culprit.” These mysterious disappearances coupled with outright theft accounted for only 17 percent of the 200 largest claims Chartis paid in 2008 and 2009. The biggest area of loss — 47 percent — was art that had been broken or damaged. (Damage in transit added 6 percent.) One of the most famous art blunders in recent years involved Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino owner, who put his elbow through Picasso’s “Le Rêve” as he was showing the painting to some friends. It was his painting, albeit under contract to be sold for $139 million. The tear was eventually repaired, but the sale was canceled. Incidents like this, however rare, are why fine art insurers employ teams of risk assessors to judge how a collection is cared for. Richard Standring, risk services manager for the East Coast for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, said he found a Picasso hanging on the back of French doors in Boston. He attributed the placement to a decorator “being involved and not knowing it’s a multimillion-dollar piece.” Ms. Sheridan said a collector recently called to ask whether she thought it would be all right to have a friend drive a $2 million piece from Pennsylvania to Wyoming. She suggested instead that he use professional art shippers, who would pack the piece and transport it in a climate-controlled truck. While fine art insurance covers loss and damage, many of these objects are irreplaceable or would lose significant value if damaged. The point is that such carelessness is a greater risk to fine art than an unscrupulous dealer. WHO DID IT? When it comes to actual art thefts, the reality is far less romantic than Hollywood’s version. Thefts more closely resemble shoplifting than a scene from “Ocean’s Twelve.” “They’re usually inside jobs by staff,” said Donald Soss, vice president for personal insurance on the West Coast at Fireman’s Fund. “The employee is working with someone and gives them the burglar alarm code.” The more sinister culprits in a home are water leaks, fire and wind. Hanging your art above your fireplace or underneath an air- conditioning vent is a bad idea. So is thinking that just because something has hung in one spot for decades that it is fine: wires stretch and break over time. Then there is the risk of living in Florida, with its seasonal hurricanes. These are far greater risks to art than thieves and fraudsters. “Most collectors are very passionate and they wouldn’t want to hurt their art,” Ms. Zigerlig said. “But they overlook the perils in their own home.”

April 4th, 2010

Posted In: news comments / discussions

Revisiting the 1897 destruction of Benin
By Akintayo Abodunrin
April 3, 2010 07:22PM
The looting of African artefacts and the ceaseless calls for their
repatriation will take centre stage when ‘ Art and the
Restitution Question’, a solo travelling exhibition by artist, Peju
Layiwola, opens.
The exhibition, being organised to mark Nigeria’s 50th anniversary,
will open on April 8 at the Main Auditorium Gallery, University of
Lagos, and run till May 30. The Enogie of Obazuwa, Edun Akenzua, will
declare the exhibition open.
‘’ is a touring exhibition, and will berth at the Museum
of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, from August
19 to September 19. The Edo State government will subsequently host
the exhibition at a yet-to-be announced venue.
Kill and loot
In February 1897, a ‘punitive expedition’ was sent to Benin to capture
the king and destroy his kingdom in retaliation for the killing of a
British Counsel and his party on their way to investigate reports of
ritual human sacrifice in the city. But the punitive expedition not
only went beyond its brief – capturing and destroying the city – it
also engaged in large scale looting of artefacts. Among other war
‘booties’, about 900 Benin bronze works were taken from the city to
“defray the cost of the war.” Many of these are held at the British
Museum in London, and have been the subject of long standing
contention between Britain and Nigeria.
Most of the works were bought by German museums where they remain till
the present time, while about 50 found their way to Britain. The works
featured in an exhibition on the 100th anniversary of the sack of
Benin at the British Museum in 1997. Though there have been numerous
and consistent calls for the repatriation of bronze works and other
artefacts, the European countries that are in possession of these art
pieces have refused to let go of them.
Filling a void
‘’, featuring a colloquium and publication by nine
scholars on art-stripping and restitution, is Layiwola’s impression of
the destruction of the city. Layiwola, a lecturer in the Department of
Creative Arts, University of Lagos, is a granddaughter of Oba Akenzua
II (king of Benin, 1933 to 1979) and daughter of Elizabeth Olowu, the
first sculptress in Benin.
Curator of the exhibition, Sola Olorunyomi said, “The current
exhibition could as well be described as her most ambitious; at once
affective and deeply contemplative, it arrives with a 244-page
publication and catalogue with 154 colour illustrations.
“Besides its intellectual content, this effort could equally be read
as an exercise in filial cultural intervention, something not just of
a professional obligation but an anxiety to fill an autobiographical
void. Through this cultural action for freedom, the past seems to be
indicting the present, as one offspring of a brutish encounter is
beginning to throw barbs of indictment at past abuse of power.”
Folarin Shyllon and Ademola Popoola, both professors of Law, will
speak on restitution and the repatriation of cultural property to
Nigeria at the colloquium that will open the exhibition. Akin Oyebode,
another professor of Law, will chair the session.
The Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), the
Edo State government, Universities of Ibadan and Lagos, and the
National Commission for Museums and Monuments, are supporters of the
Scholars, including Folarin Shyllon, Slyvester Ogbechie, Freida High,
Kwame Opoku, and Benson Eluma, have essays in the accompanying
publication to the exhibition. Others are Mimi Wolford, Mabel
Evwierhoma, Akin Onipede, Victor Edo, the artist herself, and Sola

April 4th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs

Turf war may have ruined Gardner heist leadEx-agent says FBI was on right trail

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Correspondent  |  April 4, 2010
The FBI was on the trail of recovering the principal masterpiecesstolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from a criminal gangin Corsica two years ago only to have its efforts dashed, in partbecause of bureaucratic infighting among federal agents andsupervisors.
That is the conclusion of a nonfiction book written by a now-retiredFBI special agent who posed undercover in 2006 and 2007 as a wealthyart collector interested in purchasing several of the paintingsthrough two Frenchmen who had alleged ties to the Corsican mobsters.The French intermediaries said they could deliver the stolen Vermeer,valued at more than $100 million, and at least one of the two largeRembrandts that were taken. They were among the 13 pieces, now valuedat $500 million, stolen in what is considered the largest art theft inhistory.
As detailed in his soon-to-be released book, “Priceless: How I WentUndercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,’’ Robert K. Wittmansays he believed from French wiretaps and his covert dealings with thetwo French intermediaries that the Corsican mob did have control ofthe stolen artwork. A special agent for 20 years, Wittman establishedthe FBI’s Art Theft unit and is credited with recoveries of hundredsof millions of dollars of art and antiquities during his ca reer, manyof which he recounts in his book, along with his experiences on theGardner case.
If true, the disclosures provide the first real clues as to whathappened to the 11 paintings and drawings, plus an ancient Chinesevase and a finial, stolen out of the Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990.
Wittman, who retired from the FBI and now works as a private securityconsultant, could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for hispublisher, Crown Publishers in New York, said he would not be givinginterviews until the book goes on sale in June. As recently as a monthago, FBI agents who have spent the last 20 years investigating thethefts were quoted as saying that they have never received “proof oflife’’ evidence from any of the tipsters that they had possession oraccess to the stolen goods.
The FBI, according to officials, is reviewing Wittman’s manuscript forpossible disclosure of secrets that could be damaging to ongoinginvestigations or national security. Special Agent Gail A.Marcinkiewicz, spokeswoman for the Boston office of the FBI, declinedto respond to questions on the substance of the Corsican investigation— tagged Operation Masterpiece by the FBI — or Wittman’s criticisms ofthe FBI’s overall handling of the inquiry. Instead, in a statementFriday, she said: “Per DOJ [ Department of Justice] policy, the FBIdoes not comment on any ongoing, pending investigations. The FBIremains dedicated and committed to this investigation with theultimate goal being the recovery and return of the stolen artwork tothe Gardner Museum.’’
Until now, the FBI has attributed that failure to the perpetrators’continued fear of prosecution, despite repeated pledges by federalauthorities that they would not be charged if they returned the stolenitems in good condition. They would also be eligible to collect the $5million reward being offered by the museum for the return of thepaintings and other art pieces.
However, Wittman contends that the lead he worked on beginning in late2006 — which he describes as the first credible tip received by theFBI — was sabotaged by the reluctance of FBI officials to overrule theFBI supervisory agent on the Gardner investigation who refused toallow Wittman to make his own decisions on the Corsican case.
Instead, the supervisor, who is only identified in the book as“Fred,’’ micromanaged Wittman’s interactions with the two Frenchintermediaries even though he was unfamiliar with overseeing anundercover operation. At one point, Wittman writes, Fred tried to getWittman thrown off the case by sending an official memorandum to FBIchiefs in Washington questioning whether Wittman was trying to delaycompleting the investigation until retiring so he could win the $5million reward as a private citizen.
In addition, Wittman writes, Fred — who had never before traveled to aforeign country on official business — was quick to offend hiscounterparts in French law enforcement on the investigation, seekingto assert the FBI’s control of the case even though many of thedealings were to take place inside France.
Despite his pleas, Wittman writes, FBI officials refused to wrestcontrol of the investigation from Fred because of the historicreluctance of those at FBI headquarters to overrule the decisions ofthe agency’s local supervisors. French authorities also weakened thethrust of the investigation by mandating that a French intelligenceofficer work undercover with Wittman and by refusing at one key pointto allow one of the two intermediaries to enter France for a meetingbecause he was a fugitive wanted in France on another crime.
“Bureaucracies and turf fighting on both sides of the Atlantic haddestroyed the best chance in a decade to rescue the Gardnerpaintings,’’ Wittman writes. “We’d blown an opportunity to infiltratea major art crime ring in France, a loose network of mobsters holdingas many as 70 stolen masterpieces.’’
Despite his criticisms of the investigation, the key question thatemerges from Wittman’s book is whether the lead was a legitimate one.Did the French intermediaries — a fugitive accountant named LaurenzCogniat and his associate, identified only as Sunny — have real tieswith Corsican mobsters and did those mobsters have control of thepaintings? Or was the pair just trying to pull a scam on Wittman, whohad told them that he was able to put up millions to buy the Gardnerpaintings?
Wittman says he believed he was on track to recover the Gardnerpaintings after French police told him that they had spotted Sunnymeeting with Corsican mobsters in Marseilles and Sunny had been heardon wiretaps speaking of “frames for Bob.’’ Wittman’s undercover namewas Bob Clay.
But while the three met repeatedly over a two-year period in France,Spain, and in the United States, Wittman had trouble focusing theintermediaries’ attention on closing the deal for the Gardnerpaintings. Wittman dropped out of the case in early 2008 when Sunnyapproached him to see whether he was interested in buying fourpaintings that had just been stolen from a museum in Nice. Wittmanturned the lead over to another FBI undercover agent. Sunny wassubsequently arrested in the deal, ending Wittman’s hopes of using himas a conduit for recovering the Gardner paintings.
Wittman ends his book recounting a wistful conversation he had withPierre Tabel, then the chief of France’s National Art Crime Squad,about their efforts over the previous two years to recover the Gardnerpaintings.
“Pierre,’’ Wittman asks him, “do you think we had a chance? For thepaintings?’’
“Absolutement,’’ Tabel responded. “We have a good idea who has them.We know to whom Sunny was speaking. But now that we arrest Sunny . . .the case is gone. We will not have this chance again for many years.’’
Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at

April 4th, 2010

Posted In: Museum thefts

Looting Matters: The Miho Museum and Italy
SWANSEA, Wales, April 2 /PRNewswire/ — David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the antiquities acquired by the Miho Museum in Japan.
The Miho Museum opened in November 1997. It was decided to incorporate archaeological objects from western Europeand Mesopotamia in the displays. Thus, from about 1990, dealers acting for the museum were on the watch for significant pieces. Some of the acquisitions were well known. They included the relief excavated at Nimrud by Sir Austen Henry Layard, and then rediscovered at Canford School in Dorset, England; it sold at Christie’s for a record-breaking £7.7 million (approximately $11.9 million equivalent at the time).
Not all the objects in the Miho Museum seem to have come from such old and well-documented collections. It appears thatNoriyoshi Horiuchi was buying from some of the main antiquities dealers in Switzerland. This time coincided with the period when there was substantial looting of archaeological sites in Italy.
Gianfranco Becchina is reported to have been one of the dealers who supplied the Miho Museum. His warehouses were raided in May 2002 and three truckloads of antiquities have recently returned to Italy. Becchina’s wife, “Rosie,” ran Palladion Antike Kunst. This Basel gallery has been linked to a number of antiquities that have been returned to Italy: a Paestan krater and an Attic red-figured amphora from the J. Paul Getty Museum, and three pots, including an Apulian bell-krater, from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Becchina is also said to be the person who sold the controversial statue of a naked youth or kouros to the Getty in 1983 for $10 million.
The Miho Museum has been mentioned during the current Rome trial of the dealer Robert Hecht and the former Getty curator Marion True. Reports suggest that some 50 objects in the Miho Museum are under investigation by the Italian authorities.
In a recently released statement, Cambridge University archaeology professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn drew attention to the unresolved case of the Miho Museum. He suggested that the museum did not appear to maintain internationally accepted standards for the acquisition of antiquities.
The Italian authorities have reclaimed over 120 objects from North American public and private collections without resorting to legal action. Has the time come for the Miho Museum to resolve the dispute with Italy and come to a workable agreement that would allow all or some of the objects claimed by Italy to return to the country where they appear to have been found?
SOURCE Looting Matters

April 4th, 2010

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers

After two high-profile recoveries were made in Canada within the same week, Greg Quill of the Toronto Star wrote an article titled, “Canada dumping ground for stolen art.”…

April 1st, 2010

Posted In: Mailing list reports