‘Moriarty of the Old Master’ pulls off the art crime of the century: Market in crisis as experts warn £200m of paintings could be fakes’


  • The suspect Old Masters described as the ‘biggest scandal in a century’
  • In one case Sotheby’s in London forced to take back an £8.4m ‘Frans Hals’
  • Experts are concerned because the alleged fakes are so difficult to spot 
  • Scandal is so embarassing that few art figures are willing to speak openly

The art world has been rocked by a haul of apparent forgeries by the ‘Moriarty of fakers’. Pictured, an Unknown Man said to be by Frans Hals

The art world has been rocked by a haul of apparent forgeries by the ‘Moriarty of fakers’. Pictured, an Unknown Man said to be by Frans Hals

The art world has been rocked by a haul of apparent forgeries by the ‘Moriarty of fakers’ that could cost investors £200 million.

The suspect Old Masters – said to be by artists including Frans Hals and Lucas Cranach – have been described as the ‘biggest scandal in a century’.

In one case, Sotheby’s has been forced to take back an £8.4 million ‘Frans Hals’ and The Mail on Sunday understands the auction house is now pursuing the London dealer who supplied the painting.

Experts are particularly concerned because the alleged fakes are so difficult to spot from the real thing.

Earlier this year, the Prince of Liechtenstein had a painting seized by French authorities amid suspicion that it was a forgery. And it is feared that up to 25 more ‘Old Masters’ will be revealed as possible fakes in the coming weeks after a judge launched an investigation.

The paintings at risk could be worth up to £200 million.

Yesterday, internationally renowned art dealer Bob Haboldt said: ‘This is the biggest art scandal in a century. There has been nothing like this since the “early Vermeer” scandal of the 1940s [when doubt was cast on a number of pictures by the Dutch master].

‘It has put an entire generation of dealers on alert. The careful marketing of these highly sophisticated forgeries using primarily older materials has caught the market by surprise. The implications will be that buyers will insist on more guarantees, scientific and financial.’

The scandal is a matter of such embarrassment that few art figures are willing to speak openly, but one well-known dealer described the individual behind the copies as ‘the Moriarty of fakers’, because they are so brilliantly constructed.

The scandal began to take shape earlier this year when a painting by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach and owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein was seized by authorities at an exhibition in the South of France. 

Venus, dated 1531, had been sold by the Colnaghi Gallery in London in 2013 to the prince for £6 million but is now understood to be under examination by experts at the Louvre to assess its authenticity.

The suspect Old Masters have been described as the ‘biggest scandal in a century’. Pictured, David by 'Gentileschi'

Venus by 'Cranach'

The suspect Old Masters have been described as the ‘biggest scandal in a century’. Pictured, David by ‘Gentileschi’ (left) and Venus by ‘Cranach’ (right)

The Cranach has been linked to a painting titled An Unknown Man, attributed to Dutch master Frans Hals, and a work called David With The Head Of Goliath, attributed to Italian master Orazio Gentileschi.

Both paintings were bought by London dealer Mark Weiss, with the Hals being sold on to a distinguished US collector. Sotheby’s took a cut for brokering the ‘private treaty’ sale.

However, when the collector, from Seattle, discovered the Hals painting was connected to the seized Cranach, he complained to Sotheby’s and their experts are understood to have subsequently decided it was a fake.

Sotheby’s were later forced to reimburse the collector and are said to be threatening legal action against Weiss to recover their losses.

Mr Haboldt said: ‘These three painters can be resold in the international market for millions and tens of millions. They are very hot names in the business and much sought-after. 

‘The works are difficult to detect as forgeries but they lack any credible provenance and references in the numerous publications about these artists. The latter should have made the principal dealers suspicious.

Sotheby’s are said to be threatening legal action against Mark Weiss (pictured) to recover their losses

Sotheby’s are said to be threatening legal action against Mark Weiss (pictured) to recover their losses

‘The willingness of Sotheby’s to accept the return of the portrait by Frans Hals and indemnify the buyer sets the stage for several more of these cases to come to light.

‘But first, the international art world will have to wait for the results of the French investigation. Whispers in the trade have revealed a list of some 25 Old Masters produced by this particular forger’s workshop. I understand this list will be revealed soon.’

The Gentileschi is said to have been sold to a young US collector based in the UK, for an undisclosed amount, and was displayed at the National Gallery in London until recently. Haboldt said it is believed a ring of Italian forgers are behind the Old Masters and some of them have already been questioned by French authorities.

The common thread to these paintings is they passed through the hands of unknown French dealer Giulano Ruffini, who claims he has discovered a string of Old Masters.

Ruffini, 71, however, insists that he never presented any of the paintings as Old Masters. He said: ‘I am a collector, not an expert.’

Neither Mark Weiss nor Sotheby’s would comment, while Mr Ruffini’s lawyers could not be reached. The National Gallery said: ‘Gentileschi’s David With The Head Of Goliath has until recently been on temporary loan to the National Gallery from a private lender.

‘It was part of a small display of works by the artist that came to an end last week and it has now been returned to the owner. The gallery always undertakes due diligence research on a work coming on loan as well as a technical examination.’

Source: ‘Moriarty of the Old Master’ pulls off the art crime of the century: Market in crisis as experts warn £200m of paintings could be fakes  | Daily Mail Online

October 5th, 2016

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May 21st, 2013

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Courthouse News Service


March 31, 2013


Discovery Slated in Suit Over Cambodian Statue



MANHATTAN (CN) – Sotheby’s cannot toss claims that its auction catalog included a 10th century statue that had been looted from a sacred Cambodian temple, a federal judge ruled.
Duryodhana, which translates to “difficult to fight with,” is a sandstone statue depicting an antagonist of the Mahabharata, an epic battle described in “The Bhagavad Gita.”
Prosecutors believe that Duryodhana and a statue of his arch-nemesis, Bhima, were looted from the Prasat Chen temple in Cambodia in the 1960s or 1970s, as war raged in the neighboring Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge rose to power.
Both statues were severed at their ankles, leaving the feet remaining on the pedestals. Authorities have not sought to seize the sister statue, Bhima, from its current home at the Norton Simon Museum of California.
An unspecified British auction house allegedly knew the Duryodhana was looted when it sold the statue to a Belgian businessman in 1975. That businessman left the statue to his wife, claimant Ruspoli Di Poggio Suasa, after he died in 2000.
Ten years later, Suasa consigned the Duryodhana to Sotheby’s, which imported it to the United States in April 2010. The Manhattan-based auction house retained the statue even after it called off plans for an auction the following year at the request of the Cambodian government.
After the U.S. government called for its seizure almost exactly one year ago, U.S. District Judge George Daniels quickly issued a restraining order that stopped Sotheby’s from selling or moving the piece.
Suasa and Sotheby’s hoped to dismiss the lawsuit by denying that Cambodia properly declared ownership of the statue. They also disputed whether they could have known if the artifact were stolen.
Noting that prosecutors provided detailed allegations to the contrary, Judge Daniels refused to close the case Thursday.
Summarizing the allegations, the 18-page order states: “Sotheby’s was aware of the origin of the statue, that it had been broken off at the ankles and it first appeared on the international art market during a period of rampant looting of antiquities from Koh Ker,” referring to the region home to the sacred temples.
“Sotheby’s has a particular expertise in the works of India and Southeast Asia, including extensive experience in the sale of Khmer artifacts,” Daniels wrote. “Sotheby’s consulted regularly with the collector and knew him to be the original seller of the statue in 1975. The collector knew that the statue had been looted from Koh Ker, and had trouble selling it in 1975 because many prospective buyers were unwilling to purchase it due to its lack of legitimate provenance and missing feet. Subsequent to import, Sotheby’s was expressly advised that the Cambodians had clear evidence that the statue was definitely stolen. Sotheby’s is alleged to have provided inaccurate provenance information and omitted information about the collector who acquired the statue in Sotheby’s communications with potential buyers, the Kingdom of Cambodia and United States law enforcement.”
Sotheby’s spokesman Andrew Gully emphasized in a statement that the judge had not yet authenticated these claims.
“The court’s decision defers to another day all the key questions: whether Cambodia declared ownership of the statue with the clarity required by due process; whether the good faith purchase of the statue in 1975 defeats Cambodia’s claim, and whether Sotheby’s knew the statue belonged to Cambodia,” Gully wrote. “When the court ultimately addresses these questions, we continue to expect to prevail on each.”

     Meanwhile, Judge Daniels allowed the government to revise its complaint to add facts it learned from its ongoing investigation. via Courthouse News Service.

March 31st, 2013

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July 26th, 2011

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ON Boxing Day the British auction house, Sotheby’s canceled its proposed sale of the looted Benin royal court artifact, Queen Idia Mask, which it proposed to slot for hammer sale at the prize tag of £4.5m on February 17.
The planned auction of the historic artefact, a waist piece worn by the Oba of Benin during vital customary rites, was initiated by a deal between Sotheby’s and the descendants of the the late Lt-Col Sir Henry Lionel Galway, a British West Africa Protectorate military officer who took part in the 1897 looting of the royal palace of Benin Kingdom during which the Britons forcefully evicted the then king of Benin Kingdom, Oba Ovonramwen who later died in exile. During the 19th century operation, tagged ‘Benin Expedition’ in Western versions of African history texts but ‘Benin Massacre’ by African reporters of the same history, Queen Idia Mask and hundreds of other such works were carted away to the western world by the plundering British soldiers. And descendants of those soldiers who embarked in the operation, like Galaway’s, as well as organisations like the British Museum, have ever since lived well on the proceeds the artifacts still bring to their estates.


Queen Idia Mask’s sale sets Sotheby’s against art world.

January 8th, 2011

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

A colleague brought to my attention Sotheby’s impending sale of yet another piece of Benin cultural patrimony. I read the announcement of the sale and was struck by its brazenness. Sotheby’s is trafficking in stolen goods and it is doing so without any concern for the fact of its brazen criminality. It is clear that the Benin artworks are a contested collection of cultural artifacts. The history of their plunder from Benin is not in doubt, and the Benin Kingdom has never at any time given up its claim to these artworks. There has been significant amount of words written about the history of the British plunder of Benin and why the artworks should be repatriated. How is it then that despite the constant requests for the repatriation of these artworks and their clear identification as stolen goods, they continue to be sold by firms such as Sotheby’s without any hesitation?
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December 23rd, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

A painting by Swedish artist Anders Zorn was set to go under the hammer at a London auction until police informed the auction house the work had been stolen.

The painting, “Freja”, was stolen in a burglary of a family in the Stockholm area in 2004.

Six years later it has emerged at an auction organised by Sotheby’s in London. But when Swedish police caught wind of the sale, they put a stop to the auction, the Dagens Industri (DI) newspaper reports.

“I can confirm that the painting was withdrawn because of ambiguities regarding the ownership,” said Matthew Floris, spokesman for Sotheby’s, to DI.

According to the catalog, the painting was submitted to the auction by a private collector in Switzerland. Swedish police have said they will now question the man about the painting.

“In my estimation, one could suspect him of selling stolen goods, but the investigation hasn’t proceeded so far that he is formally a suspect,” said Lars Stervander of the Stockholm county police told the newspaper.

The painting technically belongs to the insurance company who paid compensation to the former owner in Sweden.

According to DI was the painting was insured for 3 million kronor ($428,000).

The Swedish artist Anders Zorn painted the work in 1901 and it depicts the naked goddess of love, Freja.

Published: 26 Nov 10 08:42 CET | Double click on a word to get a translation
Online: http://www.thelocal.se/30440/20101126/

November 27th, 2010

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Drouot sets out on the road to recovery

20 September 2010 THE Hotel Drouot, the communal auction facility used by most Paris auctioneers, faces an even bigger overhaul than expected after the French Justice Minister’s scathing report about its culture and working practices.

First casualty is Les Cols Rouges, the cosy 150-year-old monopoly passed on from generation to generation of a small number of Savoyard families that ran all the portering, delivery and storage facilities. With court cases pending on charges relating to corruption and stolen goods, those indicted have been excluded from any future role.

Any hope of Cols Rouges members continuing in their role would have depended on a complete revision of their status, with those not affected by the criminal investigation having to establish a proper corporate structure and submit a formal bid.

There was talk of at least three interested parties – including the Cols Rouges – competing for the contract, and last week Drouot announced that it would bring in Chenue, long established specialists in the handling and movement of works of art.

They certainly needed to draw on all their logistical expertise in order to be ready to take over Drouot’s internal operations by September 20 – only last week contracts had not been finalised but Eric Borvo, a consultant working with Chenue, said that they anticipated the initial arrangement would run for three years with a view to renegotiating after that.

This being the case, it is not yet clear whether the newly reformed Cols Rouges have any remaining hope of a future within the precincts of the Drouot.

Meanwhile, the Paris auction houses are waiting for more details to emerge from the Justice Minister’s report, setting out exactly how far they are expected to revise their working practices.

September 21st, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

In the Wake of a Damning Report on Famous Drouot, Artprice Analyses France’s Collapsing Position in the Art Market

PARIS, September 13, 2010 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — France’s major economic newspaper Les Echos reports, in an article by Martine Robert, having had access to the famous report on the Paris auction place commissioned by French Minister for Justice after the Savoyards scandal. The 10 September 2010 report highlights the decline and lack of transparency of the 70 auction houses.

“Organised conservatism”, “minimalist governance”, a “closed statutory system” and “outdated working methods” without mentioning “the declining quality of its merchandise” are the damning conclusions of the report commissioned by French Minister for Justice, Michele Alliot-Marie, to which Les Echos had access following the scandal which broke in late 2009.

“The conclusions are probably even more damning than expected and the government wants to give itself time to modernise Drouot”, antique dealer Herve Aaron recently confided. “Originally an item of news trivia, this is turning into a matter of State”, added Herve Chayette, Chairman of Symev, the representative body for public auction companies and auctioneers. “Drouot needs a complete overhaul. We’re not going to accept the usual suspects on the pretext that they are now regrouped in a new company!” stated, for his part, Claude Aguttes.

In 2010, according to Artprice’s econometrics and market research department, Drouot represents 46.5% of transactions and 23% of auction sales proceeds for the art market in France. Artprice knows Drouot well following its attempted acquisition of the Gazette de l’Hotel Drouot in February 2002 (Source: Les Echos #18578, 23 January 2002 – La Tribune, 25 January 2002).

Francine Mariani-Ducray, Chairperson of the Conseil Superieur des Ventes Volontaires, the art market’s regulatory board, who acted as reporting counsellor to the Justice Ministry for the Drouot report, believes that “Drouot must pursue a group strategy and leverage its world-wide reputation in order to develop internationally.”

According to Les Echos, the French Minister for Justice’s position is very specific: “In commissioning this report, my aim was clear: to ensure that, in future, the Drouot group and its 70 member auction houses are stronger than in the past. The main concern must be the economic situation of Drouot and its players when faced with increasing international competition, the emergence of new markets and some fierce, particularly British and American, operators.” Furthermore, “Drouot is experiencing a crisis which has made it the subject of legal proceedings on which, given my position, I cannot comment.”

In the same Les Echos interview, the Minister for Justice stated that “the draft law debated in the Senate last year should come before the Assemblee Nationale at the earliest opportunity.” Artprice can only welcome this governmental commitment to rescuing France’s position in the global art market where it continues to lose ground.

Within the framework of an official meeting on 27 July 2010, attended by Francine Mariani-Ducray, Chairperson of the Conseil Superieur des Ventes Volontaires, the art market’s regulatory equivalent to the SEC for the financial markets, Thierry Ehrmann, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Artprice, reiterated that, in terms of the art market, France has been steadily losing ground for the past 30 years with China now safely established as the global number three (see page 10 of the Artprice 2010 half year financial report).

Artprice’s Chairman and CEO proffered some figures incontestably showing that the reform of 10 July 2000 was not beneficial for France due to its lack of ambition and protectionist nature (Source: Code des ventes volontaires et judiciaires (Code of Voluntary and Judicial Auction Sales), 1,430 pages, published by Artprice in 2001). Despite some deceptive figures on the Fine Art segment, France’s loss of market share is still accelerating in a sector where job losses now amount to some thousands (Source: Economic report published by Le Serveur Judiciaire/Artprice 2010).

In addition to the scandal that has sustainably rocked the history of the Drouot group and its member auction houses, the situation in France is no better: this year, the French auction houses are again losing market share. The first firm to appear, Artcurial, only ranks number nine behind Dorotheum, the Austrian auction house, and far behind the Chinese and British players. In 2006, there were six French auction houses in the global top thirty but today there are only three.

However, beyond the Drouot scandal, the complaints lodged by Artprice before the Autorite de la Concurrence (Competition Authority) against five Paris auction houses for price fixing have opened up a new legal battlefront.

Artprice confirms having lodged a complaint, before the Autorite de la Concurrence, against five Paris auction houses for price fixing opposite 3,600 auction houses, who are Artprice’s clients and partners and 7,400 valuers with whom Artprice has been working since 1987 over the world-wide internet (see the Litigation chapter of Artprice’s 2010 first half financial report).

According to Artprice, there are unquestionable links, individuals in common, holdings in share capital and common social mandates, common management bodies, common public auction sales, internal notes and declarations of union bodies like the SYMEV, chaired by Herve Chayette, common minutes on the strategy versus Artprice, prohibited refusals to sell such as the Gazette de l’Hotel Drouot (owned by the main companies accused) despite formal notices, similar strategies with serious and concordant indications of a concert party action and/or long-meditated agreement but clearly contravening for example, article L.420-1 of the Code of Commerce. With a little perspective, one might consider, amongst other things, the Drouot problem to be far from over…

At European level, a number of these auction houses have been very seriously condemned for such practices. These concert party actions tend to limit the access to and free exercise of competition, notably by Artprice, on the electronic public auction market as provided by the European Services Directive that should have been transposed into local law by 27 December 2009.

Lastly, on 8 July 2010, the Third Chamber (4th Section) of the Paris Court of First Instance (which, within the framework of its four sections, exclusively handles intellectual property cases and whose decisions are considered authoritative on this matter) handed down an important ruling within the framework of the dispute between Artprice and one of the five auction sale companies. The ruling of the judges was very clear that the sale catalogues of the SVV (Voluntary Auction Sale Company) Claude Aguttes are not protected by copyright. The Third Chamber of the Court accordingly held that Artprice could not have committed acts of forgery and dismissed the Aguttes case.

The first section of the same jurisdiction handed down a similar ruling on 30 March 2010 within the framework of the litigation between Artprice and SVV Artcurial Briest Poulain F. Tajan (one of the five auction houses suing Artprice). Again the judges found that the catalogues published by Artcurial are not protected by copyright and the court dismissed the auction sale company’s forgery claim against Artprice. This ruling was not appealed and is thus final.

These legal precedents, involving two major auction houses, strengthen Artprice’s position within the framework of three similar cases that are still pending as well as the outcome of the price fixing claim lodged with the Competition Authorities by Artprice. At the end of July 2010, some staggering and incontestable new evidence accusing these five auction houses of price fixing has just been cited in the schedule listing documents relied in support of the claim lodged with the Autorite de la Concurrence during the 2010 first quarter.

It should be specified that Artprice pays royalties under the terms of the specific contract concluded with the ADAGP, the French society for collective management in the visual arts and the largest in the world, which receives and redistributes copyright fees to visual artists in more than 43 countries. This pioneering agreement (2007) in the digital economy is regularly cited as exemplary by the different Ministers for Culture in Europe and particularly in France.

Artprice also confirms that it is the plaintiff, before the most senior examining magistrate, in a claim against Christie’s for, amongst other things, infringement of France’s Monetary and Financial Code. In the fullness of time, this claim turns out to be similar to a Christie’s case against Artprice in 2001, when Christie’s dropped the claim without any concession whatsoever from Artprice.

Transposition of the European Electronic Sales Directive into French law and 2010 outlook

The transposition into local law of the EC Services Directive 2006/123/CE including the notion of online operators of electronic auctions is perfectly in accordance with the different government projects and commissions to which Artprice has already given its support and data.

The European Commission has just singled out France with a substantiated recommendation, criticizing it for the delay in transposing the Services Directive and enjoining it to inform the Commission of the legal measures it plans to take to expedite the transposition of this European Services Directive into French law. This is the second warning shot from the department of Michel Barnier, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market. This Directive, formerly better known as the Bolkenstein Directive, should have been transposed into local law by 27 December 2009, but there has been a very serious and unjustified delay in France, heavily penalising European players such as Artprice.

The Commission considers that the delay in transposing the Directive will involve significant costs for European companies. France thus had until 24 August 2010 to respond to the Commission. Brussels may now legitimately refer the case to the European Union Court of Justice, thus initiating the third stage in the European action for breach procedure. In September, a legislative calendar involving a political and economic context that is extremely favourable to Artprice is thus being established by the Commission injunction in which France had until 24 August 2010 to comply with the latter.

Lastly, the adoption by the 27 Member States of the European Union of the Treaty of Lisbon that came into force on 1 December 2009 considerably strengthens Artprice’s legal and judicial position in defending itself against an ultra-minority camp that is witnessing the collapse of its Franco-French monopoly. It should be specified that the majority of French auction houses and valuers (94.5%) have worked with Artprice since 1987.

Artprice proposes to reinstate France as a leader of the global art market

As a result of the global economic and financial crisis, nearly all the auction houses and valuers around the world are moving closer to Artprice, which has been working in close collaboration with them since 1987, in order to produce their auction catalogues formatted by the Artprice standardised data and, as soon as the Services Directive is adopted, organise online auctions through Artprice’s standardised market place and its 1.3 million members.

In addition to its market place, Artprice owns the largest Fine Art client portfolio in the world. For the art market, these client behaviour databases constitute the basis for the success of catalogued auction sales with information dating back to the origins of art auction sales in Europe in the early nineteenth century.

The standardised market place model has now been tried, tested and validated by the Art market particularly during a period of major crisis. The figures speak for themselves: according to the 2005 activity report from the Conseil Superieur des Ventes Volontaires “the Artprice offer amounted to EUR 1.3 billion of works of art”. In 2006, the offer stood at EUR 2.7 billion of works of art before rising to EUR 4.32 billion in 2007 and EUR 5.4 billion in 2008. For 2009, Artprice confirms recording a volume of around EUR 5.85 billion of works of art with an estimated sale rate of around a third on which Artprice does not yet receive a commission. In 2010, Artprice expects growth of between 18% and 20%.

With the context of globalisation, Artprice is in a leading position in that it has all the assets needed to offer the auction houses and valuers the optimal conditions for integral online migration by accelerating their sales and reducing buyer/seller costs (between 36% and 37.5% according to the Conseil Superieur des Ventes Volontaires). Artprice is thus ready for online auction sales in accordance with the European Directives (2006/123/CE on services voted 12 December 2006) on liberalising auctions in Europe and adopted by the Senate on 28 October 2009.

Similarly, the Conseil Superieur des Ventes Volontaires, the regulatory authority for the auction sales market, notes that “French auction houses have not followed the online sales process proportionally to the explosion in the global internet”, which also supports Artprice in its vocation to be the reference online auction sales platform for the 3,600 auction houses worldwide (including, of course, the 378 French auction houses) and the 7,400 valuers with whom Artprice has been working over the internet since 1987.

In August 2010, within the framework of specific agreements, more than 77.4% of the PDF catalogues and/or data of 3,600 international auction houses were sent to Artprice on its Secure Intranet.

This reflects, better than any other demonstration, the trust and confidence that characterises Artprice’s relations with auction houses. Likewise, thanks to Artprice’s database on valuers (a large number of whom organise auctions themselves) there are no fewer than 7,400 key art market players that Artprice is gradually connecting to its standardised marketplace (SMP) with intellectual property rights protection (sui generis and copyright law).

This explains Artprice’s presence in most of the printed and online auction sales catalogues of the auctioneers and auction houses, in which each artist and work of art now has a unique reference coming from the Artprice databases.

In conclusion, the expediting by French Minister for Justice of the adoption of the European Directive by the Assemblee Nationale is excellent news when it comes to defending the common interests of both Artprice and French auction houses in the art market.

Source: http://www.artprice.com (c)1987-2010 thierry Ehrmann

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September 14th, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

Yet another piece of Chandigarh heritage set for auction in UK

Neelam Raaj, TNN, Aug 11, 2010, 02.00am IST

NEW DELHI: Even as a magisterial panel probes the alleged theft of items designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, another piece of Chandigarh’s heritage is set to go under the hammer in London.

Bonhams is planning to auction a collection of furniture designed by Jeanneret, second cousin of internationally renowned architect Le Corbusier, as part of its Post-War and Contemporary Art and Design sale on September 22.

Highlights from the sale are an Indian rosewood and leather desk and teak and cane chair from the administrative buildings, Chandigarh (estimate 4,000-6,000 pounds); a magistrate’s chair (estimate 3,000-5,000 pounds); three Senate chairs from the legislative assembly (estimate 7,000 10,000 pounds); a set of six library chairs (estimate 5,000-7,000 pounds); and a pair of easy chairs from Panjab University (estimate 4,000-6,000 pounds).

Jeanneret artefacts have been regularly popping up at international auctions and prices have skyrocketed. A manhole cover fetched as much as $20,000 at Christie’s two years ago. Since then, several other auction houses such as Artcurial have also put his work on the block.

Jeanneret designed a whole range of furniture — office chairs, tables and stools — that fit in with Corbusier’s vision for Chandigarh. Even after Le Corbusier left, Jeanneret stayed on to advise the government in his capacity as chief architect until 1965. On his death in 1967, his ashes were scattered, in accordance with his will, in Chandigarh’s central lake.

Today, most of his functional yet distinctive pieces have disappeared from from government and public buildings in Chandigarh and made their way abroad.

Read more: Yet another piece of Chandigarh heritage set for auction in UK – Chandigarh – City – The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/Yet-another-piece-of-Chandigarh-heritage-set-for-auction-in-UK/articleshow/6290176.cms#ixzz0wKM77o00

August 11th, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

Looting Matters: Italian Prosecutor Calls for Return of Antiquities


SWANSEA, Wales, June 4 /PRNewswire/ — David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the call by an Italian prosecutor for the return of three lots due to be auctioned in New York.

The seizure of a major photographic dossier in the Geneva Freeport continues to have an impact for those seeking to sell antiquities. Three items due to be auctioned in June 2010 appear to be close to items that feature in the Polaroid images. The objects consist of a Roman marble youth, a South Italian terracotta figure of a woman, and an Apulian drinking-cup.

A spokesperson for Christie’s stressed that the auction-house’s due diligence process did not provide any indication that the objects were “problematic”. The sale of the three lots would be proceeding.

The provenance, or more accurately the collecting histories, for the three lots in question show that they surfaced via another auction-house in 1984, 1992 and 1994. The collecting histories for these pieces prior to their appearance on the London and New York markets is unclear.

A similar link was made between a Geneva Polaroid and a Roman statue that had been due to be auctioned in London in April 2010. In that case the auction-house withdrew the lot.

In 2009 three items, a Corinthian krater, an Attic pelike and an Apulian situla, were seized from Christie’s: one just before, and two after the June sale. A spokesperson for the auction-houses noted in a statement that the transparency of the auction system had allowed the objects to be identified.

Auction-houses need to conduct rigorous due diligence searches to ensure that objects do not come onto the market as a result of illicit diggings on archaeological sites. It has been suggested that dealers adopt the internationally recognized benchmark of 1970, the date for the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

In the meantime Rome prosecutor, Paolo Ferri, has made his position clear: “We want to repatriate those objects.”

June 7th, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, recovery, restitution

Swansea archaeologist works to send stolen artefacts home
May 3 2010 by Robin Turner, Western Mail

LIKE Indiana Jones, Dr David Gill delights in getting his hands on precious antiquities.

But while his movie counterpart is often seen plucking priceless artefacts from ancient tombs, Dr Gill does the process in reverse – and sends the relics back to where they came from.

The Welsh academic works across the world in persuading museums to return ancient artefacts to Egypt, Italy, Greece and other countries suffering a plague of history looting.

The 48-year-old, a reader in Mediterranean archaeology at Swansea University, most recently worked with two other experts to persuade London-based fine art dealers Bonhams to withdraw four Roman sculptures from auction, amid claims they were stolen from archaeological sites overseas.

Photographs studied by Dr Gill suggested the sculptures – funerary busts and a marble statue of a youth from the second century AD – were illicitly excavated.

Dr Gill, who lives in Sketty, Swansea, said: “The looting of human history has become a full-scale industry.

“In some countries like Italy, for example, some are literally using mechanical diggers on historical sites to rip up artefacts for sale.

“These have tended to reach auction rooms in places like New York and London via Switzerland, though the Swiss are now trying to tighten controls.

“Archaeological sites are being decimated and the few treasures taken away for financial gain lose their context. Strip them from that context and we lose dating, related objects and information about who used them.

“Presenting a looted object means that we value the object as a beautiful thing but we do not care about the society and culture that created it. And that is an uncivilised view.”

But it’s a lucrative business.

Dr Gill and his colleagues Dr Christopher Chippindale, the curator for British Collections at Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and ex-Greek government archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, say £300m worth of antiquities have been sold at just two major auction houses in the past 12 years.

Looting of ancient artefacts has a long history going back to the tomb raiders of ancient Egypt.

Rome has been sacked seven times and other famous examples include the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, the Sack of Baghdad in 1258 and the looting of Aztec gold by Spanish conquistadors.

Later came more careful excavations like Howard Carter and Lord Caernarvon’s famous excavation of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1923 with precious artefacts being taken from Egypt to Britain, something that would now be regarded as sacrilege.

But it was the wholesale theft of priceless Babylonian treasures from Baghdad following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that highlighted a modern revival in culture theft.

Historical sites in Central America and areas in Cambodia, Italy, Mali and China have also seen a big rise in ancient relic thefts in the past 20 years.

Dr Gill said: “There was a Unesco convention passed in 1970 which many countries have now signed making it illegal to import and export cultural property.

“But it still goes on with some private collectors and even museums turning a blind eye.”

A spokesman for Bonhams auctioneers said of its decision to withdraw the Roman sculptures: “Whenever a serious question is raised about an item’s provenance we withdraw it from sale pending an internal investigation. We take rigorous care to ensure that we only sell items that have a clear provenance.”

May 3rd, 2010

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

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

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

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March 10th, 2009

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

08-03-2009 20:15
Moglie e marito avevano iniziato un redditizio commercio online

Roma, 8 mar. (Apcom) – Avevano rubato delle statue a forma di angelo da una delle cappelle del cimitero locale, e avevano ben pensato di venderle su Ebay via internet: i carabinieri della stazione di San Donaci, in provincia di Brindisi, sono riusciti a recuperare alcune opere rubate grazie al monitoraggio del noto sito di e-commerce. La fotografia degli angeli allegata all’inserzione ha permesso di accertare che le statue erano quelle rubate qualche giorni prima.

Durante la perquisizione domiciliare effettuata presso l’abitazione dell’inserzionista, oltre alle due statue, sono stati trovati anche numerosi altri oggetti di natura ecclesiastica, la cui provenienza è ora al vaglio del nucleo di tutela patrimonio culturale di Bari. L’inserzionista era una casalinga del tarantino che, insieme al marito, aveva intrapreso questo redditizio lavoro. Per loro è scattata la denuncia di ricettazione.


March 9th, 2009

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, eBay

India, China face auction catch 22 

India and China have simultaneously been making headlines for more than their optimistic outlook on the economy. Recently, both Asian behemoths have been pulling all the stops to retrieve national treasures that are up for auction. 

Nationalist sentiments are reigning at an all time high as Antiquorum Auctioneers in New York plans to put under the hammer the father of the nation – Mahatma Gandhi’s watch, sandals, a bowl, plate and characteristic rimmed glasses. Gandhi’s trust the Gujarat based Navajivan Trust has already filed a stay order in the Delhi High court hoping to stop the auction of prized national treasures. 

A similar case was filed against the auction of the bronze fountainheads of a rabbit and rat believed to be stolen from Beijing’s summer palace around the second opium war in 1860. Patriotic sentiments were roused when a Chinese art collector Cai Mingchao who won the bid for US$36 million, decided not to pay for the bronze fountainheads. Hailed as a collector and a patriot in China, Mingchao has been served with a formal notice to pay up within a month or forgo ownership of the statues by the owner – late designer Yves Saint Laurent’s partner Pierre Berge. 

The big debate fueling nationalist sentiments in Asia is the moral issue of whether these national treasures belong to India / China and therefore should not be paid for, or whether they can be sold back to the country as they now belong to the private collection of someone else. 

However both countries face a much larger problem. According to both Chinese and Indian law an individual is not allowed to import goods of historical importance into the country as it technically belongs to the state. So even if Christie just hands over the bronze rabbit and rat, Cai Mingchao could legally be stopped at Chinese customs for importing a national treasure. 

India’s import laws are currently framed similarly making importing anything of historical importance into the country frustratingly difficult. In 1972, the Indian parliament passed the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, which made exporting goods of historical importance near impossible. While the law was passed to protect Indian heritage from leaving Indian shores, the same conditions were implemented for the import of goods as well, rendering bringing back the Mahatma’s glasses wearyingly difficult even if Antiquorum Auctioneers just gives it to India.

URL to article: http://www.2point6billion.com/2009/03/05/india-china-face-auction-catch-22-1227.html


March 5th, 2009

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

Posted: March 03, 2009, 3:04 PM by NP Editor 

Araminta Wordsworth 

Hero or hooligan — opinions are divided on Cai Mingchao, the Chinese man who bid US$50-million for two bronze heads from the collection of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, but then announced he had no intention of paying for them. The Qing dynasty sculptures of a rat and a dog were looted by British and French troops from the old imperial Summer Palace near Beijing more than 150 years ago. 

China says its feelings were “hurt” by the sale, but it’s arguable British and French feelings were also hurt by the incident that preceded the looting. 

First, though, Cai and his “patriotic” stand. In a story carried on the front page of The China Daily, he put the loftiest spin on his actions: “The auction negated the history that the cultural relics were looted, defied the ethics of international society, and breached the rules of commercial auctions,” he said. An online survey conducted by sina.com.cn, a Chinese government-run Web site, also showed more than 70% of the netizens support Cai’s action for he had safeguarded China’s interests. 

As the BBC noted, another commentator, writing in the Beijing News, also lavished praise on the bogus bidder. “Cai Mingchao’s bid was a patriotic political act to strike back at an illegal auction,” said Wang Zhanyang, a professor at the Central Socialist Academy. In a typical example of Chinese double-think, he added the art expert had not caused any trouble because the Chinese government did not recognize the legality of the sale.

Elsewhere, responses were less enthusiastic. According to Agence France-Presse, Liang Fafu, a blogger, said Cai had made the Chinese “look even worse on the international scene.”

“We come across as untrustworthy people, a bunch of con men. Who wants to deal with that kind of people in the future?” 

Zhao Yu, a senior culture ministry official, told the Beijing Times Cai’s behaviour had done his compatriots no favour. “In overseas auctions… bidders usually need no deposit and simply rely on their reputation,” he said. “The fact that Cai Mingchao has gone back on his word in reality means he has undermined the credibility enjoyed by Chinese people at large international auctions.” 

His muted response also has something to do with the provenance of the heads themselves. As Richard Spencer, The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in Beijing, explains in his blog, “State media, while particularly sensitive to the European insult, are often rather careful to avoid hyping these items up as examples of high Chinese culture: for good reason, as they are not really Chinese, and the whole story of the fountain of which they are part is shrouded in ambiguity.”

It’s also worth recalling how the heads came to be in western hands in the first place. It’s not as if the British and French woke up one day and decided to launch an expedition to loot the Yuanming Yuan. Rather they were responding to an atrocity perpetrated by the emperor Xianfeng —  the torture of two western envoys sent under a flag of truce to negotiate, and the murder of most of their small escort of British, French and Indian troopers. 

As Geremie Barmé writes in his history of the palace, The Garden of Perfect Brightness, A Life in Ruins (link through Spencer blog), “In the autumn of 1860, a delegation of English and French negotiators were despatched to Peking to exchange treaties with the Chinese court following a peace settlement that had been forced on Peking …

“After numerous prevarications, bluffs and acts of deception on the part of the Qing Court, the emissaries of the emperor … detained 39 members of the delegation. They were imprisoned in the Yuan Ming Yuan, used as hostages in the negotiations with the foreign powers, and subsequently tortured. Of their number 18 died and, when their bodies were eventually returned to the Allied forces in October, 1860, even the liberal use of lime in their coffins could not conceal the fact that they had suffered horribly before expiring.” 

In giving the order to loot the palace, Lord Elgin, the British high commissioner to China, wanted to punish the emperor and his officials, not his people.  Memory of this part of the proceedings has faded from Chinese consciousness, Barmé goes on.

“Although without doubt an act of wanton barbarism, it is revealing that in popular Mainland Chinese accounts of the sackings of the palaces available to readers since the 1980s, one is hard pressed to find any mention of the atrocities committed by the Qing negotiators that led to this final act of vandalism. Nor in these popular histories are there detailed descriptions of the sly manipulations of the Qing Court in the tense days leading up to the sacking.”

National Post 



March 4th, 2009

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

Published: February 26, 2009

BEIJING— Just hours after the sale of two Qing Dynasty bronze animal heads at Christie’s auction of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in Paris, China announced that it would tighten oversight of the activities of the auction house. The Chinese government, as well as an independent group of Chinese lawyers, had attempted to stop the sale, arguing that the relics should be returned to the country. The Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe (Apace) brought a suit in French court last week with similar intentions but was defeated.

The bronze rat and rabbit heads were looted from the Zodiac Fountain at the Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 by British and French forces. Christie’s sold both sculptures to a telephone bidder for €15,745,000 ($20,117,073) each.

China now says that going forward Christie’s will need to provide details of the ownership and provenance of any artifacts it wants to bring into or out of the country, according to Blomberg. Objects without papers will not be allowed to travel.

The measures may make it harder for Chinese citizens to bring home artifacts they buy from Christie’s auctions, perhaps compelling people to turn to Christie’s rival Sotheby’s. “I’m a law-abiding business, and we don’t want to be embroiled in unnecessary trouble,” said dealer Lu Feifei, “so we may buy our antiques elsewhere.”

Hong Kong is Christie’s hub for selling Chinese antiquities. Last year the company brought in more than HK$1 billion ($129 million) from sales there.

Christie’s has denied any wrongdoing, saying in an e-mail statement that “we continue to believe that sale by public auction offers the best opportunity for items to be repatriated.” The Chinese government, for its part, said it will “continue to seek the return of the sculptures by all means in accord with related international conventions and Chinese laws.”

But it refuses to attempt to buy the bronzes, according to the AP. “That would give the ‘stolen’ goods a coat of legitimacy,” said the Old Summer Palace Museum in a statement.

China Poly Group, a state conglomerate, bought three other animal heads from the same fountain for roughly $4 million at auction in 2000.


February 26th, 2009

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

Tania Branigan guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 February 2009 14.43 GMT

Jackie Chan has criticised the sale of bronze rat and rabbit sculptures. Photograph: Mast Irham/EPA±

China’s campaign for the return of two Qing dynasty bronzes plundered during the Opium wars received star backing today when actor Jackie Chan leapt into the fray.

The Chinese government condemned Christie’s for auctioning the sculptures of rat and rabbit heads, which were sold for more than €31m (£28m) yesterday to an unidentified telephone bidder in an auction of the art collection of the late fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage told state media the auction had “harmed the cultural rights and national feeling of the Chinese people”, adding: “This will have a serious impact on [Christie’s] development in China.” It ordered officials to scrutinise the auction house’s imports and exports from China.

Both Pierre Bergé, the partner of the late designer, and Christie’s have stressed that the sale did not break any laws or international agreements, and a legal attempt to halt the sale failed. But Beijing argued the relics should be returned as part of the country’s cultural heritage.

Official wrath was nothing compared with the anger of Chan, who told reporters in Hong Kong: “They remain looted items, no matter whom they were sold to. It was looting yesterday. It is still looting today.”

Chan, who collects and has in several cases donated antiquities, said he was to start filming a movie next year about the search for, and return of, treasures from the palace. “But now we have lost two more pieces. This has made me really angry,” he said, adding that the sale was “shameful”.

The destruction of the magnificent imperial summer residence Yuanmingyuan remains a highly sensitive incident almost 150 years on, and the fate of its treasures a contentious issue.

But Bergé rubbed salt into the wound last week by telling the Chinese he would return the works immediately – on conditions. “All they have to do is to declare they are going to apply human rights, give the Tibetans back their freedom and agree to accept the Dalai Lama on their territory,” he said.

“If they do that, I would be very happy to go myself and bring these two Chinese heads to put them in the Summer Palace in Beijing. It’s obviously blackmail but I accept that.”

Christie’s said it regretted the administration’s move to impose reprisal measures and stood by the sale. “We continue to believe that sale by public auction offers the best opportunity for items to be repatriated as a result of worldwide exposure,” the firm said.

The animals, along with the 10 others in the Chinese zodiac, once made up a vast fountain in Yuanmingyuan. Water would spout from their mouths to mark the hours.

Five of the heads have been repatriated, thanks to wealthy business people, but experts fear the other five may have been destroyed.

A private group, China’s Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Programme, estimates there are more than 1m relics outside the country, scattered across museums in 47 countries. It believes 10 times as many could be in private collections.

Bergé decided to auction the couple’s entire collection to fund a foundation for scientific research and the fight against Aids.


February 26th, 2009

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

Chinese relics sell for 15.7 mln euros each at YSL auction
26 minutes ago

PARIS (AFP) — Two looted Chinese bronzes sold for 15.7 million euros (20.3 million dollars) each to anonymous telephone bidders at the Yves Saint Laurent art sale on Wednesday, despite protests from Beijing.

China had demanded the return of the Qing dynasty fountainheads, of a rat and a rabbit, which were snatched from the imperial Summer Palace by British and French troops 150 years ago.

The sale price excluding auctioneer’s fees came to 14 million euros (17.9 million dollars) each.

Three anonymous telephone buyers bid for each of the two statues, but no bids were placed from within the auction room itself, under the glass dome of the Grand Palais exhibition hall on the banks of the River Seine.

A group of Chinese people left the building immediately after the sale, while Chinese lawyer Liu Yang, who has spearheaded efforts to have the pieces returned to Beijing, gathered journalists for an impromptu press conference.

Both pieces were auctioned along with Roman marbles and Egyptian antiquities on the third and final day of the vast sale of art, furniture and antiques collected collected by the late fashion icon and his partner Pierre Berge.

They were estimated at around 10 million euros each.

China’s foreign ministry said repeatedly it wanted the relics returned, and the Beijing-based Global Times accused France on Wednesday of “hurting China’s feelings,” in reference to the Saint Laurent sale.

But Paris said it had received no official protest from Beijing, and the auction went ahead as planned after a French court threw out a last-ditch legal attempt to have it blocked.

Berge, who decided to sell the collection following Saint Laurent’s death last year, had offered to return the pieces to China in return for a pledge to improve human rights.

But the Chinese foreign ministry dismissed his offer as “just ridiculous.”

Two dozen Chinese students rallied outside the Grand Palais Wednesday evening, handing out leaflets denouncing the “barbaric and bloody history” behind the looting of the relics.

Some 350 items in the 732-piece collection were up for auction on the last day of what has already smashed all world records for a private art sale, netting more than 300 million euros in its first two days.


February 25th, 2009

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

Exclusive: Work that had been removed from display in 2005 was back on

By Martin Bailey | From Art Market | Posted: 27.11.08

LONDON. Sotheby’s has withdrawn an important “13th century” belt buckle from
its 2 December old master sculpture and works of art sale after questions
were raised by The Art Newspaper. The intricately-designed silver and enamel
buckle had recently been owned by Paul Ruddock, now chairman of the Victoria
and Albert (V&A) Museum.

We were contacted by Claude Blair, retired head of the V&A’s metalwork
department, who told us that the buckle is a modern fake. Following our
queries, Sotheby’s issued a statement, saying that “due to questions raised
since the publication of the catalogue, we—in consultation with the US
consignor—have decided to withdraw lot 2 from our sale.” It had an estimate
of £20,000-£30,000.

Dr Blair, who left the V&A in 1982, is convinced that the buckle is one of
the notorious Marcy fakes, marketed by Louis Marcy in the 1890s. Marcy
worked as a dealer in both Paris and London, selling “medieval” metalwork.

The buckle surfaced in the collection of Dacre Kenrick Edwards, whose estate
was sold at Christie’s in 1961. It then passed to distinguished New York
collector Germain Seligman, who lent it for an exhibition at The Cloisters
(Metropolitan Museum, New York) in 1968. The buckle was offered at Sotheby’s
in 1995 (estimate £15,000-£20,000), but went unsold. It passed through two
specialist dealers in New York and in 2004 was sold to an English collector
via the London dealer Sam Fogg.

In May 2005 the buckle was presented in an exhibition of “Medieval and Later
Treasures from a Private Collection” at the V&A, where it was dated by
curator Paul Williamson to 1280. At the time The Art Newspaper identified
the anonymous collector of the hundred items in the show as Paul Ruddock,
then a V&A trustee. The authenticity of the buckle was questioned by Dr
Blair and it was quietly removed from the display before the closure of the

It was then tested by Oxford University’s Research Laboratory for
archaeology & art, which showed that the enamel and silver filigree dated
from the 19th century. The silver alloy of the body was consistent with
medieval silver, although this could have been melted down old silver.

Dr Blair also established that the buckle and three other pieces of
metalwork had been shown at the Society of Antiquaries in 1905, when they
belonged to Sir John Charles Robinson, the retired first superintendent of
the South Kensington Museum (V&A). In 1908 these objects were exposed as of
modern French manufacture and it emerged that they had all been bought from
Marcy. A number of Marcy items had also been acquired by the V&A in the
1890s (including a reliquary, chess casket and portable altar), but these
too were long ago exposed as fakes.

Following evidence in 2005 that the buckle was either a fake or a pastiche,
Mr Ruddock returned it to Sam Fogg, who refunded the price. Last month Mr
Fogg told us: “We arranged for the return of the buckle to its previous
owner. I do not know who owns it now.” He added that the Oxford tests showed
“the enameling of the coat of arms was probably later restoration —not that
the piece was a fake”.

Last month the buckle appeared in Sotheby’s 2 December catalogue of Old
Master Sculpture and Works of Art, where it was lot 2, “Franco-Flemish or
English, late 13th century belt buckle”.

The catalogue notes: “Only nobility would have had the means necessary to
raise a utilitarian object like a belt buckle into such a precious work of
art. It therefore comes without surprise that the buckle bears the arms of
the Lords Ingham of Ingham, trustees and ambassadors to the British rulers
during the continuous wars with France around 1300.”

The Sotheby’s catalogue entry goes on to cite V&A curator Dr Williamson’s
2005 catalogue, which was sponsored by Mr Fogg. This leaves the unfortunate
impression that the museum accepts the object, whereas it was actually
removed from its display.

Mr Ruddock was astonished and unhappy to learn last month that after
returning the buckle, it had later been put into Sotheby’s. Dr Williamson
was equally concerned, and he too has contacted Sotheby’s. He told Sotheby’s
that since publication of the catalogue of the V&A show, he now regards the
buckle as “very problematic”.


Museum Security Network / Museum Security Consultancy

November 28th, 2008

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

November 15, 2008 —

An art collector has been given the green light to sue Christie’s auction house for allowing a purported Basquiat painting it allegedly knew was a fake to be sold anyway.

Christie’s auctioned off the untitled work in 1990 for $242,000, crediting it to Jean-Michel Basquiat and claiming to have gotten it “directly from the artist.”

But the painter’s estate had warned the auction house that it was “not right” and shouldn’t be sold, court papers say.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Herman Cahn allowed the painting’s current owner, Guido Orsi, to continue with his fraud claim against Christie’s, but threw out claims brought by the painting’s previous owner.

Orsi is seeking $2 million from Christie’s, the amount a genuine Basquiat would now be worth. He says he discovered the painting was a phony in 2006.

November 16th, 2008

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, forgery

Italy tries to block sale of Bonhams antiquities linked to disgraced dealer

Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

The London auctioneers Bonhams are under pressure to withdraw several of the prized pieces from its forthcoming antiquities sale after a senior Italian politician raised questions over their provenance.

Francesco Rutelli, the former Italian Minister for Culture and Deputy Prime Minister, told the Italian Parliament he had believed that some of the antiquities to be auctioned in London next week had been exported illegally from Italy.

In an “urgent question” to Sandro Bondi, his successor as Culture Minister, he accused the centre-right Berlusconi Government, which took power in May, of failing to take action over the illegal export of archaeological treasures.

Mr Rutelli later told reporters that he was most concerned about an elaborately decorated Apulian 4th-century BC red krater or Greek vase that forms part of the Bonhams sale.

He took the dramatic step of calling for a Rome prosecutor to block the antiquities auction by Bonhams, due to be held on October 15.

In an “urgent question” to Sandro Bondi, his successor as Culture Minister, he demanded that all auctions involving the sale of Italian treasures of “questionable provenance” should be blocked.

He called for checks to be made on the provenance of other items in the sale that he said “in all probability originated in Italy”, after discovering that the Apulian vase was owned by Robin Symes, the disgraced British dealer who was jailed for two years in January 2005 for bankruptcy. Symes was released after seven months.

Mr Rutelli’s parliamentary question read: “Since the summer of 2007 the Ministry of Culture has undertaken extra-judicial negotiations with the commission of liquidators of the Symes collection nominated by a London court, with the aim of verifying the possibility of recuperating archaeological artefacts belonging to the heritage of Italy.”

Although Mr Rutelli said that he had sent the documentation on the Bonhams auction and the Symes collection to Paolo Giorgio Ferri, the Rome prosecutor who specialises in art theft cases, Bonhams said that it was business as usual, as far as they were concerned.

A spokesman for the auctioneer said: “We have not officially heard anything from the Italian Parliament. We would obviously act the moment we receive anything requiring us legally to respond and do as we always do. If there is any question mark on something like this we either withdraw it or get into discussions … No one here was aware of the statement in the Italian Parliament.” He confirmed that the vase is believed to have been owned by Symes “prior to 1980” but that it had been through “many hands over the past 28 years”.

Mr Rutelli said that the recovery of archaeological masterpieces trafficked from Italy in recent years has brought to light the scandalous nature of commercial operations undertaken by Symes and his associates.

Symes had acquired artefacts from an Italian dealer called Giacomo Medici, and sold looted antiquities to many Western museums including the Getty, whose former curator Marion True is on trial in Rome for the alleged illegal trafficking of antiquities.

Negotiations with the Symes liquidation commission to recover Italian works have so far ended in an impasse. Mr Rutelli said that the Bonhams sale was a worrying sign that items from the Symes collection were beginning to find their way on to the market.

He praised co-operation by the Getty and other US museums, which have agreed not to trade in future in artefacts which do not have a secure provenance.

Graeme Barker, an archaeologist and director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, said: “Auction houses should be extremely careful about what they’re selling and be clear about their origins.”

Symes was jailed in 2005. A two-year sentence was imposed by a High Court judge after he disregarded orders obtained against him in a legal action by the family of his late business partner. The Greek family of the deceased Christo Michailidis conducted a four-year legal battle over the multi-million-pound assets of their business.

Mr Justice Peter Smith said that Symes, then 65, was guilty of “flouting the orders of the court to achieve financial benefits for himself”. He said that Symes was guilty of “calculated, cynical and well-understood acts of deception”.

Two years earlier, the dealer was given a 12-month suspended sentence for lying about the true value of a statue that he claimed to have sold for $1.6 million (£978,000) when the actual value was $4.5 million.

Several antiquities associated with Symes have been returned to Greece and Italy in recent years.


October 11th, 2008

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

Sotheby’s selling a stolen altar piece (“Los mayores echan de menos el retablo robado”, señala el párroco de Nájera) NOT VERYTHING THAT IS LEGAL IS ETHICAL


July 9th, 2008

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects

View of a Flemish triptich from the 16th century by Ambrosius Benson, that was stolen from Nájera (La Rioja) in 1913. EFE.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s auction house has confirmed that it does not plan to remove the Flemish triptych stolen in Nájera (La Rioja) in 1913. The auction house stated there has been no claim on this work. According to Sotheby’s,
it has been in contact with the Spanish Ministry of Culture which confirmed will make no claim on the work. The work is estimated at 750 million euros and currently belongs to a French family.
The triptych has been sold several times in the past and the current owner purchased it in good faith and has rights over it, added the auction house in the statement issued..
The theme painted in the central part of the work is the lamentation of Christ. The sides portray a pair of donors protected by Saint Peter and Saint Anne.
When the triptych is closed, in the rear of the doors is the scene of the Temptation of the Garden of Eden.  


July 9th, 2008

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, looting and illegal art traffickers

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February 21st, 2008

Posted In: Auction Houses and stolen objects, Mailing list reports, theft reports