Feb 24, 2010

“He has no proof, and I have all the proof”

So says Joanne King Herring in the Houston Chronicle earlier this week when discussing her suit to regain this work by Sir Henry Raeburn.  Herring has an auction catalog receipt and a 1986 police report which was filed when the work disappeared from a framing shop. 

The work had been missing since, until Geoffrey Rice recently consigned the painting to Sotheby's.  When he did, the painting raised flags with the Art Loss Register.   Rice claims to have purchased the painting from Hart Galleries in Houston, an auction house that is now shuttered because of misapplication of fiduciary property.  Rice has no paperwork for the work and claims to have stored the painting in his laundry room for years, and only recently decided to sell the work.  Probably not the best provenance.  I like Herring's chances to regain the work.  As Herring says "I wouldn't any more press a case if I didn't have a bill of sale than fly to the moon.”

Rice has defended Herring's suit on a statute of limitations defense.  However she has done everything a prudent victim should—contacting the police and reporting the theft to the Art Loss Register.  As a consequence the limitations period will probably not begin until she discovered the present possessor of the painting.  

  1. Douglas Britt, Artwork socialite reported stolen now caught in custody battle, Houston Chronicle, February 21, 2010.

Feb 23, 2010

Footnotes 2.22.2010

  • Google Earth offers new perspectives on the past, with views of a Japanese-American internment facility.
  • Sotheby's in New York will exhibit works from the 1999 Polaroid Abrams catalogue in mid-March.
  • Should looted artefacts be returned to countries, like Nigeria, with inadequate security and other major issues? Read more on this issue discussed by Maurice Archibong.
  • Brandeis University continues to make budget cuts, which does not bode well for its Rose Art Museum.
  • The Penn Museum in Philadelphia has jewelry of questionable origin purchased over 40 years ago.

Feb 19, 2010

Footnotes 2.19.2010

  • Two Banksy admirers buy wall, but have difficulty selling the wall for profit because they are unable to authenticate the work as Banksy's.
  • Shephard Fairey filed a motion to postpone his deposition until the federal criminal investigation him is complete.
  • A lawyer is attempting to collect more that $125,000 in legal fees after an unsuccessful suit to regain a Pissarro.
  • The Antiquities Market, a section on news and on the illicit traffic in antiquities, will be a regular feature of the Journal of Field Archaeology.
  • The Corcoran Gallery of Art sells school building to a partnership that includes the Rubell family, and later will exhibit art from the Rubell family collection, all while saying the two are not connected.
  • Picasso and Portinari paintings stolen from a Brazilian art museum have been recovered by Brazilian police.
  • Fair use issues arise when photographs are taken of public art.
  • Edward Winkleman gives insight on purchasing deaccessioned works from museum sales.

Feb 11, 2010

Italian Appeals Court Orders the Return of the Getty Bronze

A surprising ruling today by Judge Mussoni in the case involving this statute, known as "The Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth" currently on display at the Getty Villa in Malibu.  I've looked at the merits of Italy's repatriation case in some detail before, here and here.  Essentially, this Bronze was found in the Adriatic in the 1960's, and Italian fishermen and others smuggled the work abroad.  It was eventually purchased by the Getty.  Criminal proceedings were brought against some of the smugglers decades ago, but they were never convicted.  

The present case was brought by the Italian government, seeking a forfeiture of the statue.  The Getty has indicated it will appeal; but the confiscation order will take effect immediately according to Maurizio Fiorilli, an attorney representing the Italian government.  There are a few hurdles to be crossed before the Getty has to pack up the Bronze and ship it to Italy however.

I haven't had time to research the legal specifics yet, but I would like to offer some tentative observations.  First, I do not see how the Italian court has jurisdiction over the statue; and getting it returned will require the cooperation of the State Department or Department of Justice.  Second, this case presents a unique situation.  I'm not aware of any case in which a nation of origin brings suit in a domestic court to seek the return of an object from abroad.  If the Italians are successful in securing the return of the bronze, it would rewrite the law governing repatriation in many respects.  But finally, none of the law may matter.  As I've argued before, the court of public opinion is often the most important arbiter in many of these cases.  Italy would seem to have a difficult time compelling the State Department or DOJ to compel the Getty to ship the Bronze to Italy; but they could impose a kind of cultural embargo on the Getty, or on other American archaeologists if they want to force the repatriation of the Bronze.

It should come as no surprise then that the Getty's Press Release this afternoon was critical of the decision:

The Getty is disappointed in the ruling issued February 11 by Judge [Lorena] Mussoni in Pesaro, Italy, involving the Statue of a Victorious Youth, often referred to as the Getty Bronze. The court's order is flawed both procedurally and substantively.
It should be noted that the same court in Pesaro dismissed an earlier case in 2007 in which the same prosecutor claimed the Statue of a Victorious Youth belonged to Italy. In that case, the judge held that the statute of limitations had long since expired, that there was no one to prosecute under Italian law, and that the Getty was to be considered a good faith owner.
In fact, no Italian court has ever found any person guilty of any criminal activity in connection with the export or sale of the statue. To the contrary, Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation, held more than four decades ago that the possession by the original owners 'did not constitute a crime.
The Getty will appeal the Pesaro court's order to the Court of Cassation in Rome and will vigorously defend its legal ownership of the statue.

  1. Court orders seizure of Getty bronze, ANSA, Feb. 11, 2010.  
  2. Nicole Winfield, Italian court orders contested bronze statue confiscated from Getty Museum, CP, Feb. 11, 2010.  


  • Modern technology has collided with Ancient Rome, with the addition of Pompeii to "Google Street View."
  • Park West galleries sell nearly $450 million in art every year.
  • Dartmouth Math professor has created a digital method for identifying suspect artworks.
  • After a flood ruined the University of Iowa's Museum of Art, the "Envisioning Committee" is calling for a bigger museum to be built closer to campus.
  • A Byzantine era mosaic was stolen from Old Town Aqraba in the northern West Bank.
  • While Cambodia and Thailand lead the pack of Southeast Asian countries that experience the most severe looting dilemmas, Vietnam might now be in their league.
  • With the record-breaking sale of Giacometti's Walking Man I, the art market has gone from recession-induced anorexia back to bilious over-indulgence.
  • For the first time, a Swiss museum will show the Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection two years after a $160 million heist of the collection.
  • Valuable Iraqi antiques were seized at the Dubai International airport.
  • Taking photographs of pyramids in Egypt is becoming increasingly difficult, not to mention prohibited.
  • The Indianapolis Museum of Art has created the IMA Lab, to address the needs specific to the museum community regarding the use of innovative digital technology.

Feb 9, 2010

Malevich Heirs and the Guggenheim Resolve Dispute

The Guggenheim has announced it has reached a settlement with the heirs of Kazimir Malevich.  At issue was this untitled work, created in 1916.  The piece was shown at an exhibition in Berlin in 1927 along with 70 other works, but the artist left the paintings behind before returning to the Soviet Union.  He was probably rightly concerned that his works would be confiscated if he returned them to the Soviet Union; and in fact they were later banned by the Nazis as well.  The work was purchased by Peggy Guggenheim in 1942. 

The terms of this settlement are confidential.  Malevich's heirs have recently been pressing claims to many works they believe were improperly obtained.  In 2008 they settled a claim for four works now in the possession of the city of Amsterdam. 

  1. Guggenheim and Malevich Heirs Resolve Painting Dispute, ARTINFO, February 8, 2010.
  2. Dave Itzkoff, Ownership Settled for Malevich Painting, The New York Times, February 9, 2010.

Feb 8, 2010

New Cultural Heritage & the Arts Interest Group

Prof. Jennifer Kreder at Northern Kentucky College of Law has forwarded me a message about the new American Society of International Law Interest Group on the International Law of Cultural Heritage & the Arts.  Here are the details:

Our first panel with ASIL will be held on March 26, 2010, 2:30-4:00PM at the ASIL Annual Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington DC.  The panel will be entitled "Wrestling the Dead Hand of History: Perspectives on a Proposed State Department Commission on Nazi Looted Art" with Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy, Stuart Eizenstat, Lucille Roussin and Charles Goldstein, moderated by Jennifer Kreder.  Full panel details and bios are below.

Read More

Feb 5, 2010

Footnotes 2.8.2010

  • The Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in site becomes a Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, N.C.
  • 1909 murder-suicide in the UK's National Portrait Gallery published in their Archive Catalogue.
  • The Jewish heir to a Nazi looted Klimt landscape has agreed to split the $45.4 million proceeds from the Sotheby's auction with the current owner, who bought it in good faith.
  • Shaun Greenhalgh, the extremely talented forger who sold fake masterpieces to British museums and auction houses, was recently sentenced to prison, along with his octogenarian accomplice parents.
  • Since the FBI's Art Crime Unit's inception in 2004, $142 million worth of art has been recovered, yet an estimated $8 billion is lost each year in art and cultural property crimes.
  • An agreement has been reached between the United States Government, private corporations and preservation societies that will protect carvings on Utah's Nine Mile Canyon.
  • East Asian remains were found in a 1 CE Roman necropolis, which suggest that there could have been East Asians in Italy before a formal delegation from the Han dynasty made it's "First Contact."
  • More deaccessioning thoughts from Judith H. Dobrzynski since her January 2nd article "The Art of the Deal" in the New York Times.
  • Mark Durney points looks at whether art theft is seasonal.
  • Slate looks at the power of civil asset forfeiture, a tool often used by prosecutors in art and antiquities regulation.    

Feb 4, 2010

Suspicious Bronze not the Fano Athelete

Earlier this month in a Jan. 14th article the L.A. Times had apparently uncovered some evidence linking the Getty to criminal wrongdoing in the acquisition of this piece.  This bronze statue has been known by many names, including the "Getty Bronze", the "Fano athelete", or the "Bronze statue of a victorious youth".  I've received a note from Julie Jaskol, Assistant Director of Media Relations at the Getty notifying me that the "Bronze" discussed in the letters was not this Bronze Athlete. 

The Times has corrected the story:

Bronze statue: A Jan. 14th article in Section A about an Italian legal  case involving the J. Paul Getty Museum's statue of a bronze athlete mischaracterized a 1976 letter to museum director Stephen Garrett. The  letter from the late antiquities expert and Getty adviser Bernard Ashmole, which referred to the museum's "exploits over the bronze statue" as a "crime," was describing a different bronze statue in the museum's collection. Garrett, who initially told The Times the letter referred to the bronze athlete, now says he was mistaken.

I wrote a very long summery of the dispute back in 2007.  The statue was found by fisherman in the Adriatic in 1964, smuggled out of Italy, and eventually purchased by the Getty in 1977.  The bronze was discussed a great deal in the very public battle between Italy and the Getty over other looted objects in recent years.  Yet there was a lack of direct evidence linking the Getty to any wrongdoing in the acquisition.  Criminal proceedings were brought against some of the fishermen and handlers of the statue in Italy, yet there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction.  At present a prosecutor has brought suit in Italy to attempt to secure possession of the statue.  Had the letter discussed in Felch's original piece referred to this bronze, this would have provided strong corroborating evidence in the court of public opinion for the return of the bronze. 

Feb 3, 2010

Footnotes 2/2/2010

  • UNESCO wisely calls for a ban in the trade of Haitian artifacts to prevent looting.
  • A Korean civic group will appeal a French Court's decision holding looted Korean royal texts to be French public material because they have been in France for over 140 years.
  • Over 3,000 people have signed a petition to cease the break up of a musical instrument collection at the V&A Museum in London.
  • Funding for the Arts will hold steady under Obama's budget.
  • The FBI has paid Ted Gardiner, the Utah antiquities dealer and undercover operative in a federal bust of artifact trading, a total of $224,000 for his cooperation in the investigation.
  • The Egyptian Parliament amended Egypt's antiquities law, which forbids trade in antiquities but allows possession of antiquities with some individuals.
  • Seven people, including a pastor, were held in Chennai, India for smuggling antique idols.
  • According to Noah Charney, stolen art is the 3rd most illegally trafficked item after drugs and guns, and is used by organized criminals for bargaining.
  • Author of Among Thieves, David Hosp is interviewed and discusses what being an art thief must be like.

Feb 1, 2010

Cultural Heritage Preservation Internships in Peru

I get dozens of requests every month from students and arts professionals wondering what career opportunities exist for the protection or preservation of cultural heritage.  There are not yet all that many opportunities, but that is changing.   

Here is one cultural internship program created to support the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Peru and the United States.  It looks like there are nine positions, and applicants should have an arts background and Spanish fluency:

In support of the MOU, the Embassy promotes an internship program for American graduate students of museum studies and conservation programs to be held from July through August 2010.The objective of this program is to enable well-qualified graduate students the opportunity to do field research in Lima, Arequipa and Lambayeque. It will also support museums that house rich art collections, but are greatly in need of skilled professionals.  These internships will provide an excellent opportunity for Peruvian and American colleagues to exchange ideas on new techniques related to conservation, marketing, and exhibition planning, with long-term possibilities for collaboration. Please find more information here.

Piecing Together the Origin of Ancient Gold

Interesting story on some ancient gold jewelry currently held by the University of Pennsylvania.  Twenty of the gold objects are on display at the Bowers Museum.  The Bowers website touts these objects as Trojan gold excavated by Heinrich Schliemann.  However the history of the objects is unknown: 

George Allen of Hesperia Art, a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square, approached the museum with a rare opportunity: the chance to purchase 24 gold pieces that he said were from ancient Troy.
Allen had no evidence to back up his claim that the gold was of Trojan origin, other than what the museum's curators could see with their own eyes. The earrings and other baubles were in the same style as the famous objects found by Schliemann.

The pieces were so similar that initially the curators thought they might be from the Schliemann collection - which was still missing, its loss mourned by art historians worldwide.

In addition, the objects for sale bore tantalizing similarities to golden artifacts from another ancient stronghold: the royal Mesopotamian city of Ur, in what is now Iraq. Scholars already had theorized the existence of a trade network between the two civilizations. The new items, though they lacked a paper trail, seemed to support that theory.

"The purchase of this collection is urgently recommended," Penn curator Rodney Young wrote in a March 1966 memo to the museum's board.

Young also acknowledged that the items had an unsavory aspect, probably having been "looted by peasants and dealers."

Museum officials decided to buy the pieces, for $10,000. But evidently they had misgivings.
Four years later, in 1970, the museum announced it would no longer acquire undocumented objects, arguing that such acquisitions encouraged the "wholesale destruction of archaeological sites."

  1. Tom Avril, Tracing ancient roots of Penn Museum's gold, PHILADELPHIA ENQ., January 31, 2010.


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