In recent art world news, and further to our recent blog post on the Met Museum’s return to authorities of an ancient artifact on loan due to concerns that it had been looted from a storage area during the civil war in Lebanon, the prior owners of the 2,300 year old marble sculpture of a bull’s head have since dropped a federal lawsuit seeking to prevent the Manhattan district attorney’s office from returning the artifact to the Republic of Lebanon.  The prior owners, a couple from Colorado, had asserted that they bought the artifact in good faith in excess of $1 million in 1996, but after having been “presented with incontrovertible evidence that the bull’s head was stolen from Lebanon, the [couple] believed it was in everyone’s best interest to withdraw their claim to the bull’s head and allow its repatriation to Lebanon.”

In a latest twist, however, prosecutors are now pursuing the return of a second ancient artifact, an archaic marble torso of a calf bearer, to Lebanon that was discovered while they were reviewing a profile of the couple in the June 1998 issue of House & Garden magazine.  The artifact was later sold by the art collector couple to a collector in New York.  The district attorney’s office has obtained a warrant to seize the artifact.

The couple had also sold the bull’s head sculpture to the same collector in New York who in turn loaned it to the Met Museum.  After learning about the provenance dispute, the collector in New York requested the couple to take back the work and refund his money.

The couple had sued the district attorney’s office and the Lebanese government this summer claiming that they had clear title to the bull’s head artifact and demanding its return.  The district attorney’s office, however, produced evidence that the antiquity had been “discovered during a state-sponsored excavation in 1967 at the ancient Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, Lebanon.  The [work] had been put in storage after its discovery and then was stolen in the summer of 1981 during the Lebanese civil war.”  The artifact later came into the possession of Robin Symes, a British antiquities dealer, who had sold it to the couple.

The district attorney’s office has said that the investigation continues even though the bull’s head will be released without the couple or any other individuals being the subject of criminal charges.  Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. issued a statement this week that said:

The art world must acknowledge that stolen antiquities are not simply collectible commercial property, but evidence of cultural crimes committed around the world.  These important historical relics must be treated with caution and care, and galleries, auction houses, museums, and individual collectors must be willing to conduct proper due diligence to ensure that an item has not been unlawfully acquired.”

This latest discovered calf bearer ancient artifact passed through the same parties as the bull’s head sculpture.  The artifact had been excavated at the ancient Temple of Eshmun and was stolen from Lebanon, according to prosecutors.  It was then sold by Mr. Symes in 1996 for $4.5 million to the couple, who later sold it to the collector in New York.

We will follow this latest twist of the discovery of the second ancient artifact and its expected eventual return to Lebanon.

In recent art world news, Christie’s fetched $130 million during its recent postwar and contemporary art auction at its Kings Street salesroom in London last Friday evening achieving a solid sell-through rate of 83 percent.  However, the sale was defined by a single high profile lot that failed to sell and accounted for “one of the most notable pricing miscalculations in recent auction memory.”

The work was Francis Bacon’sStudy of Red Pope 1962.2nd Version 1971,” which was marketed with an on-request estimate of $78.4 million to $104.5 million, and would have been the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction in Europe if sold last Friday.  Unfortunately, the lot flopped as the auction house could not find a buyer in the above estimate range.

However, another Francis Bacon painting entitled “Head with Raised Arm” (1955), which resembles one of the artist’s popes during a moment of reflection, did find a buyer.  The work sold for about $15 million (with buyer’s premium) just above its high estimate of $13 million.  The work was unveiled for the first time in more than half a century.  According to writer, art historian and curator Michael Peppiatt, “Bacon’s Popes are not only the centrepiece of all his paintings in the 1950s, but a centrepiece of the whole of 20th-century art.”

It will be interesting to see if Bacon’s “Study of Red Pope 1962.2nd Version 1971” can find a buyer in any future auction sale within the above estimate range.

In recent art world news, two new museums devoted to the late iconic French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent are opening this month.  The first is in Paris, which was the home of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion empire, and the second is in Marrakech, which was the designer’s adopted city from which he drew inspiration in creating his fabled designs.  The museums represent years of work by the foundation established by Yves Saint Laurent with his business and life partner, Pierre Bergé, who passed away last month.

The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris opened on October 3 in the hôtel particulier at 5 Avenue Marceau where Saint Laurent operated his fashion studio for nearly 30 years.  The building operated as Foundation Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent’s headquarters since 2004 and was converted into an exhibition space in the style of the original couture house by way of a €4 million refurbishment.

The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is set to open on October 19 in a new €15 million cultural center on Rue Yves Saint Laurent.  The pink granite, brass and brick museum also includes permanent and temporary gallery space, a research library, an auditorium, a conservation studio and a café.  The museum shares a personal connection to Saint Laurent through its proximity to the renowned Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden that the designer and Bergé saved from destruction in 1980.

The museum in Marrakech will focus on the influence of Moroccan culture while the emphasis of the museum in Paris will be on the late designer in the broader context of the fashion industry.  The highlight of the museum in Paris is a recreation of Saint Laurent’s atelier (studio) filled with an assortment of swatches, samples and personal effects.

The [F]oundation’s collection of 5,000 haute couture garments and 15,000 accessories and archival materials will rotate between the two [museums], with 1,000 items, including 250 outfits, held in Marrakech at any one time.”

The new museums were supported through the efforts of Bergé who raised funds by selling most of the art collection he had built over time with Saint Laurent and his treasured library of rare books.  Christie’s three-part auction “sale of the century” in Paris in 2009 raised nearly €375 million for the Foundation and other charities.

In recent art world news, a painting by the late figurative artist Francis Bacon that has been in a private collection for the past 45 years and never loaned could become the most expensive art work ever sold at auction in Europe when it is set to be sold at Christie’s London on October 6, 2017.  The painting entitled “Study of Red Pope 1962. 2nd Version 1971” has an estimate of around £60 million ($81 million).

The painting was exhibited at the Bacon retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, then in Dusseldorf the next year, before vanishing from public view.  The family of the present owner acquired the work in 1973.

Christie’s believes the painting could set a new record for a work of art sold at auction in Europe and will likely surpass the £65 million ($104.3 million) record fetched for Giacometti’s “Walking Man I” bronze sculpture in 2010.  (The winning bid for that work was £58 million with the final amount including the buyer’s premium).  If the painting obtains its £60 million estimate, the work will fetch around £67 million ($90 million) with the buyer’s premium.

The work will not be the most expensive Bacon painting ever sold at auction – that record is currently held by “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” (1969), a triptych that fetched $142.4 million in New York in 2013.

The painting is set to go on display at Christie’s London beginning September 30 before next month’s October 6 sale.

 

In recent art world news, the Peruvian consulate in New York announced earlier this week the recovery of two paintings stolen from an Andean village chapel in Peru.  An art collector based in California, in cooperation with Christie’s, has voluntarily returned the missing works, which are set for repatriation to Peru.

The return of the works represents some headway to solving a number of crimes in Peru.  In particular, from 1991 to 2000, thieves raided the Virgen del Rosario chapel in Hualahoyo, Junín, Peru.  During that period, the loss of prized works was significant, including a series of 21 Biblical paintings that were commissioned for the chapel by Franciscans in the late 17th century.  With minimal surveillance, Peru’s historic churches located in remote areas of the country are frequent targets for art theft.

The art collector had inherited both works, namely, Los Sacrificios de Cain y Abel and El Diluvio, from her late father, who bought the paintings for $20,000 from a gallery in California in 1997 and was unaware of their linkage to the chapel.  The paintings were said to be created by “an unknown follower of Peruvian master Diego Quispe Tito (1611-81).”  At the time the works were consigned by the collector to Christie’s New York in 2015, such works caught the attention of a museum curator based in Peru.  The collector, along with support from Christie’s, sought to immediately return the works once having been notified.  Both paintings have a combined estimate of between $15,000 and $20,000.

The Peruvian government is reportedly “being very aggressive” in reclaiming the stolen treasures from its country.  The stolen works are not the first paintings from the chapel to be recovered.  In 2001, three paintings were discovered in Chile.  Over a decade later, in 2012, the FBI seized another work, La Creación de Eva, from Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by acting on information from the Ministry of Culture in Peru.  The two works are set to reunite with the other four recovered works at the Museo de la Nación in Lima, Peru.

Hopefully, the remaining missing works that were stolen from the chapel will be recovered at some point in time so all the works can be reunited and displayed together at the museum.

 

 

In recent art world news, one of the largest art scandals in New York has come to a close with the recent settlement of the last of ten lawsuits brought against Ann Freedman, the former director of the now defunct Knoedler Gallery, that arose from a $70 million forgery ring forcing the long established, renowned art gallery to close in 2011.  The lawsuit was brought by a California art collector who with her then husband had purchased a purported Jackson Pollock for $3.1 million in 2000.  The terms of the settlement were filed in federal court in Manhattan in late August and were not disclosed.

According to Freedman’s attorney, all of the cases had been amicably resolved and Freedman was thankful that she can now focus on her own art gallery, FreedmanArt, which opened on the Upper East Side in Manhattan in 2011.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuits, who also sued Knoedler Gallery and its holding company 8-31 Holdings, alleged that “Knoedler and Freedman knew or should have known that the works were fake, an allegation the defendants denied.”  Two lawsuits against Knoedler Gallery and 8-31 Holdings remain ongoing.

For our previous coverage of the Knoedler Gallery litigation on the Art Law blog, see “The Knoedler Gallery Litigation – Can Art Buyers Rely On Dealer Representations?” and “Extradition Of Alleged Member Of Knoedler Forgery Ring And Settlement Of The Knoedler Litigation,” published online in February 2016.

 

Many in the art world may not know (myself included) that the late Impressionist artist Claude Monet was a significant art collector in his lifetime.  Monet possessed numerous paintings, including masterpieces, by both his predecessors and his contemporaries, from earlier artists Delacroix and Corot to artists during his time, namely, Manet, Renoir and Cézanne.  As a collector, Monet discreetly purchased art at auctions or from art dealers.

The Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris will be showing 77 paintings, watercolors and sculptures owned by the artist in an upcoming exhibition entitled “Monet Collectionneur” (“Monet the Collector”) opening September 14, 2017.  A number of the artworks come from the museum, which owns the world’s largest number of Monet works, as well as many other artworks that were once owned by the late artist and were donated by Monet’s second son, Michel.  Additional Monet works are on loan from New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and various museums throughout the world in Brazil, Japan and Germany.

Monet’s motivations for collecting art were very different from those of the typical art collector.  According to curator Ann Dumas of the Royal Academy of Arts in London,

[i]t was rare for artists to buy [art] as an investment.  Their overwhelming concern was admiring what another artist had done.  They often really loved other artists’ work and using it as an example and an inspiration.  It was much more personal and tied to their own creative process.”

As Monet’s art collection was kept very private during the artist’s lifetime, for the Musée Marmottan Monet, curating an exhibition on Monet the art collector has proved challenging.  Monet did not maintain records of his art collection, unlike artist Edgar Degas who was another significant artist-collector of the period.  It was reported that curating the exhibition was akin to a “police investigation.”

Complicating matters even further, the records of Monet’s personal belongings at Giverny, which were prepared at his death in 1926, were destroyed in World War II.  Nevertheless, the museum’s team of curators had managed to document 120 works as having been unequivocally owned by Monet.

The curator of the exhibition, Marianne Mathieu, said of the artist’s collection that “[t]he collection resembles Monet himself:  It’s the eye of Monet, it’s his selection,” and that “[t]he collection reveals another reality:  an artist with a very open mind.”

The museum’s exhibition is set to run through January 14, 2018.

 

Norman Rockwell is as famous as apple pie for his iconic depictions of American life.  Once shunned by the art world as an ordinary illustrator, Rockwell’s saccharine vignettes are now prized paintings.

The recent auction sale of a painting of three umpires for $1.6M USD at auction reveals that even mere studies by the artist are valuable. Research of his works prior to the auction at Heritage Auctions (an internet based auction gallery that is headquartered in Dallas, Texas with showrooms all over the country), revealed that Rockwell, best known as The Saturday Evening Post cover artist, created the painting of three umpires in the rain as a study (16 in. x 15 in. oil on paper) for his iconic 1949 magazine cover entitled Tough Call. The original painting also known as Game Called Because of Rain, Bottom of the Sixth, or The Three Umpires is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although thought to be a print, luckily, additional analysis of the work was conducted and its status as an original work by Rockwell was established. The painting, which had been given by the artist himself to John “Beans” Reardon, one of the umpires depicted in the painting, remained in Reardon’s family until the auction gallery was contacted regarding the potential sale of sports memorabilia.

Iconic film directors and friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, have been enthusiastic collectors of Rockwell for decades. Notably, in 2016, Lucas donated $1.5M USD to the Norman Rockwell Museum, which facilitated a traveling art exhibition of the museum’s work. The highest grossing Rockwell painting at auction, Saying Grace (1951), was sold in 2013 for over $46 M USD (over twice the high estimate).

It was reported that Lucas was the purchaser of the $46M Rockwell, which was to be showcased in his forthcoming Lucas Museum for Narrative Art.  However, Saying Grace is not represented on the Lucas museum’s website.  Earlier this year, Lucas received unanimous approval for his $1B museum to be built in Exposition Park in Los Angeles, California. The museum will open in 2021. Lucas intends for his museum to “be a barrier free museum where artificial divisions between “high” art and “popular” art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling.”

I wonder if Albert C. Barnes were alive today whether he would support Lucas’ vision.

 

In recent news, an original Willem de Kooning known as “Woman-Ochre” was found at an estate sale by owners of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques, a New Mexico furniture and antiques shop (the owners include Buck Burns, Rick Johnson and David Van Auker).

Unaware that the work was an original de Kooning that had been stolen thirty years before, the antique dealers brought the work to their shop and marketed it as a decorative piece.  However, after the painting received significant interest, the dealers researched the provenance and determined that the work was the stolen art.  As a result of their efforts, the painting has been returned to its original owner, the University of Arizona Museum of Art.  Reunited with the Museum, the work (which had been cut from its frame during the heist thirty years ago) “fits like a glove” in its original frame.

In November, the Museum will have a special presentation regarding the “Woman-Ochre” entitled Out of the Vault – Art Crime. Museum Curator Olivia Miller and Registrar Kristen Schmidt will present on the theft of the de Kooning and Meredith Savona, a Special Agent with the FBI’s Art Crime Unit, will discuss art theft.

This recent discovery demonstrates the need to conduct proper provenance research.

In the wake of more WWII/Nazi era stolen art legal battles, the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) has issued a new Provenance Guide, which highlights the importance of archival research, and states that provenance research is “a must” for all art purchasers.  The Provenance Guide includes links to numerous archival websites and databases (including the Getty Research Institute), which will aid in provenance due diligence.  IFAR states that provenance litigation demonstrate that “all available archival materials must be consulted . . . ” because among other things, “documentary evidence may be open to interpretation.”