Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice, Joseph A. Trainor, granted a motion for an injunction on the sale of important works of the Berkshire Museum.  The auction was to be hosted by Sotheby’s this week. The controversial injunction was entered two weeks after Judge John A. Agostini of Massachusetts’ Superior Court held that the Board of Trustee’s of the Berkshire Museum was permitted to pursue its plan to raise $50 M through the sale of art.

Justice Trainor entered his decision after the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, filed an appeal three days before the scheduled auction. The Massachusetts Attorney General based her last minute appeal on the fact that the lower court did not consider, among other things, that the planned deaccession of important works would violate the museum board’s duties under its museum charter.

The museum’s controversial sale was to include the sale of two famous Norman Rockwell paintings – Shuffleton’s Barbershop and Shaftesbury Blacksmith Shop. Sotheby’s announced that it was disappointed that the Massachusetts Attorney General had decided to appeal, and that Justice Trainor entered the injunction.  The Board of Trustees of the Berkshire Museum has been fighting Margaret Rockwell, who represents the family of Norman Rockwell as well as other dissatisfied museum members.

An intriguing story recently ran in the Los Angeles Times regarding an 18th century masterpiece painting that has gone missing for more than a century.  The mysterious painting seems to have been hiding in plain sight in a Los Angeles home since the mid-1950s, but the exact location of the work is unknown.  The painting is known as “Española” (Spanish Girl) after the primped and powdered child that is the focus of the work.  The lost work is from a treasured set of 16 paintings by the artist Miguel Cabrera (circa 1715-1768), who is considered the “greatest painter of his age” in Mexico.  It is believed that the paintings left the country shortly before the artist’s death, but the whereabouts of Española have long remained unknown.

Curator of Latin American art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Ilona Katzew, has been perplexed over the lost painting since 2015 after receiving an eccentric letter written in the first person voice of Española and then signed as if by the young child.  Española wrote in late summer 2015:  “You should know that I am well and living less than two (2) miles from LACMA,” adding “I have been in the same family for I believe 60 years, although I do not know how I was acquired.”

Cabrera’s Española painting is part of a treasured set of casta, or caste, paintings.  More than 120 casta sets, which typically include 16 numbered paintings, are known.  The casta sets were painted in different formats by talented artists of varying skill.  Most of these sets have been divided up and individual paintings widely circulated.  Cabrera had painted just one set, which is considered the genre’s finest.

Two paintings from Cabrera’s set of 16 had gone missing long ago, but one of them, No. 6, was found hidden in a Northern California home.  The painting’s owner researched the work’s history and her surprising discovery landed on the cover page of the Los Angeles Times in April 2015.  Soon thereafter, LACMA acquired the painting.  And Española’s owner went to see it.  Española in her letter from late summer 2015 further wrote:  “My owner enjoyed seeing #6 and I am pleased that we are all now accounted for despite the diaspora.”

Several photographs showing details of the missing Española painting were enclosed in the envelope.  Although there are no known pre-modern images or written descriptions of Cabrera’s set, Katzew has little doubt of the authenticity of the painting.

Española’s letter revealed another astonishing detail.

If you ever gather a reunion of all my siblings, I would welcome the opportunity to be on display for a limited period of time.  I am not lost, I just do not wish to be found.”

A near complete reunion occurred several years earlier when 14 of the 16 paintings from Cabrera’s set were brought together from museums in Madrid and Monterrey, Mexico as well as a Los Angeles foundation, for a major exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art entitled “Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros:  The Art in Latin America, 1492-1820” in 2006.  The paintings from Cabrera’s set had not been displayed together in at least a century.

Española’s letter was signed by her and neatly typed in the format of formal business correspondence, however, she did not include a return mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address, or any other way to get in contact with the owner.  The stamps on the envelope were not even canceled at the post office.

During this time, Katzew was well into her research for her upcoming exhibition entitled “Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790:  Pinxit Mexici,” which is said to be the most comprehensive museum survey ever devoted to the period and is set to open at LACMA later this month on November 19, 2017.

Katzew is hopeful that Española’s owner will stop in to see the exhibition and perhaps get in contact again.  She has even made space for Española on the wall next to the painting’s “rediscovered sibling,” No. 6:

‘[No.] 3.  From Spaniard and Castiza, Spanish Girl,’ its full title, is an especially important picture in the set because of its uniquely sumptuous details.  The Spanish father, dressed in a dove-gray frock coat and tri-corner hat, is an aristocrat.  The castiza mother, offspring of a Spaniard and a mestiza (half Spanish, half Indian), is dressed in regal splendor—embroidered silks, delicate lace, pearls on her wrist and an extravagant coral necklace.”

For further information on this fascinating story, see “A masterpiece of Baroque painting, missing for more than a century, is hiding somewhere in L.A.,” published online by the Los Angeles Times on October 22, 2017.

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.

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 March 2016, a US auction gallery sold an Old Master oil painting (a sketch of an old woman) for $27,000. The sale price was nearly double the high auction estimate of 15,000.  However, when the same painting was recently sold by Sotheby’s London in a July 2017 sale as an authentic Peter Paul Rubens, it achieved a hammer of £416,750 (close to $550,000 USD), which is nearly 20 times the original purchase price.

It has been reported that the appraisers at Sotheby’s London relied on certain clues to authenticate painting and attribute to Peter Paul Rubens himself. For example, Rubens had painted this old lady before, and there were examples of Rubens work with the old women at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Lichtenstein museum.  Interestingly, the work was consigned to Sotheby’s after it had been properly cleaned and restored. The restoration work revealed that the sketch had been overpainted, and this overpainting is likely the reason why the work was not properly attributed in the first place.   Importantly, this is not the first time an authentic Rubens was late discovered. In 2015, a portrait deaccessed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art was later determined to be an authentic Rubens and fetched $626,500 at auction (over 20 times its original high estimate of $30,000).

As the Washington Post reports, authentic Rubens are valuable – even if they are mere sketches and not final oil portraits. Rubens value has increased. For example, last year a Rubens painting, Lot and his Daughters, set a new record for an Old Masters sale fetching £44.8 million ($58.1 million USD).

Unfortunately, the value and popularity of Rubens make his Old Master works a prime target for forgery. This heightened concern can move an appraiser to conservatively attribute paintings to “school/student/studio of” an Old Master rather than the Old Master himself.  This recent Rubens auction sale demonstrates that sometimes the caveat emptor/buyer beware mantra can benefit the buyer in more ways than one. In this case, taking the extra step to invest in restoration and cleaning paid off exponentially for the original auction buyer.

In recent art world news, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has turned over another antiquity to prosecutors in Manhattan after one of its curators had raised concerns about the ancient object after researching it last year.  Prosecutors have taken custody of the ancient artifact, the head of an ancient marble sculpture of a bull, on loan to the Met Museum, due to concerns that it had been looted from a Lebanese storage area during the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s.

The prior owners of the 2,300 year old marble object claim they have clear title to the antiquity and have taken legal action against the prosecutors for its return.  The prior owners are also pursuing legal action against Lebanon’s antiquities directorate in connection with a federal lawsuit in which they argue that “neither the Lebanese government nor the Manhattan prosecutors have offered convincing proof that the [antiquity] was stolen.  The lawsuit also cites property rights, cultural patrimony laws, statutes of limitations and jurisdictional issues as grounds for the sculpture’s return to them.”

The prior owners purchased the artifact from an art dealer in London back in 1996 for over $1 million and then sold it to a collector in 2010 who is the current owner.  The current owner loaned the antiquity to the museum that year, but has since asked the prior owners to take the artwork back and compensate him after becoming aware that Lebanon was disputing its provenance.

The prior owners’ attorney said in a statement that he and his clients believe the “district attorney’s position is ill-founded” and added that the prior owners are “bona fide purchasers with clean hands.  By contrast, for more than 50 years, Lebanon has failed [to] take any action domestically or internationally to report any theft of the bull’s head.”

The Met Museum released the following statement:  “Upon a Met curator’s discovery that this item on loan may have been stolen from government storage during the Lebanese civil war, the museum took immediate action.  We contacted the Lebanese government and the lender, we took the item off display, and we have been working with federal and state authorities, which recently involved delivering the head of the bull to the Manhattan D.A. upon its request.”

The antiquity has a deeply rooted history.  According to museum and Lebanese authorities, the artifact was “first catalogued in 1967 by a Swiss archaeologist excavating the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, Lebanon.  It is believed to be of Greek origin, was warehoused in the city of Byblos, the site of a looting spree in the 1980s.”

This is the second time in recent weeks that the museum has been asked to turn over an antiquity to prosecutors in Manhattan with different circumstances in each case.  As discussed in our recent blog post last week, the Met Museum returned an ancient vase that it bought at auction back in 1989 due to concerns that it may have been looted from Italy.

For more information on this latest antiquity provenance dispute, see “Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors,” published online by the New York Times on August 1, 2017.

In recent art world news, an ancient vase known as a krater, prominently displayed in the Greco-Roman galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for decades, was quietly seized by U.S. prosecutors from the district attorney’s office in Manhattan after the issuance of a warrant last week.  The vibrantly painted krater dates back to 360 B.C. and depicts Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, sitting in a cart pulled by a satyr.  The antiquity is attributed to the Greek artist Python, who is considered one of the two greatest painters of that time.

A warrant was issued to the Met after investigators reviewed photos and other evidence sent to them back in May by a forensic archaeologist based in Europe who has been tracing looted artifacts for over a decade.  The museum had hand-delivered the vase to prosecutors the following day and expects that it will be eventually returned to Italy.  The vase was seized based on evidence that it had been looted by tomb raiders in Italy in the 1970s.

The recent seizure of the krater is similar to the removal of another terracotta vase, known as the Euphronios Krater, from the Met back in 2008 after evidence revealed that the object had been illegally excavated from an ancient burial ground in Italy.  Both law enforcement and museum authorities believe that the vases passed through Italian art dealer, Giacomo Medici, who was arrested in 1997 and convicted in a Rome court in 2004 for conspiracy to traffic in antiquities.

Medici, who has since been released from prison, has denied any role in connection with the recently seized vase.  The Met purchased the vase at a Sotheby’s auction in 1989 for $90,000.  Sotheby’s has said it did not have any knowledge of provenance issues with the object at the time it handled the sale.

While its significance does not rise to the level of the far larger Euphronios Krater, which the Met sent back to Italy after a 30-year dispute, the newly confiscated vessel is a remarkably intact survivor of an age when the Greeks colonized Paestum, a Mediterranean city in the Campania region south of Rome, and created temples and artworks of legendary beauty.”

The forensic archaeologist in Europe who traced the krater said that his evidence suggested that the object was disinterred by looters from a grave site in southern Italy and eventually ended up in Medici’s possession.  Many of the antiquities that went through Medici ultimately ended up in museums throughout the world.

This latest case appears as “more and more museums are being pressed to scour their collections for items trafficked by known antiquities smugglers whose goods originated in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Cambodia, India, and Egypt” and other countries long affected by looting.

For more information on this story and the forensic archaeologist’s evidence resulting in the seizure of the krater, see “Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum On Suspicion It Was Looted,” published online by the New York Times on July 31, 2017.

 

In recent art world news, earlier this month the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art of Turin, Italy announced an agreement with the Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte to maintain and display the impressive but largely unknown private collection of the late Francesco Federico Cerruti of 13th– to 20th-century treasures.  Cerruti was a reclusive Italian art collector and entrepreneur whose collection was regarded as one of the best in Europe.

The collection has been valued at $570 million to $600 million by Sotheby’s in 2015 and includes masterworks by Francis Bacon, Giorgio de Chirico and Jacopo Pontormo.  The collection is on permanent loan to the museum and is planned to be the centerpiece of a museum expansion scheduled to open to the public in January 2019.

Cerruti’s collection, amassed over seven decades, includes about 300 paintings and sculptures, 200 rare and ancient books, including fine hand-bound editions, and 300 pieces of furniture and other decorative works.  Cerruti owned some exceptional works, including Bacon’s canvas “Study for a Portrait IX” (1957), a postwar highlight, Amedeo Modigliani’s “Woman in a Yellow Dress (La Belle Espagnole)” (1918), and a group of five rare “Metaphysical” (1910) oil paintings by de Chirico.

When purchasing art in Italy, Cerruti benefited from “a Mussolini-vintage regulation prohibiting the permanent export of artworks more than 50 years old officially designated as having cultural interest.  These works could not be sold on the international market.”  The late Cerruti was from a generation that did not buy 21st-century art.

The Cerruti collection represents a “rare case of a contemporary-art museum incorporating an encyclopedic and historical art trove.”  The museum intends to integrate works from the collection into its changing displays of contemporary art instead of keeping old and new works separate.