In recent art world news, forty years after a 1967 painting by modernist painter Robert Motherwell had vanished, last week the “Untitled” work (now valued at $1 million) was returned to the foundation dedicated to the preservation of the artist’s legacy.  The painting is among dozens that were lost and believed to have been stolen when Motherwell had hired a moving company to relocate his artworks from one storage facility to another in 1978.  The Motherwell painting was discovered in an upstate New York garage by the son of a former employee of the moving company.

The person who returned the painting has not been identified by federal investigators who helped arrange the return of the work to the Dedalus Foundation.  Foundation officials said that the person was helping his mother sort through some belongings last October when he came across the painting and after inspecting same he noticed the artist’s name in faint pencil on the back of the orange, crimson, blue and black canvas.

The person conducted an online search for information about the artist and subsequently approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting.  The foundation matched up photos of the discovered work to photos of the stolen painting and concluded it was the same work.  The foundation then contacted the FBI and investigators in the art crimes unit established that the person’s father, who passed away in the 1990s, had in fact worked at the Manhattan-based moving company at the time the Motherwell works went missing.

The discovered painting has a few mold stains that can be removed, but the work is said to be in “good shape and had been stored correctly, upright and wrapped in plastic.”

After Motherwell passed away in 1991, nearly all of his paintings were deeded to the foundation.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, who unveiled the painting at a news conference last week in Manhattan where the foundation took possession of the large 69-by-92 inch work said:

Today, dozens of works by Motherwell remain missing.  We hope that they remain in the same condition as this piece, and that anyone encountering these pieces in the market brings them to the attention of law enforcement.”

It was reported that authorities do not believe the son knew the painting had been stolen, but it did appear that the work had been purposely taken.  The foundation said that the back of the painting had marks where warehouse labels had been torn off.

According to Katy Rogers, director of the Robert Motherwell catalogue raisonné project, the person who had approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting had hoped to sell the work if it was authentic, but agreed to return it upon learning of the circumstances under which the painting had gone missing.

Motherwell was a 20th-century American painter, printmaker, and editor, who played a significant role in the Abstract Expressionist movement.  The late artist is well known as a member of the New York School, which also includes acclaimed artists Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

The foundation will circulate the discovered painting in connection with its educational programs.

In recent art world news, a buyer of a painting recently identified as having been confiscated by the Nazis in 1940 from a Jewish collector in Paris is asking Christie’s to refund the purchase price paid a decade ago for the tainted work.  Christie’s has maintained that it is committed to ensuring that Nazi looted artworks from World War II are not offered for sale.

The buyer, Alain Dreyfus, a Swiss-based art dealer, who purchased the painting by Impressionist landscape painter Alfred Sisley titled “First Day of Spring in Moret” (1889) at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2008, believes the auction house did not thoroughly examine the work’s provenance before offering it for sale.  Dreyfus paid $338,500 for the painting and is asking Christie’s to refund him the purchase price in addition to an annual interest rate of eight percent.  Dreyfus has reportedly said that he is willing to return the painting to the heirs of Alfred Lindon, the collector from whom the work was seized.

Christie’s has said that it had reviewed all databases, catalogues and resources available at the time and did not find anything to indicate that the painting was ever in the collection of Lindon.

An investigation by Toronto-based art recovery company Mondex Corporation revealed that Lindon had placed the Sisley painting along with the rest of his collection in a bank safe before fleeing Paris when the Nazis invaded the city.  The artworks were later seized and stored at the Jeu de Paume for processing.  As a result of Mondex’s investigative efforts, records evidenced that the Sisley painting had been in the possession of Hermann Goering at some point.  Goering was the Reichsmarschall who was “heavily involved in the Nazi art seizures.”

Dreyfus believes Christie’s would have discovered the painting’s tainted history had the auction house conducted an in-depth review of the work’s provenance.  The Lindon heirs share the buyer’s view and are seeking the return of the painting after its provenance and Nazi seizure were discovered by Mondex.

Christie’s has further said that its commitment to the identification of stolen artworks is “evident in the fact that it routinely checks individual works consigned for sale against more than a dozen databases.”  However, prior to the sale of the painting in 2008, only four databases were “available and routinely checked” and there was no evidence in the auction house’s review to suggest that the provenance gap was meaningful.

Mondex believes differently as its founder wrote in an e-mail to the international director of restitution of Christie’s that the auction house “could have consulted a directory of looted items published in France in 1947, which stated that several Sisley paintings, including three ‘Spring’ scenes, were stolen from there.”  Mondex’s founder further wrote that the auction house “could have checked a collection of Nazi documents maintained by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, which indicated that a Sisley ‘Spring’ painting had been stolen.”  Mondex’s founder noted that further research at the archives “could have shown that the Lindons were the owners of a stolen painting with the same dimensions, signature and date as the one to be auctioned.”

Christie’s countered that one of the databases used by Mondex did not become digitized until about two years after the 2008 auction sale.  Nevertheless, Dreyfus believes that the auction house is obligated to reimburse him for the Nazi-tainted painting.  Dreyfus has said that Christie’s has not responded to his request for a refund of the purchase price.

Christie’s has issued the following statement on the matter:  “The matter is now between the current owner and the heirs and is now in a legal process.  Christie’s stands by its position that we did our due diligence appropriately in 2008, at the time of the sale.”

It appears that the Sisley painting will be returned to the Lindon heirs in due course, however, it remains to be seen whether Dreyfus will be issued a refund for the purchase price paid for the tainted painting.

 

 

 

 

Element Paints writes:

Art theft is a major problem all around the world. With an estimated total loss of up to $6 billion, the crime is second only in dollar value to arms dealing, drug trafficking and money laundering.

A recent analysis of the INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization) art theft database performed by Element Paints has revealed some interesting details about what these art thieves are up to.

Which Countries Are Most Affected by Art Theft?

Chart - Countries with the Most Art Theft

Four countries in the Middle East earn the top spots for art theft. With Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya by far the largest targets for art thieves. It seems the chaos that exists in these war-torn countries makes them an ideal target. Unfortunately, few stolen items from this region are ever recovered.

France, Austria, Germany, Ukraine, Romania, and Belarus round out the top ten, but generally these countries recover most of their stolen art. Unfortunately Middle Eastern countries do not, and the majority of their stolen pieces are never recovered.

What Kind of Art Is Stolen?

Chart - Top 10 Most Popular Objects with Art Thieves

Both sculptures and paintings make up the largest proportion of stolen items. The reason for this is unknown, it could be because these types of pieces are very common, or perhaps they are highly sought after on the black market.

Ceramic, gold and silverware, weapons, icons, and coins are also popular among thieves. Weapons, such as shields and swords, were surprising to find in the top 10 categories of stolen items but are obviously quite sought after. Religious items, furniture, and glassware also make the list, but these are not nearly as popular as the other art objects. Furniture is obviously difficult to steal and conceal, and glassware would likely have transportation issues.

Where is the Stolen Art Going?

Chart - Where Art is Stolen and Recovered

Perhaps the most shocking revelation from this data analysis is where the stolen art ends up. It’s abundantly clear that most pieces will end up in Europe.

Virtually all the art stolen from Europe stays in Europe, although a small portion finds its way to Asia and the Americas. Almost all the art stolen from Asia and Africa ends up in Europe. Even the majority of art stolen from America ends up in Europe.

This fact is further highlighted by the fact that Paris is the number one city for recovered pieces for stolen art. Interestingly, Arandelovac, a small town in central Serbia, also recovers a lot of stolen art. This is likely a stop on the corridor from the Middle East to Europe.

Chart - Top 10 Cities Where Stolen Art is Recovered

All the data for this report was pulled from the public INTERPOL art theft database, and the graphs above are just a few highlights from the report. If you’re interested in learning more about international art theft then you can read the full art theft report on the Element Paints website.

In recent art world news, three paintings by Flemish master Joachim Patinir were formally handed over to the descendants of Herta and Henry Bromberg at the Louvre Museum by French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen.  This is the second time in two years that France has returned looted art to the family.  In 2016, France has handed over another 16th-century painting, “Portrait of a Man”, created by one of the followers of Antwerp artist Joos van Cleve.

The Bromberg family was forced to sell the 16th-century “Triptych of the Crucifixion” depicting Christ on the cross, along with several other paintings, the following year after fleeing Germany for France in 1938, so they could come to the United States by way of Switzerland.

The three Patinir paintings had faded away for nearly seven decades as unclaimed in the French state collections after having been recovered in Munich following World War II.

The late Flemish master is considered the father of landscape painting who developed the panoramic style that became the distinctive feature of the northern Renaissance.

In recent years, France has improved its efforts of the restitution of looted art from World War II to its rightful owners through the use of genealogical experts to trace families.

According to former culture minister Audrey Azoulay, who is now Director-General of UNESCO:

It is no longer acceptable to wait for descendants to turn up and ask for the restitution of their family’s art for them to be given their due[.]”

It has been reported that up to 100,000 works of art, and millions of books, were stolen from French Jewish families or Jewish families who had fled to France prior to the German occupation.

After World War II, the Allies had located 60,000 of the missing works of art, and France has been returning works of arts to families since the 1960s though only 30 works were returned up to 1994.

Since 2013 France has made a more concerted effort to resolving the issue of the restitution of looted art with a commission of experts, historians and archivists.

 

 

 

 

In recent art world news, the Board of Directors of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has voted to extend the $10 million reward for information leading to the return of 13 art works (valued at half a billion dollars) that were stolen nearly 30 years ago.  The reward was to have reverted to $5 million at the end of last year had it not been for the Board’s recent vote.  The extension of the reward was done in the “hope of enticing tips that would help recover works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet and others that were stolen in the world’s largest unsolved art heist.”

The theft occurred just after midnight on March 18, 1990 when two thieves appearing as Boston police officers deceived museum guards in gaining access to the building, restrained the guards, and then left nearly an hour and a half later with the valuable art works.

While there have been multiple suspects throughout the years and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said in 2013 that agents had determined who the thieves were (but did not reveal their names), and added that the thieves were no longer living, the statute of limitations has run out on the theft in 1995, but the investigation is ongoing.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, the woman for whom the museum is named, was a leading American art collector, art patron, and philanthropist, who passed away in 1924.  Gardner had stipulated in her will that “the vast art collection in her home, modeled on a 15th-century Venetian palace, remain on permanent display exactly as she left it.  Nowadays empty gilded frames that held some of the works that were taken in 1990 still hang on the walls.”

For further information about the theft and Isabella Stewart Gardner, see the following articles, Learn About The Theft and An Unconventional Life, via the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum website.

 

In a recent report, New York City (Manhattan) District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the formation of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, which was created to work with U.S. Homeland Security to combat the trade of stolen antiquities.  The Unit was formed after a number of culturally valuable pieces were found in New York City.  The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently announced the return of three ancient statutes to the Lebanese Republic.  It will be interesting to see what other treasures this Unit will uncover.

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, 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 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.”