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.

 

Richard Polsky writes:

Catalogue rasionnes, which are compendiums of an artist’s entire body of work, are always insightful. The official Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne is one of the best; an amalgam of impressive research and good design. And it’s still ongoing, with more volumes to come in future years. But just like every famous artist’s catalogue raisonne, from Picasso to Pollock, it’s not complete. There are always discoveries of long-lost paintings that never made it in, paintings listed as authentic which turned out to be bogus, and re-evaluations of paintings based on fresh information that comes to light.

As art authenticators who specialize in the work of Andy Warhol (along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring), the majority of paintings that we are asked to examine turn out to be fakes. But every now and then, we come across a picture where all of the stars align; image, materials, and provenance. Or in some cases, paintings where the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board had a different interpretation of the artist’s intent. Regardless, we decided to compile the Warhols that we’ve authenticated in an online catalogue raisonne addendum, which will be ongoing as we come across more genuine paintings, and available for free on our website. The catalog will be known as the RPAA Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne Addendum.

We want to make it clear to our audience that the Addendum has no connection with the official Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne. We seek to retain our independence. Our objective is to present the art world with a more complete list of genuine Andy Warhol paintings, which will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of his work. The Addendum should prove beneficial to collectors, dealers, auction houses, and scholars.

Perhaps the most important thing that might come of posting the Addendum is that it will help define — once and for all — what constitutes an authentic Andy Warhol painting. For too long, both the academic world and the art market have debated its definition. Our position is simple; it comes down to the artist’s intent.


Richard Polsky has accumulated 40 years of expertise in the contemporary art world as a gallery owner, author of multiple books on the art market, lecturer, and provider of litigation support. Richard Polsky Art Authentication can be viewed at www.RichardPolskyArt.com.

In recent art world news, last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a holocaust survivor’s heirs can seek the return of a Nazi looted painting from Spain’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.  The prized painting, “Rue Saint-Honore, Apres-Midi, Effet de Pluie” (1897), is a vibrant Impressionist oil-on-canvas created by Camille Pissaro while living in Paris in the late 19th century. Nearly 80 years ago, Lilly Cassirer was forced to surrender her family’s treasured Pissaro painting to the Nazis in exchange for safe passage out of Germany during the Holocaust.  For nearly the past 20 years, Lilly Cassirer’s heirs have been trying to get it back.

By the end of World War II, the painting had disappeared.  In believing the work was lost, the German government paid Lilly Cassirer $13,000 in total reparations in 1958.  Lilly Cassirer passed away four years later in 1962.  In 1999, a friend of Lilly Cassirer’s grandson Claude Cassirer, who had fled Germany with Lilly and her family in 1939, discovered a photo of the painting in a catalog and reached out to him.  Shortly thereafter, Claude Cassirer learned that the painting was displayed in the Madrid based museum.

Claude Cassirer had initiated the litigation against the museum, which was taken over by his children, David and Ava Cassirer, after Claude’s passing in 2010.  The family had previously went through diplomatic channels to request the return of the painting, but was rejected.

In last Monday’s ruling, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the museum previously failed to establish that it was unaware the painting was stolen when the work was acquired from Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyseen-Bornemisza, scion of Germany’s Thyssen steel empire and one of the 20th century’s most eminent art collectors.

Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyseen-Bornemisza had acquired the painting for $275,000 from a gallery owner in New York in 1976.  Before that, the painting had been sold and resold by various United States art collectors.  The Baron’s art collection of over 700 paintings was eventually turned over to Spain, which created a non-profit foundation to run the museum named for him.

The Cassirer family’s attorney praised the court’s decision and said “[i]t sent a strong message that even public authorities cannot take possession in bad faith of stolen property and then somehow gain title to it simply over the passage of time.”  The museum’s attorney said that Spain remains confident it will prevail and that the museum acquired the painting in good faith.  The Cassirer family disputes the museum’s attorney’s assertion and believes it should have been obvious to museum authorities by the 1990s that the museum had acquired a Nazi looted work.

The Cassirer family is hopeful that the outcome will lead to the return of the painting and has said that it should be displayed publicly.  The Pissaro painting has been appraised at more than $30 million.

For a detailed background and procedural history of the case, see the Ninth Circuit’s decision captioned Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation of July 10, 2017.

 

In recent art world news, artworks that had been seized by the Nazis from German museums and later discovered hidden away by Cornelius Gurlitt, a reclusive Munich art collector who had amassed a collection of 1,500 artworks acquired by his Nazi-era art dealer father, have arrived at the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland.

Select artworks from the Gurlitt collection are scheduled to go on view this fall on November 2, 2017.  The artworks included in the exhibition are only those whose provenances are known.  The origins of the remaining pieces from the collection are still under investigation in Germany.  Mr. Gurlitt, who had passed away in 2014, had bequeathed the entire collection, which includes art by Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Franz Marc, to the museum.

The highly anticipated exhibition is titled “Degenerated Art” and will be one of two simultaneous displays of select artworks from the Gurlitt collection.  The Kunstmuseum Bern will display about 200 of the 1,500 pieces from the collection.  The exhibition will focus on art that was seized by the German authorities and deemed “degenerate”.  “Degenerate” was a term adopted by the Nazi regime in Germany to describe virtually all modern art.

A separate set of artworks from the Gurlitt collection will be displayed at the Bundeskunsthalle museum in Bonn, Germany set to open on November 1, 2017.  That exhibition will include about 250 artworks that are believed to have been looted from private Jewish art dealers.

A related post on the Gurlitt collection entitled “Germany Extends Funding For Another Year To Establish Provenance Of Looted Art From Nazi Era” was previously published on the Art Law blog in March 2016.

 

 

A recent trial in the High Court in London has highlighted a few notable truths about doing business in the art world.

The trial centers around a commission allegedly owed to the famous Swiss auctioneer Simon de Pury, who claims to be owed a $10 million commission from the sale of Paul Gauguin’s 1892 oil painting “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry)?”   There was no written agreement for the alleged commission and the deal took two years to complete.

The painting sold for $210 million in 2014, but was initially reported to have been sold for $300 million.  Had the painting been sold for $300, it would have been the most expensive sale known for a piece of fine art.

Indeed, from these facts alone, we can glean certain truths about art transactions.

First, art transactions are often done under a cloak of privacy, and the information that the public receives about the price of art may be incorrect.  With the disclosures made in the lawsuit, we now know that the sale of the Gauguin would rank third – not first —  in the highest grossing sales of art ever, behind Willem de Kooning’s 1955 painting “Interchanged” with a reported sale price of $300 million in 2016, and Cézanne’s “Card Players” with a reported sale price of $250 million in 2011, according to the New York Times.

Second, many transactions and the lucrative commissions that accompany them are often done on a handshake.  While this may be surprising to those who are unfamiliar with such transactions, the art world continues to operate on an old-fashioned, familiar basis.

Third, art transactions are often complex.  The two year time frame of this transaction reflects what was likely significant due diligence by the parties to the transaction, not surprising when one considers the amount of money at stake.

In recent art news, the gap between small galleries and large galleries is widening at a steady pace as a number of small to midsize art galleries have closed their doors since 2012 to present and the numbers are remarkable.  Small to midsize galleries have “long struggled to compete in a field increasingly dominated by mega-galleries with multiple locations, like Gagosian, David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth.”  This recent trend towards an “intensely commercial and competitive art market has resulted in a critical mass of galleries folding, moving or merging.”

According to Editor-In-Chief Sarah Douglas of Artnews, “[i]n the three years between July 2012 and June 2015, there were only a handful of notable closures—around six. By contrast, the two years between July 2015 and June 2017 saw 25—and 18 of those happened in the past year alone.”  A rundown of some of the significant closures, from 2012 to the present, include as follows:

May–June 2017

Envoy, New York

On Stellar Rays, New York

Acme, Los Angeles

CRG Gallery, New York

January–April 2017

Ibid, London

Vilma Gold, London

Sandra Gering Inc., New York

Limoncello, London

Andrea Rosen, New York

Feuer/Mesler, New York

Susanne Hillberry Gallery, Detroit

Murray Guy, New York

September–December 2016

Mike Weiss Gallery, New York

Mark Moore Gallery, Los Angeles

Young Art, Los Angeles

Kansas, New York

June–August 2016

Lisa Cooley, New York

Robert Miller Gallery, New York

Tracy Williams, Ltd., New York

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, New York

January-May 2016

Clifton Benevento, New York

Thomas Duncan Gallery, Los Angeles

Laurel Gitlen, New York

2015

Mixed Greens, New York

Joe Sheftel, New York

Wallspace, New York

McKee Gallery, New York

2012–14

Churner & Churner, New York

Harris Lieberman, New York

Nicole Klagsbrun, New York

Donald Young Gallery, Chicago

Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles

Some of the reasons behind this widening of the divide between small and large galleries are high-priced real estate in gallery neighborhoods, such as Chelsea, and the rapid expansion of expensive art fairs, where art collectors now tend to do most of their browsing and buying of art. Instead of visiting smaller galleries, collectors are setting their sights on market-tested “trophy works” offered by the major dealers.  Collectors are also buying art through social media (e.g., Instagram) or other online images without even viewing the work in person.  Collectors appear to be less willing to bet on the emerging artists represented by the small to midsize galleries.

For many small to midsize gallery owners, running an art gallery is simply not a sustainable business in the current market hence the steady stream of closures highlighted above.

 

In recent art news, known art fraudster Vincent Lopreto, who previously served time in prison for selling forged Damien Hirst prints, was charged in a Manhattan courtroom yesterday for selling nearly half a million dollars worth of counterfeit Damien Hirst prints over a two year period. Lopreto pleaded not guilty. Two other individuals, Marco Saverino and Paul Motta, have been charged in the alleged art fraud scheme as well. Those individuals are being held out of state.

Lopreto was arrested in New Orleans last week following a recent sting operation by undercover New York police officers, who bought a couple of Lopreto’s counterfeit Damien Hirst prints. Lopreto and the other defendants were selling the fake art work for between $3,000 to $14,000 for each print. Authorities claim that Lopreto had been advertising the “limited edition” prints online with alleged fake certificates of authenticity and purchase receipts.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a statement that this case of fraud “went beyond plain imitation” as the defendants had deceived “a multitude of buyers into purchasing counterfeit art that was falsely passed off as genuine.”

If convicted, Lopreto could receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.