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.”

 

 

 

 

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.