May 30, 2012

Art Crime Documentary: "Portrait of Wally" (Part Two)

Rudolf Leopold/The Leopold Museum
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor


This is a continued review of the art crime documentary "Portrait of Wally". The information presented here is from the film directed by Andrew Shea.

Lea Bondi founded St. George’s Gallery in London.  After the war, Bondi spent several years recovering her paintings and was able to get back the ones from her gallery but not those that had hung in her apartment, recalled her nephew Henry Bondi.

In 1946, Bondi returned to Vienna.  She went to the Restitution Court, not for the Portrait of Wally, but for the contents of her gallery that was now called “Galerie Friedrich Welz”.  The Austrian court declared that Welz had renovated the gallery and that Bondi would have to pay the war criminal Welz 9,000 Schillings before recovering her business.


Director Andrew Shea's documentary discusses the confusion about the Egon Schiele painting Portrait of Wally after World War II.

Sophie Lillie, author of Was Einmal War (What Once Was), said that Bondi asked Welz about the Portrait of Wally.  Welz told Bondi that the painting had been erroneously confiscated with the property of another Jewish collector, Dr. Heinrich Rieger, and given to the national collection at the Belvedere Museum. The Rieger family had been rounded up and deported to die in a concentration camp, Lillie said in the documentary.

Portrait of Wally was listed incorrectly as a “drawing” not as an oil painting. “The mistake should have been recognized immediately,” Lillie said.  “Mistaking a painting for a drawing is a big mistake.”

“The idea that the director of the National Gallery of Austria was unable to tell the difference between an oil painting and a work on paper is clearly an absurdity,” journalist David D’Arcy told the camera.

Thomas Trenkler, Editor of Der Standard, sums up that the Belvedere Museum “knew that the painting they had bought didn’t belong to Rieger and that something was not quite right”.

Klaus Schröder, former Managing Director of The Leopold Museum, said: “But to imply that the Austrian Gallery would have tampered with the sources to facilitate possible sales is totally absurd.”

Monika Mayer, Director of Provenance Research, Austrian Gallery at the Belvedere:  “Of course, to us it seems quite exceptional if we look at it retrospectively.  How can there be a confusion between a drawing an a painting from a famous collector, Heinrich Rieger, and a famous collector, Heinrich Rieger, and a famous oil portrait of Wally Neuzil? That seems extremely mysterious and we can’t explain it.  I didn’t go as deeply into the details of the case as others have. I don’t actually think there was a conspiracy.”

Bonnie Goldblatt, former Senior Special Agent for Department of Homeland Security, who had worked on the case said in the documentary: “My belief is that the museum wanted to amass a huge art collection and it was good timing.  A law had been passed then that forbid the exportation of work by Austrian artists, which came in handy.  If Jewish collectors weren’t in Austria, they would have to sell it to the museum instead of taking it out of the country to sell.”

Even the U. S. Army had documented numerous times that the painting had not belonged to the Riegers and told the Belvedere the same thing, asserted Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture United in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

In a deposition in Vienna with American prosecutors, Dr. Rudolf Leopold spoke of his relationship with Lea Bondi:  ‘I met Ms. Jaray in London in 1953.  She sold me a few Schiele pieces and explained to me that she would like to talk to me about a picture that she had once owned.’

Ernst Ploil, attorney and art collector, explained in the documentary:  “Leopold knew who owned looted art.  He knew about the problems of not being able to export those pieces of art.  He got in contact with the owners who had left Austria or had been forced to leave Austria” and offered to purchase the recovered looted art.

Hector Felicano, author of The Lost Museum: “Right after the war there was such turmoil in the art market that you could get just about anything you wanted if you had the money.”

In 1954, Lea Bondi asked Leopold to watch over the Portrait of Wally, to make sure it didn’t disappear, according to Robert Morganthau.

Again, the film returns to Leopold’s deposition in United States v. Portrait of Wally: “The question is, what did she say to you, and what did you say to her?”
Leopold: “Well, I already explained this before.  After we had struck a deal regarding a couple of sheets, works on paper, that is, she asked me, where is the Portrait of Wally? And I said in the Belvedere.” 
Leopold: “Well, what you’re asking me – and I then said, well, what you’re asking me to do is simply impossible to do, because if I just went to the Gallery and asked them to hand me over the picture, they will probably throw me out.”
Journalist D’Arcy narrates what happened next: ‘Leopold returns to Vienna and barters with the museum for a Schiele he has for this painting.  He already had Egon Schiele’s self-portrait of the same date so for him it was a case of uniting the pair of pictures’.

The Austrian Gallery had exchanged “Vally from Krumau” for “Portrait of a boy (Rainerbub)”.

The next thing Lea Bondi knew, according to art historian Lucille Roussin, the painting was being exhibited as part of the Leopold collection.

Thomas Trenkler, Editor for Der Standard: “The museum must have been afraid that the painting would have to be given back. Thus, that the Museum sold it, or rather exchanged it for other artworks, this was a white wash.”

This review will be continued in two days.

May 28, 2012

Art Crime Documentary: "Portrait of Wally" (Part One)

Egon Schiele's 1912 "Portrait of Wally"/Leopold Museum
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

A Nazi stole Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally from the Vienna residence of Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray in 1939. For three decades, until her death in 1969, Mrs. Jaray wanted to recover her painting, even soliciting help from Dr. Rudolf Leopold, another Schiele expert and art collector who frequented her art gallery in London.

What Lea Bondi did not know was that Dr. Leopold had found her painting at the Belvedere amongst the works of the Austrian National Gallery.  The picture was mislabeled as "Portrait of a Woman" and identified as part of the collection of Dr. Heinrich Reiger, who had died in the Holocaust.  In the 1960s, Dr. Leopold traded another Schiele painting for the "Portrait of Wally" but instead of returning it to Bondi, he kept the stolen artwork for himself for more than three decades.

In 1997, Portrait of Wally was part of an Egon Schiele exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York where Lea Bondi’s relatives recognized her painting.  Her nephew, Henry Bondi, requested that the museum return the stolen picture to the family. When the museum denied the request, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau issued a subpoena to seize the painting before it could be shipped back to the Leopold Museum in Austria.

The dramatic 70-year-old battle to recover this painting is documented in the 90-minute film "Portrait of Wally" directed by Andrew Shea and produced by P. O. W. Productions.  This documentary uses film footage of Nazis in Austria and numerous interviews with the lawyers, journalists and art collectors involved to explain an important legal case regarding the “last prisoners of World War II” (as described by Ronald Lauder, then Chairman of MoMA).

Egon Schiele (1890-1918) painted "Portrait of Wally Neuzil" in 1912 with oil paint on a wood panel measuring 32 by 39 centimeters.  This picture stayed in storage in the United States for 13 years while lawyers for MoMA and the Leopold Museum fought restitution to the Estate of Lea Bondi.

In this insightful documentary, Morgenthau discusses why he issued the subpoena:
We heard about the allegations of the owner of the Schiele paintings.  It was the 11th hour, and they were about to return them to Austria so we kind of threw a Hail Mary pass.  We issued a grand jury subpoena hoping we could develop the evidence to support that case, but if we hadn’t issued it, the painting would have gone back and we would have never had a chance to ascertain the true ownership.
Willi Korte, Art Researcher and Investigator, Co-Founder, Holocaust Art Restitution Project, on the importance of the case:  “We wouldn’t be sitting here talking about art restitution in 2010 the way we do if we wouldn’t have had Wally and I can’t think of any other case that had this significance. It is the case out of all art restitution cases that really shaped the discussion for the following years.”

CBS News Correspondent Morley Safer, was also on camera: “These are vestiges of people’s history, of the family’s history and it is terribly important I think that that be honored … there should be a rush to judgment on these cases.”

Judith H. Debrzynski, formerly an arts reporter for The New York Times, recalled that in late 1997 people were talking about Dr. Leopold as an excessive art collector who reputedly personally conducted extensive conservation on the artworks at the Leopold Museum.  Then someone mentioned to her about “the Nazi connection” in regards to the Schiele exhibit at MoMA and Debrzynski got curious. This film clearly defines the history and legal complications of this case in a fascinating narrative. [In this post and the subsequent posts this week, information on this case is all from the documentary.]

In 1920s Vienna, Lea Bondi operated a modern art gallery.  She brought, sold, and displayed works by the young Schiele at a time of freedom and experimentation in Austria.  In the second half of the 19th century, the Emperor Franz Josef had given Jews the same rights as citizens. Vienna’s Jewish population had increased from 6,000 in 1848 to at least 200,000 in Austria by 1930.  Vienna of the 1920s was like Berlin, very open to modern ideas and thought and sexual morals were as loose as they are in New York now, Thomas Weyr, journalist and native of Vienna, tells the camera.  “Everything changed overnight,” Weyr said.

In March 1938, the mostly Roman Catholic Austrians voted to join Germany in the "Anschluss".  Hitler paraded under Nazi banners draped over the balconies of apartment buildings in the main streets of Vienna while Jews lost their right to vote and their businesses.

“Lea said it was a time when if you belonged to the right party, you could do what you wanted, never mind if it was legal or not,” recalled her grand niece Ruth Rozanek in the understated manner she maintains before the camera throughout the documentary.

Lea Bondi owned a gallery in Vienna that was quite well known, according to Lucille Roussin, an attorney and art historian.  “However, this painting, Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele, was not part of the contents of that gallery," Roussin said.  "It was her personal property.”

Henry Bondi, Lea Bondi’s Nephew, said that after the Anschluss, everything was confiscated from his aunt because she was Jewish.

In other supporting documentation, Lea Bondi had written to Otto Kallir, founder of Galerie St. Etienne in NYC, that Portrait of Wally had been in her private collection “privatbesitz” and had nothing to do with her gallery.  It had hung in her apartment at 38 Weisgerberlände.

Journalist D’Arcy retold the background of the story: Friedrich Welz, an art dealer and Nazi Party member, confiscated Lea Bondi’s gallery.  Then he went to her home, saw the painting on the wall, and said he wanted Portrait of Wally too.  Welz threatened Bondi; her husband told her to give it to Welz, that they might want to leave as soon as tomorrow. Welz took the painting and Lea Bondi left Vienna for London the next day (18 March 1939).

Hildegard Bachert, co-director of Galerie St. Etienne in New York City recalled the political atmosphere in Vienna: “Their lives were in the balance there.  There wasn’t any negotiating and God knows I know that you couldn’t negotiate with Nazis.  You were lucky if they didn’t shoot you on the spot.”

Part two continued in two days.

May 24, 2012

Sustainable Preservation Initiative (Part two)

Larry Coben and Dr. Jaime Castillo with a local dance troupe
dressed in Moche costumes celebrating the opening
of the new artisan training and tourist center.
by Rebekah Junkermeier, Guest contributor


Continued from May 22.


Coben’s Sustainable Preservation Initiative attacks the problem of looting and decay in a completely new way, one he’s dubbed “People Not Stones.” Instead of focusing on the cultural heritage, SPI focuses on the local community. By investing in locally-created and -run businesses whose financial success is tied to the preservation of the site, SPI provides viable and sustainable economic alternatives to looting for the community.

A grand idea—but does it actually work? As it turns out, yes. Case in point, SPI’s first project at San Jose de Moro, an ancient cemetery and ritual center of the Moche, an ancient civilization that flourished in northern Peru from 100 to 800 AD. Head of SPI’s initiative at San Jose de Moro is Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo, Professor of Archaeology at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru.  Dr. Castillo began excavating San Jose de Moro in 1991, uncovering the tombs of ancient Moche priestesses in the process.  but while the cultural heritage of San Jose de Moro is rich, the surrounding community is a poor one.  Unable to meet their basic needs, local residents often looted the archaeological site.

"For years we were making little contributions to the towns, schools, and to some pressing need, but we could never focus on a long term and sustainable effort," said Dr. Castillo in response to questions about community development in an email.

Upon meeting Coben at an archaeological conference, both saw the potential of an SPI project at the site.  With an SPI grant, local residents constructed a new artisan center, where local artisans are trained and create replicas of the famous MOche fine-line ceramics.  Adjoining is a new visitor center, where the ceramics are sold and where local residents, primarily local high school students, are trained as guides of the site.  Proper signs have been erected to direct tourists and explain the site.  Community members and Peruvian archaeologists have prepared a guidebook and brochure.

"Until now," Professor Castillo wrote, "the SPI program has transformed directly the livs of 20 people that work directly with the project producing ceramics or metal, of 30 others that work in the archaeological excavations, and by extension their families and relatives."

In just one year, the project has achieved economic sustainability and viability.  As a result, looting at the site has come to a halt.

With such success at San Jose de Moro, there's been an outpouring of requests for similar programs at other sites.  One of these is Pampas Gramalote in Huanchaco, Peru, site of SPI's latest initiative.  With a relatively small investment, SPI plans to create jobs and attain similar results at this ancient and modern fishing village, where archaeologists recently discovered a massive child sacrifice recently reported in National Geographic.


Young students at the artisan cent
"People can't eat their history," Coben writes.  "We need to provide an alternative to other potential uses of archaeological sites.  That enables us to help people better their lives and gives them a powerful economic incentive to preserve our shared heritage."

This is exactly what Sustainable Preservation Initiative is doing; not only stopping looting and decay, but, more importantly, transforming lives along the way.

You can follow Sustainable Preservation Initiative on Facebook and Twitter.

May 22, 2012

Sustainable Preservation Initiative (Part one)

Incallajta, the ancient Incan site in central Bolivia
by Rebekah Junkermeier, Guest contributor

Looting, growing crops, grazing cattle, and playing soccer. What do all these things have in common? They’re all destructive forces contributing to the decay of ancient cultural heritage sites (yes, even soccer). While ancient ruins are just that—ancient—often destruction comes as a result of actions beyond just the passage of time, particularly in remote and impoverished areas. In an attempt to provide themselves and their family with the essentials, residents of a poor, local community will often loot the site or use it for other purposes, accelerating the damage.

“About 75 miles east of Cochabamba, Bolivia, which is the third largest city there, Incallajta is truly in the middle of nowhere,” says Larry Coben, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist and founder and CEO of the Sustainable Preservation Initiative, describing the ancient Incan site in central Bolivia. While leading excavations at this endangered archaeological site, Coben saw looting and other destructive practices first-hand: “I would talk to the community time and time again about not growing crops on this site and not grazing cattle at this site, not playing soccer at this site and I was not able to stop them,” Coben recounts in a recent interview with Bigthink.com, a website that features top thinkers and doers from around the globe.

Out of desperation, Coben bought a gate for $50 and put it up five miles away from the site in consultation with the local community. “I said to the community if a Bolivian comes through, charge them nothing, but if a foreigner comes, charge them $10.” In an area where the per capita income was roughly $100 per year, the residents didn’t believe him. Who would pay $10 to look at these rocks? “But I knew that a tourist who had rented a guide and a taxicab or a car and had driven almost 3 hours, would certainly pay $10,” Coben says.

In just the first two weeks, 8 tourists had already visited. “So we actually had a complete return on investment in a week and a half,” says Coben, “I wish I could do that with all of the transactions in which I enter,” he added.  Most importantly, however, the community began to view the archaeological site in a different light. “They stopped growing crops and paid people not to grow crops there. They stopped grazing,” Coben reports. “It became not just an important part of their past and history, which they knew, but this site had relevance to their daily lives, not just intangibly, but tangibly a real economic benefit.” The idea for the Sustainable Preservation Initiative was born.

“I can certainly preserve any archeological site in the world if you give me enough money,” Coben says. “I'll build Fort Knox around it and make sure that no one gets in, but that’s hardly a good risk/reward calculus. I’d be spending a ridiculous amount of money for very little preservation and no community benefit.” Unfortunately, this is still the tactic that most preservation organizations use, building large and expensive museums or visitor centers in an attempt to attract tourism and protect the site from looting and decay. This paradigm, however, repeatedly fails. The museums close, the visitor centers are empty, the site isn't preserved, and looting continues.

This post continues on May 24.

May 21, 2012

Police and Art Gallery of New South Wales Suspend Search for Stolen Self-Portrait of Frans van Mieris Stolen in 2008

A Cavalier, a self-portrait by Frans van Mieris
Andrew Taylor, arts writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, recently interviewed ARCA's CEO Lynda Albertson when reporting that the Art Gallery of NSW (New South Wales) has given up the search for the 17th century Dutch self-portrait of Frans van Mieris stolen almost five years ago.

The painting was insured for $1.4 million, Taylor reports, and the police have suspended the search "after exhausting all avenues of investigation."

New South Wales police told the SMH that the small painting may have been smuggled out of the country.

"The world is full of art lovers with rich tastes and and richer pocketbooks," Albertson was quoted by Taylor in the article.

Taylor reports A Cavalier was screwed into the wall with 'two visible keyhole plates' and 'in a room with no camera surveillance and a guard intermittently present' when it was stolen in 2008.

May 20, 2012

Theft Anniversary: Two years ago five paintings stolen from Museé d'art moderne de la ville de Paris

Braque's beautiful Olive Tree Near Estaque
 on display in the museum in January 2009/Photo by C. Sezgin
Detail from Braque's painting
 Olive Tree Near Estaque/Photo by C. Sezgin
By Catherine Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Two years ago this painting was one of five masterpieces stolen from the Museé d'art moderne de la ville de Paris within view of the Tour Eiffel.

Last October, newspapers and bloggers reported police rumors that the paintings had been thrown away by an accomplice when two suspects had been arrested one year after the theft.

You can read about the theft and the condition of the museum on the ARCA blog as previously reported here, here, here, and here.




May 19, 2012

BBC News reports Italian police seize 100 artworks from man convicted of altering slot machines in bars and cafes

Italian police seized 100 artworks, including an original painting by Salvador Dali, as part of an asset forfeiture of more than 330 million euros from a reputed Mafia member convicted last year of collecting millions of dollars in illegal profits from tampering with slot machines in Italy, reported Alan Johnston from Rome for BBC News.

The art will now belong to Italy.

The convict, associated with organized crime out of Calabria, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and had to give up more than 200 properties in Rome, Milan and Paris.


May 18, 2012

REVISITING BOOKS: An Earthquake Shatters Expectations in The Caravaggio Conspiracy

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA blog editor

Peter Watson writes in The Caravaggio Conspiracy that in 1980 when he was trying to negotiate the purchase of Caravaggio's Palermo Nativity that going to southern Italy with a 'briefcase full of cash' was considered dangerous. Watson wrote:
This was the time in Italy when kidnapping was increasing alarmingly.  In fact the risk of kidnap was so great that even going to Naples simply as a businessman was not without danger.  The proportion of foreign visitors to the city had slumped from 50 percent of hotel business to less than 10 percent.  Furthermore, a report had shown that murders by the Mafia at that time accounted for 29 percent of all killings, as opposed to 13 percent a decade before.
Watson was offered the painting in London by a member of the gang art detective Rodolfo Siviero had suspected of stealing the Palermo Nativity.  Watson received a phone call from Italy that he could have the Caravaggio painting for 150 million Italian lire or $150,000 American dollars.  The journalist booked three nights at the Excelsior in Naples to conduct the transaction.

In nearby Laviano, Watson was presented with two photographs of the painting:
It looked terrible.  It was very dark, darker than I had imagined it could look.  Bits appeared to have flaked off near the heads of the onlookers on the right of the painting and there was a patch, of damp or oil or whatever, in the right foreground covering the ankle and hand of St. Lawrence.  Worst of all there was a ragged crack, about a third of the way up, bisecting the Virgin's hands and penetrating St. Lawrence's shoulder.  That seemed consonant with the canvas having been rolled for some time, possibly immediately after it had been stolen.
Watson is told that the painting is in Sicily but that it can be brought to Naples in a few days.  Then a deadly and destructive earthquake leveled Laviano. Watson was unable to contact with his negotiators and any hope of purchasing the stolen painting vanished.

May 16, 2012

ARCA Founder Noah Charney and ISGM's Security Director Anthony Amore Talk about the largest art theft in US history and the hunt for the paintings 22 years later; NBC's "American Greed" to feature Gardner Museum Heist Tonight

Vermeer's "The Concert"
CNBC's Lindsay Nadrich (with Reuters contributing) writes about the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum online "22 Years Later, $300 Million Art Theft Investigation Heats Up."

Last week's search of the Connecticut home of an alleged Mafia member, 75-year-old Robert Gentile, with a ground-penetrating radar device found two guns but no artworks.

Noah Charney, Founder of ARCA, is quoted here.
"Vermeer's "The Concert" is probably the single-most valuable missing artwork today," art crime expert Noah Charney said.
Anthony Amore, author of Stealing Rembrandts and an instructor at the ARCA program in 2009, issued a statement to CNBC:
"While the Museum continues to thrive, the investigation into the 1990 theft remains very active," Anthony Amore, the Gardner's security director, said in a statement, "We will continue to work every day to recover the stolen masterworks.
To hear the full story of the Gardner Museum Heist, watch "American Greed" Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC (in the United States).

REVISITING BOOKS: Watson's "The Caravaggio Conspiracy" and the motive for stealing the Palermo Nativity

Agrigento Ephebe
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA blog editor

Part two of three

In the 1984 book, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, published by British journalist Peter Watson, Rodolfo Siviero is described as a the leading detective of stolen art in Italy.

Before Caravaggio's Nativity was stolen in 1969, Siviero had been working to recover art misplaced since World War II.  Siviero was 'an undercover agent in German-occupied Italy', Watson reported, and was 'head of the Italian Secret Service attached to the Allied Command.'  Part of his job was to oversee the protection of works of art, Watson explained.  When Siviero became the first Italian ambassador to Germany after the war, he used wartime records to look for paintings looted by the Nazis from the Uffizi, Watson wrote, and listed works Siviero helped to recover: Bronzino's Deposition of Christ, Antonio Pollaiuolo's Labors of Hercules; Domenico Feti's Parable of the Vine; a self-portrait by Lorenzo di Credi, a Nativity by a pupil of Correggio; Botticelli's Primavera and Paolo Uccello's The Battle of San Remo.

When Siviero returned to Italy, he was put in charge of the Delegation for the Recovery of Missing Works of Art (Watson).  He recovered works of art not related to war looting.  Watson wrote that Siviero recovered a fifth century B.C. bronze statue known of a boy known as the Ephebus from the Mafia in a sting operation.  Siviero posed as the "nephew" of a Florentine art gallery that would purchase objects without asking questions about ownership.  The bronze was recovered, Watson wrote, and six men arrested shortly before Caravaggio's Nativity was stolen.  "It was the Mafia's way of exacting revenge.  And this time, it was whispered, Siviero would not see the stolen work of art again.  Ever." (Watson)

This article concludes on May 18.

May 14, 2012

REVISITING BOOKS: Peter Watson on the Palermo Nativity in the 1984 book "The Caravaggio Conspiracy"

The Palermo Nativity
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Part one of three

Repeated rumors of the destruction of Caravaggio's painting, Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, reminded me of Peter Watson's telling of how an earthquake in southern Italy interupted his attempts to recover the painting ten years after it was stolen from a chapel in Sicily.

Watson's 1984 book, The Caravaggio Conspiracy (Doubleday), documents the journalist's cooperation with 'Italy's greatest art detective', Rodolfo Sievero, to recover The Nativity in 1979.  Watson, a British journalist, and Sievero, who at the time was 'an Italian diplomat' who headed 'a small section of the Italian Foreign Office exclusively concerned with the recovery of stolen art', concocted a plan to get one of Siviero's suspects in the theft of The Nativity to offer the Caravaggio or another stolen painting to Watson.

In the eighth chapter of the book, Watson sympathetically describes Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio as a maverick painter whose erratic behavior and subsequent criminal record may have been the result of an illness contracted in his early years in Rome.  "Caravaggio's approach to his art -- conveying miraculous biblical episodes through vividly real but otherwise ordinary people, revolutionized painting," Watson wrote.

As an aside, I point out that in his summary of Caravaggio's career, Watson highlights the contribution after 1590 of one of the painter's supporters who originated from Amelia, home to ARCA's summer program and its International Art Conference:
A certain Monsignor Petrignani provided him with a room -- it was hardly a studio -- and Caravaggio began to turn out many pictures.  The younger painter enjoyed this work more, but though he was prolific he was not successful.  The arrangement eventually bore fruit, however, through the good offices of an art dealer named Valentino who had exhibited paintings by Caravaggio and finally succeeded in selling several of them to Cardinal del Monte.
The 16th century Palazzo Petrignani hosted the 2010 International Art Crime Conference in Amelia.

In 1609, running from knights and friends of a man who died by the painter's sword, Caravaggio painted what Watson describes as the "Adoration of the Child with St. Francis and St. Lawrence" (also  known as the "Palermo Nativity") in the church of the Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo. Watson wrote:
It is an unusual painting for Caravaggio: it almost seems that the events of the preceding months were beginning to catch up with him.  It is still a Caravaggio but it is as if he had begun to doubt his own vision.  The peasants watching the event are in the old, familiar style.  They are ordinary, balding, tired rather shabby people lost in wonder.  But Mary particularly is a more stylized figure: her features are regular, smooth, her skin is like marble.  There is even an angel descending from on high.  Some sort of change appeared to be coming over Caravaggio.... Whoever had stolen it had taken more than an object; he had deprived the world of a sign of change in the mind -- the somewhat unstable mind -- of a great man.
Caravaggio's eight foot by seven foot painting of the Nativity served as the altarpiece for the Baroque chapel of the Oratory of San Lorenzo for 359 years until it had been "hacked" "out of its splendid frame with a razor blade," Watson wrote.

A few weeks after the theft, Siviero, Watson wrote, had received a message that the theft had been revenge for what Siviero had done 'to the Mafia over the Ephebus in Foligno."

Part two continued on May 16.

May 13, 2012

Art Crime in Film: Art Theft and Helen Mirren Starring in "Painted Lady" (1997)

Judith Slaying Holofernes
by Artemisia Gentileschi at the Uffizi Gallery 
Just for fun ...

"Painted Lady" features the beautiful Helen Mirren, art crime, and an Hérmes handbag.

Mirren stars in the 1997 three hour TV movie "Painted Lady" as a 'retired' singer and former drug addict who poses as aristocratic art collector (accessorized with a black Hérmes Kelly bag) to safe the life of a family friend who owes drug money to dangerous Irish criminals.  The heavily art-themed plot involves the theft of an Irish manor, theft for insurance money, reattribution of a painting, a sale at an auction house, and looted art from Italy during World War II.

Maggie Sheridan lives in a cottage on the Irish estate of a family friend, Sir Charles Stafford.  One night while Maggie is blissfully entertaining a friend, burglars clip the barb wire surrounding the property and drive up to the house.  They smash the glass of a French door and set off the alarm, awakening Charles.  The house dog barks furiously from behind a closed door.  One thief carries a framed painting out to the truck, the other thief is cutting a canvas from its frame when Charles, holding a gun, stops the thief from stealing the portrait of his deceased wife.  The threatened thief shoots Charles dead.  After driving away, the thieves switch the painting to a second vehicle, blow up the getaway car, and then deliver the large canvas to their boss who orders it to be burned.  One of the thieves only pretends to burn the painting and later tries to sell the painting.

Maggie's life is turned upside down when she finds out that it was the cash-strapped Charles who orchestrated the theft of recently insured paintings in order to pay off the 60,000 pound debt his drug-addicted son Sebastian owes to a dangerous Irish gangster.

The movie features Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi which is on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

"Painted Lady" is available on DVD or through a video subscription service such as Netflix.

May 12, 2012

Courthouse News Service: "Stolen Pissarro Turns Up with Walrus Tusks, Polar Bear Belts"

On May 3, Purna Nemani reported for the Courthouse News Service that stolen paintings had been found by an undercover wildlife agent in Anchorage, Alaska.

Five stolen works of art found include a chalk study, three watercolors,and an oil painting: "Study of Alexa Wilding," by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; "Milton" by Lucien Pissaro; "Nests at Kilmurry" by Mildred Anne Butler; "Castle and Figures in a Farmland" by William Payne; and "Landscape and Cattle on the Thames" by Henry Garland.  Nemani wrote:
All were originals and/or signed; most were produced in the 19th century and had been auctioned to private sellers at Christies and houses at museums in America and London, accordign to the police report (Bloomfield Police Report) and the federal complaints.  Three of the five works had been reported stolen by a private owner, Nicolette Wernick, and were valued at $68,000, according to the police report and complaint.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife discovered the stolen art in September 2010 in a suspect's home.  According to the forfeiture complaint:
He told the agent how the paintings were stolen by his half-brother, later identified as Mario Murphy, and some other 'cousins,' from the Wernick Collection approximately five years before.
The suspect apparently wanted the undercover agent for the Fish and Wildlife Service to find a buyer for the stolen artwork in exchange for a finder's fee.

Interpol did not list the Lucien Pissarro painting in its Stolen Art Database; the only painting by the artist identified on the list is "Fog over Herblay" stolen from France in 1999.

Nemani reports that 'three of the five paintings were confirmed as stolen through the "Art Loss Register" and are currently in custody of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

May 11, 2012

Update: Von Saher vs. Norton Simon Museum and Norton Simon Foundation

Marei von Saher, the daughter-in-law of Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, filed a Notice of Appeal on March 22, 2012 to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit regarding her case against the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena to recover Lucas Cranach's diptych "Adam" and "Eve".  Her opening brief is not due for several months.

Von Saher is represented by Lawrence M. Kaye and Howard N. Spiegler of Herrick, Feinstein of New York and Donald S. Burris and Randol Schoenberg of Burris, Schoenberg & Walden of Los Angeles.  Herrick, Feinstein recovered "Portrait of Wally" and Schoenberg recovered the Adele Bloch-Bauer paintings by Gustav Klimt for families who had lost possession of the works during the Holocaust. 

Mike Boehm for the Los Angeles Times wrote about the case here last week.

May 10, 2012

ARCA Annual Conference, June 23-24, Amelia

In order to encourage continued awareness of the growing field of art crime and cultural heritage protection ARCA will host its fourth-annual conference in Amelia.

The interdisciplinary event brings together those who have an interest in the responsible stewardship of our collective cultural heritage. Presenters will discuss topics including:

  • the display and sale of looted objects; 
  • strategies to combat the illicit trade in cultural property; 
  • current law enforcement investigations; 
  • and the problem of art fraud and forgery. 

The conference will take place beside Amelia’s Archaeological Museum in Sala Boccarini. ARCA’s annual conference is held at the seat of our Postgraduate Certificate Program, in Amelia each summer.

Please find the conference flyer below the jump.

More confirmation of old news? Pietro Grasso, head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirms in May that Caravaggio's Nativity of Palermo eaten by pigs

Caravaggio's Nativity from Palermo
In 2009, Judith Harris wrote for the ARCA blog a post titled "Breaking News on the Stolen Caravaggio Nativity" that a member of the mafia told law officials that the painting was likely destroyed in the 1980s.  But just last week, Journalist Noel Grima for The Malta Independent online reported May 6th that Pietro Grasso, the head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirmed again that legal authorities believe that the Caravaggio of Palermo has been eaten by pigs.

Possibly no one wants to believe that the painting has been so carelessly destroyed; the FBI and Interpol still list the painting as stolen and missing.

Grima repeats a formerly published article in eosarte.eu "Arezzo, il Procuratore antimafia Pietro Grasso: il Caravaggio di Palermo mangiato dai porci" dated April 22 reports that Grasso confirmed during a press conference earlier rumors that the Nativity paintings with Saints Lorenzo and Francis of Assisi has likely been tossed around by criminals and ended up in a pig sty and eaten by rats and pigs over the years.
"Ci verrobbe tempo perché è una lunga storia ... ma riteniamo che il quadro sia finito nelle mani di ignoranti che l'hanno hascosto in una porcilaia, dove magari porci poi se lo sono mangiato."
Grima translates:
The anti-Mafia's head's reply was a chilling one: "We need more time because the situation is rather complicated, but we believe the painting ended up in the hands of ignorant people who hit it in a pigsty where the pigs ate it."
The Malta connected dates back to the 17th century when the artist was imprisoned there.  Caravaggio himself lead a tumultuous lifestyle documented in Italian police records.

Grima claims that a painting similar to The "Nativity" by Caravaggio would be worth $200 million while the FBI website estimates the value at $20 million.

In October 1969, two thieves entered the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palmero, Italy, according to the FBI, and removed Caravaggio's Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco from its frame.

Interpol still reports the painting as missing on its stolen art database and places the date of the theft as October 18, 1969.  Interpol lists nine other works by Caravaggio (or from the school of or in the manner of) as stolen: Portrait of an Old Woman, Montepulciano, Italy, December 22, 1970; Doubting Tomas from Frascati, Italy, March 15, 1974; Beggars and Invalids (copper painting) from San Sebastian, Spain, April 1978; Man with a Pendant Earring, The Draughts Players, and Venice Feeding the Cupids, from La Storta, Italy, December 1, 1979; Saint Gerolamo, from Dozza, Italy, June 4, 1985; Two Men Playing Dice, from Lessona, Italy, July 27, 1986; and Los Jugadores from Santa Fe de Bogata, Colombia, October 24, 1999.

May 9, 2012

Reuters: "Poussin among stolen art found in Corsica carpark"

Fesch Palais, Corsica
Reuters reported May 5th that the four paintings stolen from the Fesch museum in Corsica more than one year ago have been found parked in a car on the island.

An anonymous phone call alerted the police to the location of the paintings, according to Reuters.

Poussin's "Midas at the Source
 of the River Pactolus"
The four paintings include Nicolas Poussin's "Midas at the Source of the River Pactolus"; Giovanni Bellini's "Virgin and Child"; an anonymous Umbrian artist's "Virgin with Child in a glory of Seraphins"; and Mariotto di Nardo's "Pentecost".

You may read about the February 2011 theft here on the ARCA blog. The theft had been reported as two parts: first a security guard in financial trouble removed the paintings from the museum, then someone else lifted them from his car.

May 8, 2012

Fabio Isman for Il Messaggero: "l'Atleta del Getty deve essere confiscato"

Journalist Fabio Isman wrote on May 4 of the Italian judge's ruling that the Fano Athlete had been smuggled out of Italy and wrongfully sold to the Getty Museum in Il Messaggero in the article titled "l'Atleta del Getty deve essere confiscato."

With the writer's permission, we are reproducing the text here:
ADESSO al Getty resta solo la remota speranza che i giudici abbiano sbagliato ad applicare la legge: l’estremo ricorso in Cassazione; infatti, il Gip di Pesaro Maurizio Di Palma ha confermato la confisca del bronzo alto oltre un metro e mezzo del IV o III secolo a.C., l’«Atleta vittorioso», da molti (erroneamente) attribuito a Lisippo, e ripescato nel mare di Fano nel 1964; il progenitore della Grande Razzia, costata al nostro Paese un milione e mezzo di antichità scavate di frodo dal 1970. Il vecchio Jan Paul Getty non lo voleva: era disposto a comperarlo solo con una «clearence» italiana; appena morto lui, il museo con il suo nome l’ha acquistato. Una delle stelle assolute della Villa Romana di Malibu (la copia di quella dei Papiri di Ercolano:
pazienza se un po’ «kitsch»): è al centro di una sala, e per lei il museo non ha mai voluto intavolare trattative con il nostro Paese. Invece, è confiscata: ribadita la decisione, dopo un primo ricorso californiano, con gran spreco di avvocati.
I motivi, in realtà, c’erano tutti: ripescato al largo di Fano (e quanto non conta) un venerdì del settembre 1964 dal peschereccio Ferri Ferruccio comandato da Romeo Pirani; poi sbarcato in Italia; sotterrato; a lungo celato a Gubbio dai Barbetti, fratelli cementieri, e dal prete Giovanni Nagni, perfino nella vasca da bagno; infine, forse trasferito in Brasile e comperato in Germania dal museo per quasi quattro milioni di dollari nel 1977. Fosse Lisippo, sarebbe senza pari: nessuna sua scultura si è salvata dal tempo; ma, pur non essendolo, rimane una statua rarissima: simile, anche nelle vicende del naufragio, ai Bronzi di Riace. Magari era destinata a un gruppo celebrativo, nei santuari di Delfi, o Olimpia; le mancano solo i piedi. La guerra per riaverlo è stata (ma anche sarà) davvero strenua: Alberto Berardi, ex assessore provinciale di Fano, ha consegnato ai giudici un pezzetto della concrezione che rivestiva il bronzo, salvata dal disseppellimento da un campo di cavoli; gruppi locali, come Cento città, non si sono mai arresi, con il ricorso al Pm dopo una serie di processi infausti (in uno, assoluzione perché il corpo di reato non era stato esibito!); Maurizio Fiorilli, viceavvocato generale, ha coltivato il giudizio; il Pm Silvia Cecchi ha chiesto la confisca nel 2007; il Gip Lorena Mussoni l’ha decisa due anni fa. Invano il Getty ha invocato la buona fede: da alcuni documenti, messa perfino in serio dubbio; avrebbe potuto avere più «diligenza».
Il Getty, che ha restituito oltre 60 pezzi (ed altri sembra li stia per rispedire in Italia), non ha mai voluto nemmeno discutere della statua, così importante da essere nota come «bronzo Getty» tout court: capezzoli in rame; occhi spariti che forse erano in avorio; 50 chili di peso; fusione a cera persa; braccio destro alzato, come per incoronare la testa di alloro; i capelli in ciocche, perfettamente scolpiti. Di cinque marinai che lo hanno ripescato (e non capivano che cosa imbrigliasse le loro reti: ad un certo punto, temevano un cadavere), alcuni se ne sono ormai andati. La «querelle» sul luogo esatto, e discusso, del ritrovamento, è senza un senso: anche se in acque internazionali, su una barca dalla bandiera italiana, nascosta nella Penisola, esportata senza alcun permesso, la statua appartiene al nostro Paese. Già due volte i giudici l’hanno stabilito. Il Getty, nel 2007, nelle trattative con Francesco Rutelli allora ministro, si era impegnato a rispettare il volere dei magistrati; sono più concrete le speranze, anche se sarà ancora battaglia.
For a translation to English, please use Google Translate.

Art Crime in Film: Jø Nesbo's "Headhunter" steals art from corporate executives looking for new jobs

Here's another example of how an art thief is portrayed in a movie.

The 2011 Swedish film "Headhunter" (the English title now playing in theaters in the U. S.) based on the book by Swedish crime writer Jø Nesbo features a corporate management recruiter in Norway who steals art to compensate for his 'bad genes' and -- in his mind -- his less than desirable stature of 'five feet, six inches' (168 centimeters).  The protagonist narrates that the money earned from stealing art pays for the lifestyle that allows him to keep happy his beautiful statuesque wife.

In this fictional film, the movie's hero, Roger, obtains information from high-level managers seeking new employment that will enable him to rob the client -- is anyone home during the day? do you have a dog? do you own a valuable work of art? Roger has an accomplice who works at a protective security firm who disengages the residential alarm during the burglary.  Roger, in protective clothing, is careful not to leave any DNA evidence and replaces the original artwork with a reproduction before leaving the residence -- all within ten minutes.  Roger hides the stolen paintings in the roof of his car then parks in his garage for his accomplice to retrieve and then sell through a fence in Sweden.

Caledonian Boar Hunt by School of Rubens/Rueters Photo
Roger, under financial pressure, is looking for an expensive painting that will allow him to pay off his outstanding debts and finds out through his lovely wife that a man brought a painting by Peter Paul Ruben's that his grandmother received from a German officer during World War II.

Hiding a painting in the lining of the roof of a car is exactly where thieves hid Cézanne's painting "Boy with a Red Waistcoat" discovered by Serbian police last month.

In the film, one of the artworks stolen is that by Edvard Munch; the other painting, The Caledonian Boar Hunt by Peter Paul Rubens, was allegedly lost during the Nazi occupation of Ruben's hometown of Antwerp.  A painting similar to the image used in the film and by the same title was discovered in Greece last September.  Greece police recovered the 17th century oil sketch ten years after it had been stolen from the Fine Arts Museum of Ghent in Belgium.

May 7, 2012

The Getty should return the Fano Athlete to Italy, Judge rules

Governor Spacca and an image of the
 Fano Athlete at a press conference
 in LA last year
Jason Felch, who has been covering this story since 2006, reported for The Los Angeles Times that on May 3 a judge in Marche confirmed that the J. Paul Getty Museum should return the Fano Athlete to the country from which it was illegally exported.

Felch, co-author of Chasing Aphrodite, posted the judge's ruling on his website here.

On the blog Looting Matters, David Gill encourages The Getty to cooperate before additional legal steps reveal more problems. Gill also provides an overview of the 'collecting history' and Italy's years long political fight on his blog here.

This is the victory Governor Spacca of Marche spoke of when he visited the Getty in March 2011 in an attempt to negotiate a friendly resolution (reported here and here on the ARCA blog).

May 6, 2012

ARCA Grad Julia Brennan helps launch Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Julia Brennan in her Thai Ruan Ton dress outside museum.
ARCA Alum '09 Julia Brennan, a textile conservator, was one of the international consultants who helped  to develop the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Thailand.

The institute focuses on preserving and reviving the Thai silk industry.

Here and here are two articles on the Queen's textile museum.  Brennan trained the conservation staff, helped design and set up the conservation lab, and worked with the team to treat, prepare and install more than 150 textiles for the inaugural exhibitions.

The museum will open to the public on May 9th.

May 5, 2012

Curry and Ellis: New website for Stonehill Art Crime Symposium

Virginia Curry and Richard Ellis at Q&A session
 at the Southeastern Technical High School, September 2011
Virginia Curry and Richard Ellis, formerly of the FBI and Scotland Yard, respectively, have a new website for Stonehill Art Crime Symposium they will be teaching this summer.  (You can read more about this program here on the ARCA blog).

The website address is here.  The program also has a twitter account @artcrimeclass for information updates.

In support of the Stonehill Initiative, ARCA is offering a tuition subsidy for its postgraduate certificate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection for students who complete the Stonehill short course. 

May 4, 2012

A Petition for the U. S. Senate to Abandon S. 2212 and to vote for the Stolen Artwork Restitution Act


by Pierre Ciric

As a second generation holocaust survivor, I have concluded that S. 2212, in shielding any government-related foreign institution from ANY liability or suit in the United States for claims for artworks related to cultural exchanges, and subject to pillage, plunder or illegal excavation, is appalling.

In 1998, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and its members promised to perform in-depth provenance research for their entire collections, during hearings held by Jim Leach, Chair of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services.

Not only did AAMD fail to honor those commitments, but it is now lobbying to continue the tragedy of the Holocaust and all subsequent genocides, by asking Congress to ensure that theft from owners in times of war and dictatorship and the greed resulting from its commercial exploitation are officially protected from justice.

The so-called Nazi carve-out in the bill gives the illusion that Nazi-looted art claims will be preserved, which is both untrue and unfair.

I am sponsoring the petition "Senate: Abandon S. 2212, Vote for the Stolen Artwork Restitution Act." We reached 130 supporters in less than three days after the Petition was online.  Supporters appear to represent a wide variety of interests across various social, age and cultural groups.  The petition can be found at: https://www.change.org/petitions/senate-abandon-s-2212-vote-for-the-stolen-artwork-restitution-act.

Pierre Ciric practices law in New York.

May 3, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CONCLUDED: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

(You may find the first two parts here and here)

In London, Julian Radcliffe, founder of the Art Loss Register, a private company originally funded by auction houses and insurers to create a database of stolen art, tells Knelman of his effort to establish a stolen art database for art dealers and auction houses.  The company also reported over $200 million in art theft recoveries by 2008, including recoveries of paintings by Cézanne, Edouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso.

“Famous paintings are just a small percentage of what is being stolen,” Radcliffe told Knelman, [adding that] most of the art on the ALR list consists of minor paintings and antiques, and fewer than 1 per cent of those are ever recovered.

Radcliffe explains that art dealers often didn’t question why they could purchase a painting cheaply.  Sometimes if art dealers found out the art was reported stolen on ALR, they would not buy the work but refer it to someone else.  Even art thieves like to search the database to see if a painting has been reported stolen.

In the over 1,000 recoveries Radcliffe has enjoyed, in only three cases was the thief not after the paycheck for the stolen art, and most of the art that wasn’t immediately passed on to a dealer or auction house was stored in a vault, a closet, an attic, or a basement.
“Transactions in the art world are often carried out anonymously … and this cult of secrecy can be taken advantage of by criminals,” said Radcliffe.  “The art trade is the least regulated and least transparent activity in the commercial world, and the portability of the times and their international market make them very attractive for moving value, unobserved.”
Radcliffe said that the average value of stolen art is under $10,000 and that thieves will pass these items off to fences, who will then move them into the outlands of the art market: to small auction houses or galleries, or across oceans…. About half of all stolen art recovered by the ALR was found in a different country from where it was originally stolen. 

In the United States, Knelmen meets Special Agent Robert K. Wittman, then a Senior Art Investigator for the Rapid Deployment Art Crime Team for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Wittman was six months away from retirement.  The 1996 law, The Theft of Major Artwork had made it a federal crime to steal from a museum or to steal a work of art worth more than $5,000 or older than 100 years.  Knelman tells how Wittman recovered a Norman Rockwell painting in Brazil just three months after helping with the recovery effort after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Knelman meets Matthew Bogdanos who had lived one block from the WTC on 9/11.  The assistant U. S. district attorney, a Marine reservist, led the art theft investigation of the National Museum of Iraq after looting in 2003, and established an amnesty program to recover the stolen antiquities.

In the fall of 2009, Knelman meets Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Art Crime Team which had reorganized in response to the looting of the Iraqi museum.  Magness-Gardiner echoes what Knelman heard in his first meeting with an art thief in Toronto six years earlier about an unregulated and undocumented art market based on secretive transactions involving millions of dollars.

I asked Magness-Gardiner if it was fair to say that no one had a handle on how large the black market in stolen art had become.  “Yes, that’s fair to say,” she answered....  “When we say ‘black market,’ really what we mean are those stolen items that are in the legitimate market and shouldn’t be there.  The black market isn’t separate.  So we’re talking about items that have no history.  The collectors, the museums, and the dealers all partake on some level.”

Magness-Gardiner explains:
“Art is one of the biggest unregulated markets in the U. S.  The business of art tends to be very closed and secretive.  It is still business done on a handshake.  Financial transactions are quite difficult to track, because you don’t have a paper trail.  How art is bought, sold, and moved is a challenge in itself to understand.  When a piece of art is bought or sold, there is the movement of the physical object from one location to another.  There is also the transfer of money from one bank account to another.  There is nothing to link those two events.”
Magness-Gardiner addressed the lack of information about the collecting history or previous ownership of an object of art or cultural property:
“Another problem built into a business-on-a-handshake model is the issue of provenance.  The first thing we tell a new agent to do is to find out whether or not the work of art that has been stolen is, in fact, real.  Where does it come from? Where are its records? We don’t know until we do a background investigation on the piece of art.”  She continued, “Looking at the authenticity of a piece is always detective work.  Unlike most other material items manufactured today, art does not have serial numbers.  Lack of a serial number is one element that really distinguishes art from other types of property theft.  The only parallel is jewellery and gems – difficult to trace because they don’t have a serial number either, and so they are particularly valuable to thieves,” she said. 

“The middlemen and the dealers don’t want other people to know their sources.  This can stem from a legitimate business concern, because if other dealers find out who their sources are, they could use those same sources.”
Knelman dedicates a chapter to the art crime investigator, Alain Lacoursière, who had worked on art thefts as part of his police job until he retired. When Knelman met the new generation of the  Quebec Art Squad they didn’t know of the work of the LAPD Art Theft Detail until Knelman told the French-speaking detectives of Hrycyk’s work.

In Hot Art, Knelman successfully brings a personal narrative navigating the disparate international world of art theft and recovery that almost unknowingly tell of the same story of theft and laundering stolen art through the legitimate market and the limited resources to combat the problem.  From England’s first art investigative team, the Sussex Police’s art and antiques squad, in 1965 to information flourishing on the internet through blogs such as Art Hostage (written by the former  Brighton Knocker Paul "Turbo" Hendry), and information dispersed by Interpol, the LAPD’S Art Theft Detail, Quebec’s Art Crime Squad, and the Museum Security Network, who in the English-speaking world will be the next law enforcement officers to continue the work of its pioneers?

May 2, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CONTINUED: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

(Continued from yesterday)

In 2008, as economic chaos grips the bond markets and art prices continue to increase, Knelman interviews Donald Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department; Richard Ellis, former head of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad; Julian Radcliffe of the Art Loss Register; FBI Art Investigator Robert Wittman; Matthew Bogdanos who led the recovery effort for antiquities looted from the National Museum of Iraq in 2003; Giles Waterfield, the former director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery who helped to recover “the Takeaway Rembrandt”;  and Bob Combs, head of The Getty’s security.

Knelman finds cooperation with Detective Hrycyk of the LAPD’s Art Theft Detail, the nation’s only full-time municipal unit dedicated to investigating art-related crimes.  The detective discusses solved cases, methods of investigation, and takes Knelman to the evidence warehouse. Knelman recounts Hrycyk’s background from patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles to the detective’s patient and precise work investigating art thefts.  In 2008, Hrycyk was training his partner, Stephanie Lazarus, just as his former boss and mentor, Bill Martin, had trained Hrycyk 1986 to 1989.

In Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, art theft was a hidden crime, blending many different worlds.  It cut across socio-economic lines and could move in a heartbeat from blue-collar to white-collar criminals.  A thug who knew nothing about art except that it was valuable could steal a painting; that same afternoon, the painting could wind up in the possession of an auction house; within the week or the month, it could be sold to one of the Los Angeles art elite.

In addition to visiting art galleries, auction houses, and museums, Hrycyk read the 1974 book by Laurie Adams, Art Cop, about the work of a former undercover New York City narcotics officer, Robert Volpe, who was probably the first detective in North America to investigate art theft full-time.  Knelman writes:
Volpe’s investigations included burglaries, robberies, and consignment frauds – when an artist or patron would lend a piece of work to a gallery and the gallery would vanish or refuse to return the art.  He believed that art theft in New York in the 1970s had reached the same stage as narcotics a decade earlier.
Hrycyk tells Knelman that the unregulated art world (just like the drug dealers Hrycyk arrested for years) relied upon a code of ethics where not asking for information seems to be part of that world’s business practices.  Buyers and sellers of art use middlemen just as drug dealers do.  “It is considered rude to ask questions about the provenance of an artwork – who owned it, where it came from.  Embarrassment is often one of the leading factors for secrecy,” Hrycyk tells Knelman.

Martin retired in 1992 but it wasn’t until two years later that Hrycyk returned to the Art Theft Squad to work with a rotating string of partners until he chose Lazarus to train in 2006.  Hot Art opens with a chapter on a ride-a-long with Hrycyk and Lazarus to the crime scene at an antiques store on La Cienega and recounts the detectives’ investigation.  A year later, Lazarus would be arrested for the murder of her ex-boyfriend’s wife and this year she was convicted of the crime.  Hrycyk, one of the most senior officers of the LAPD, has no successor to continue the investigative work built upon two decades of contacts in the art market.

Knelman’s sister, a student at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, introduces her brother to her thesis advisor Giles Waterford who had been the curator at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1981 when “the takeaway Rembrant” was stolen for the third time.  Rembrant’s very small painting titled Jacob de Gheyn III is an example of “Headache art” which attracts significant media attention.  Waterfield recounts his negotiations with a German businessman for a “Finder’s Fee” that leads to the recovery of the painting.

Paul "Turbo" Hendry tells Knelman that ‘there was one detective in London, in particular, who made his reputation dealing with headache art cases’, Richard Ellis, the man who re-started Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad.

As a detective, Ellis had been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including reclaiming a Vermeer from a criminal organizer in a chase that lasted seven years and spanned half a dozen countries.  That case was chronicled thoroughly in The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, by Mathew Hart.

Ellis’ interest in art theft began with the burglary of his parents’ home in 1972 and the subsequent recovery of his family’s property at the Bermondsey Market, London’s Friday-only open market of junk and antiques.  Ironically, Ellis was never allowed to work on the Philatelic Squad that evolved from investigating crimes in the stamp market to the unregulated antiques industry that operated as Scotland Yard’s first Art and Antiques Squad.  Knelman recounts Ellis’ strategy of reopening the department in 1989 after it had been closed for five years. Ellis cases included the recovery of paintings stolen from the Russborough house in 1986; the 1994 recovery of Edvard Munch’s The Scream stolen from Norway’s National Gallery; and Jonathan Tokeley-Parry’s smuggling of antiquities out of Egypt in the 1990s. Knelman writes:
For Ellis, the Russborough case provided the link between stolen art and organized crime, diamond dealers, and a network that stretched across Europe.  The Schultz case, which involved 14 countries on four continents, proved that the stolen art network was sophisticated and involved criminals at all levels of the trade, from the men who dig in the dirt to the men in the shops and galleries on Madison Avenue.
Ellis retired from Scotland Yard in 1999.  ‘He told me that his success as a stolen-art detective was primarily due to his ability to gather information.  He relied on a network of informants to keep him abreast of what was happening in the criminal underworld.  His squad of detectives paid cash for useful information.  “Every Friday the calls would come in.  Payday,” Ellis explained.

Book review concludes tomorrow.