August 31, 2012

Approaching 40th anniversary of Canada's largest art theft: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 4, 1972


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Forty years ago, someone was plotting the largest art theft in Canadian history.  The plan was to steal the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ masterpiece paintings over Labor Day Weekend.  Although the thieves aborted the job and ended up taking fewer paintings, the three men who entered the museum on September 4, 1972, have never been arrested or imprisoned for this robbery.

In 1972, the art collection was housed in a three-story building that was already 60 years old.  Workers had been on the roof repairing a skylight for weeks.  The thieves may have been one of the people who had sat in chairs on the roof seeking relief from the sweltering August heat.  They would have had the opportunity to watch the routines of the security guards, typically unarmed university students also charged with managing the parking and traffic around Canada’s oldest art institution.

Summers in Montreal are typically hot and humid and nearly empty.  Residents traditionally retreat to the Laurentian Mountains or south of the Canadian border to escape the heat.  On that weekend, the museum’s president of the board of trustees, its director, and security director had all fled to the United States and Mexico for their holidays leaving Bill Bantey, the museum’s director of public relations, the most senior museum official on duty that weekend.

Mr. Bantey, a political and criminal journalist who had also worked for two decades for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was my mentor in 2009 when I traveled to Montreal to study this unsolved museum theft.  I was not allowed to read the police files on this still-open case although I met twice with a semi-retired Montreal police officer, Alain Lacoursière, who told me what he recalled from his investigation and his recollection of the information in the files.  Mr. Lacoursière appeared to have been the only one to investigate the case in recent years.  Both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière had appeared in a film, Le Colombo d’Art, which identified a suspect in the theft who refused to confess or release information as the whereabouts of the stolen paintings supposedly by Rembrandt, Jean Brueghel the Elder, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, Narcisse-Virgile de la Peña, Thomas Gainsborough, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jean-François Millet, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Peter Paul Rubens, and François-André Vincent.

The museum opened its archives to me and I spent days reading about the stolen paintings and jewels.  Many articles had been written in the more than 35 years since the robbery on the theft, the attempted ransom, and speculation on the whereabouts of the missing 17 paintings.  In separate conversations with me, both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière believed that the paintings had not been destroyed and had probably been sent out of the country to a jurisdiction friendly to members of organized crime who spent Quebec’s cold winters in warmer southern climates.

On this anniversary I find myself wondering about the three thieves who climbed up onto the roof of a three-story building, opened up an unsecured skylight, and vaulted down ropes into the museum.  At least one of the three carried a gun and shot off a round when the first guard hesitated to drop to the floor.  Then the thieves tied up three guards and spent about one-half to an hour in the museum selecting 39 paintings, which also included works by El Greco, Picasso, Tintoretto, and a second Rembrandt.  The thieves piled up the paintings and then one of them opened the door into the garage where they had planned to use a museum van to escape.  However, the alarm to that door was engaged and frightened the thieves who did not know that the alarm was not hooked up to a source outside of the museum.  The thieves panicked, grabbed the paintings they could, and supposedly escaped on foot out of the museum down Sherbrooke, a major east-west boulevard that transverses the city from some of the wealthiest residential neighborhoods passed McGill University and the École des beaux-arts.

I think about the three thieves running supposedly unseen down the street with more than $2 million worth of insured paintings.  Was this their first theft? Did they steal again? Were they art students paid to rob the museum for an ‘art dealer’ who’s clients were willing to purchase stolen paintings?

In the 1966 art heist movie How to Steal a Million starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, two thieves rendezvous in the bar at the Ritz Hotel in Paris the day after committing the robber: “We did it! Did you see the paper and the television? Did you hear the radio? It’s the crime of the century, practically, and we did it!”

Who wants the bragging rights to having robbed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts more than four decades ago?

You may read more about Canada's largest art theft on my blog here.

August 30, 2012

Violence escalates in Bamiyan, killing 5 New Zealand soldiers in the last month, and threatening an ancient culture and people as troops plan to withdraw from Afghanistan

Last month on the ARCA blog we interviewed Oxford's Llewelyn Morgan, author of the book, The Buddhas of Bamiyan (published in the United States by Harvard University Press). Last week at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, I was fortunate to find a copy of this compact account of the history of how Buddhist statues survived for more than 1,000 years in an Islamic country. Today, Laurie King for the Los Angeles Times, reports escalating violence, including the deaths of five New Zealand soldiers in the last month, in the province of Bamiyan. (You can view the moving video of the Maori funeral Haka farewell dance at the funeral of three of the soldiers last week). Formerly considered a stable region, Afghan police died in bombing attacks in July, and last year the Taliban kidnapped and beheaded Jawad Zehak, Bamiyan's provincial leader. The two gigantic Buddhas, which overlooked a valley of commerce for centuries, survived Ghengis Khan and others until destroyed by the Taliban in the spring of 2001. Additional information about the history of the area and the archaeological importance of what remains can be seen on UNESCO's website on the Bamiyan valley; through the website of the Sacred Land Film Project; and through the website of the Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology.

August 29, 2012

How Playing Cards Protect Archaeological Sites in Combat Zones

This summer 'Voice of America' reporter Nancy Greenleese discussed with ARCA's Writer in Residence Laurie Rush ("It's all in the cards Inside Europe") how the military uses images on the back of playing cards to protect archaeological sites located in combat zones. Here's a link to the radio broadcast and here's a link to the printed interview.

August 27, 2012

"Q&A on Art Crime in Canada" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A on Art Crime in Canada" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. You may read the rest of this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.
In 2008 the Sureté du Quebec, in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, established the first national art crime investigation team in Canada’s history. The four-man team is now led by Jean-Francois Talbot, who has worked since 2003 with Alain Lacoursiere, an art historian and retired member of the Montreal police. Lacoursiere, who has been nominated for an ARCA Award, helped in the development of an art crime team in Canada and a system called Art Alert, which is an email bulletin sent out to 25,000 subscribers in 75 countries, largely members of the art community and police departments. Between 2004 and 2008, a combined force of agents from the Sureté du Quebec and the Montreal police department investigated around 450 art crimes, made 20 arrests, and seized over 150 stolen or forged artworks, with a total estimated value of around $2 million. The newly-established art crime team handles an average of 90 art crime cases per year. ARCA interviewed the art crime team, including Alain Dumouchel, to learn a bit more about art crime and investigation in Canada.

August 24, 2012

Book Review: "Hare with the Amber Eyes", Part III

“The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” By Edmund de Waal

Paperback: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010
Book Review by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief, Part III

Charles Ephrussi moves to a ‘grander’ address at 11, avenue d’Iéna in the 7th arrondissement of Paris and begins purchasing pictures, the first of which were by Berthe Morisot. He would own 40 Impressionist works – by Morisot, Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir. A true story of Charles, a Manet painting, and an extra asparagus stalk is disguised by Proust in a reference to ‘Monsieur Elstir’s asparagus’. As part of his research, Mr. da Waal traveled to the National Gallery in London to see Monet’s Les bains de la Grenouillère once owned by Charles. Even the back of Charles Ephrussi’s head is depicted in Renoir’s Le déjeuner des canotiers, the Luncheon of the Boating Party. In 1899, Charles sent the 264 netsuke in a black vitrine with green velvet shelves and a mirrored back as a wedding gift to his first cousin, Victor and the Baroness Emmy Schey von Koromla, the great-grandmother of Edmund de Waal.

The netsuke collection was set in the dressing room of the fashionable Baroness at the Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse in Vienna. Emmy’s three children took out the objects and played with them while they visited their mother during her long ritual of dressing for her various social engagements, particularly on Sunday morning when their caregivers had the morning off to attend church. Mr. da Waal visited Vienna and researched the history of the family business and the contradictory relationship of his great-grandfather Viktor to business, art, and his family. During this period, Mr. da Waal tells of how Vienna, which under Emperor Franz Joseph had expanded the Jewish community, became increasingly anti-Semitic under a mayor whose philosophy would mentor Adolf Hitler.

The Ephrussi family considers themselves assimilated Jews, even celebrating the festivities of Christmas. Mr. da Waal describes the luxurious life of this family with the national events that would change their country and ultimately threaten their survival. The Ephrussi family was even able to leave ‘demonstrations against the Jews’ in Vienna during the First World War for their country home in Czechoslovakia for fresh food. Then in 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire is dissolved, the Emperor Karl flees to Switzerland and Austria becomes a republic. Mr. da Waal notes how his grandmother Elisabeth claimed her spot in the academic world as a poet and lawyer, one of the first women from the University of Vienna to receive a doctorate in law. Elizabeth marries a young Dutchman of the Reformed Church at an Anglican church in Paris.

Meanwhile, for two decades between two wars, Austria struggled along until it was annexed to Nazi Germany. Then in 1938, ‘six members of the Gestapo, in perfect uniforms walk straight in [the gates of the Palais Ephrussi].’ The Ephrussi men are declared enemies of the State and arrested. Emmy is relegated to two rooms at the back of the house while her husband Viktor and son Rudolf are imprisoned until they sign away all of the Ephrussi property – businesses, residence, and 100 years of possessions – to avoid being sent to the concentration camp in Dachau. Of all the objects stolen then sold, a loyal housekeeper named Anna risks her own safety to pocket the netsuke a few at a time until she could hide them in her mattress.

After the war, the netsuke are returned to the family and Edmund da Waal’s great-uncle Iggie takes them back to Japan where he spends the rest of his life. And where Edmund the potter and student of Japanese finds the netsuke and learns what those objects mean when they are returned to the culture from which they came.

Here are links to Part I and Part II of this review.

August 22, 2012

Book Review: "Hare with the Amber Eyes" Part II

“The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” By Edmund de Waal
Paperback: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010


Book Review by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief, Part II

In the prologue de Waal describes what he doesn’t want his book to be:
I know that my family were Jewish, of course, and I know they were staggeringly rich, but I really don’t want to get into the sepia saga business, writing up some elegiac Mitteleuropa narrative of loss…. And I’m not entitled to nostalgia about all that lost wealth and glamour from a century ago.
He does have a vision for his book:
I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers – hard and tricky and Japanese – and where it has been. I want to be able to reach to the handle of the door and turn it and feel it open. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of the space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they felt about it and thought about it – if they thought about it. I want to know what it has witnessed.
De Waal expected his project to take six months not the six years his journey took him through archives and libraries from Tokyo to Odessa where his Russian family of grain-exporters originated. A piece of oral history links him from his grandmother to the purchaser of these objects, Charles Ephrussi, who lived on the rue de Monceau (slang for nouveau riche) in the Hôtel Ephrussi in Paris in the late 19th century. As a child, Elisabeth Ephrussi had met Charles at the family’s six storey stone Swiss chalet ‘on the edge of Lake Lucerne’. Elisabeth lived at the Palais Ephrussi on the Ringstrasse in Vienna (not too far from the Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer residence).

Mr. de Waal, one of four sons of a retired clergyman in England, starts with a slender cache of objects from his 80-year-old father then travels to libraries, archives, and to each relevant family residence to piece together this story of collecting. In Paris de Waal discovers that the Hôtel Ephrussi at 81 rue de Monceau is now ‘an office for medical insurance’. The Ephrussi family had branched into banking in Vienna, the capital city of the Hapsburg Empire, and had set up offices in the French capital. One of the Ephrussi men, Charles, was excused from the business of making money. Charles moved from Odessa to Vienna before settling in Paris to live as a bachelor art scholar and collector: ‘He is in the extraordinary position of being both ridiculously affluent and very self-directed.’ Charles traveled throughout Europe gathering information for a book on the German artist Albrecht Dürer: Charles ‘needs to find every drawing, every scribble in every archive, in order to do him justice’ (not unlike this journey of Edward de Waal).

Anti-Semitism haunts the family even in 19th century Paris. Mr. de Waal notes that the diarist Edmond de Goncourt claims Charles has ‘infested’ the salons of Paris as a Jew: ‘Charles, he (Goncourt) intimates, is ubiquitous, the trait of someone who does not know his place; he is hungry for contact, does not know when to shade eagerness and become invisible.’ In addition to Goncourt, Marcel Proust (with more charity) mentions Charles as attending artistic gatherings known as salons. Mr. de Waal reads all of Charles’ reviews published in the monthly Gazette des beaux-arts where Charles was a contributor, editor and an owner. In the 1870s, Charles, who also collected French Impressionist paintings today found in many public collections, purchased collected Japanese art, a rarity in Paris, with his married lover (and incredibly the mother of five children, da Waal notes). Charles purchased 264 netsuke from a dealer in Japanese art, Philippe Sichel. As described by Goncourt, the artists of the netsuke specialized and took their time in sculpting the small intimate carvings. Da Waal quotes an 1889 letter from Rudyard Kipling describing the novelist’s reaction to seeing netsuke when he traveled to Japan:
Unfortunately the merest scratch of Japanese character is the only clue to the artist’s name, so I am unable to say who conceived, and in creamy ivory executed, the hold man horribly embarrassed by a cuttle-fish; the priest who made the soldier pick up a deer for him and laughed to think that the brisket would be his and the burden his companions…
Mr. da Waal describes popular erotic netsuke: “These small things to handle and to be moved around – slightly, playfully, discerningly – were kept in vitrines. The chance to pass round a small and shocking object was too good to miss in the Paris of the 1870s.”

Here's a link to Part I of this review. Here's a link to Part III of this review.

August 20, 2012

Book Review: "The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss", Part I

“The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” By Edmund de Waal

Paperback: Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010
Book Review by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief, Part I

My regular Wednesday tennis mate Barbara recommended a book that I heard as written by a famous ceramicist – a guy who makes pottery – about the history of the Japanese knick-knacks he inherited from his family.

Pottery. Japan. Knick-knacks. I was reading about Nazi-looted art (see Lady in Gold). A book with the odd title “The Hare with Amber Eyes” did not immediately send me to the bookstore. Barbara knew a little bit about the Jews in Europe during the first half of the 20th century – her mom, she had mentioned only once, had been in a concentration camp.

A few weeks later Barbara and I, over the net, were discussing the Klimt paintings and what the Bloch-Bauer family went through in Vienna – that the paintings hadn’t been donated to the museum by Adele Bloch-Bauer but stolen more than a decade after her death from her husband’s residence after Austria united with Nazi Germany.

“Did you read that book I recommended?” Barbara asked.

“What was the title?”

“Hare with the Amber Eyes,” she repeated. “The family was in Vienna when the Nazis came.”

A few hours later I had downloaded the book on my iPad and my iPhone, downloaded the audible book, and later ended up at our local bookstore in Pasadena where the Vroman’s employee told me I could find Edmund de Waal’s memoir under “Biography”.

Not since Jonathan Harr’s book, The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece, has a book so influenced me.

First of all, Edmund de Waal isn’t just a potter but an academic who has written on the subject in various journals and truly is recognizable in the art world (as confirmed by the first woman I recommended the book to).  Second, de Waal read English at Cambridge and brings an amazing literary talent to his tale.

I have recommended this book to any lovers of Proust and 19th century France (the Japanese netsuke were purchased there by an ancestor of de Waal who served as a model for the French novelist); anyone who wants to understand anti-Semitism in Europe and how that prejudice allowed the Nazis to rise to power; and to my teenage son who loves Japan (part of the narrative is placed in Japan after World War II). I would recommend this to anyone looking for “a good read” in any subject by a compassionate and intelligent human being. As for myself, this book changed the way I viewed decorative arts as stuff-to-dust to artifacts of the experiences of everyday life.

Edmund de Waal was studying porcelain pottery and visiting his great-uncle, Ignace “Iggie” Ephrussi, in Japan in 1991 where he first handled one of the 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings known as netsuke. He later writes:
I pick one up and turn it around in my fingers, weight it in the palm of my hand. If it is wood, chestnut or elm, it is even lighter than the ivory. You see the patina more easily on these wooden ones: there is a faint shine on the spine of the bridled wolf and on the tumbling acrobats locked in their embrace. The ivory ones come in shades of cream, every colour, in fact, but white. A few have inlaid eyes of amber or horn. Some of the older ones are slightly worn away: the haunch of the faun resting on leaves has lost its markings. There is a slight split, an almost imperceptible fault line on the cicada. Who dropped it? Where and when?
Mr. de Waal describes how one of the netsuke feels when he pockets it for a day:
Carry is not quite the right word for having a netsuke in a pocket. It sounds too purposeful. A netsuke is so light and so small that it migrates and almost disappears amongst your keys and change. You simply forget that it is there.
Then he describes why he wrote this book:
I realize how much I care about how this hard-and-soft, losable object has survived. I need to find a way of unraveling its story. Owning this netsuke – inheriting them all – means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them. I am unclear and discomfited about where the parameters of this responsibility might lie. 
I know the bones of this journey from Iggie. I know that these netsuke were bought in Paris in the 1870s by a cousin of my great-grandfather called Charles Ephrussi. I know that he gave them as a wedding-present to my great-grandfather Victor von Ephrussi in Vienna at the turn of the century. I know the story of Anna, my great-grandmother’s maid, very well. And I know that they came with Iggie to Tokyo, of course, and were part of his life with Hiro.
This book review will be continued on Wednesday. Here are links to Part II and Part III.

August 17, 2012

Q&A with Thierry Lenain on "Monkey Painting" and "Art Forgery: the History of a Modern Obsession" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A with Thierry Lenain" in the Spring/Summer issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
Thierry Lenain is a Belgian professor of art theory at Université Libre de Bruxelles. He is the author of Monkey Painting (Reaktion, 1997) which, as the title suggests, is about what happens when monkeys are given painting materials, and the recent Art Forgery: the History of a Modern Obsession (Reaktion, 2011). We chatted with Lenain, who also has an academic article published in this issue.
Noah Charney: What led you to write Art Forgery, when your previous research has been on other topics?
Thierry Lenain: There is indeed a link with my previous topics. If we leave out a book based on a PhD dissertation, pertaining to the question of play in Nietzsche’s philosophy, those topics all dealt with things whose inclusion in, or exclusion from, the category of artworks is problematic and an object of controversy. Such was, typically, the case of monkey painting. To most, the results of the graphic or painting plays of non-human primates have strictly nothing to do with art: only a misleading resemblance with action-painting could prompt someone to think otherwise, they say. But to others, those plays should indeed be regarded as reflecting the very pre-human roots of art and, in that measure, should certainly not be excluded from the category of art (this category rather must be extended so as to accommodate “animal art”). 
You may read the rest of this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.

August 16, 2012

Q&A with Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A with Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.


Ralph Frammolino, along with Jason Felch, is the co-winner of the 2012 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship. The award was granted both for Frammolino and Felch’s outstanding journalistic work, and the book that resulted from it, Chasing Aphrodite, about the Getty antiquities scandal and Marion True. To learn more about the award winners, please see the awards section in this issue. Ralph responded to some questions on his own behalf, and on behalf of Jason Felch.

Noah Charney: What is the origin of your interest in the protection of antiquities?
Ralph Frammolino: Prior to Chasing Aphrodite, I was among the blissfully ignorant art-loving masses who regarded museums with a sort of hushed awe while delighting in their inspiring displays of ancient pieces. I accepted without question the good intention of curators, academics and museum officials, never giving a thought to the back story of how they obtained their trove of Greek and Roman pieces (my favorites). Then, as an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, I had the rare opportunity to examine this world through a different prism. Jason and others at the paper had just finished an investigation into the finances of the Getty Trust, the richest art institution in the world. The editors at the LA Times teamed me up with Jason to look at problems with the antiquities collection, a move that happened about the time a Roman court indicted Getty antiquities curator Marion True for trafficking in looted artifacts. What we found was shocking, the equivalent of steroids in baseball and pedophile priests in the Catholic Church. The museum world had its own dirty little secret – that it was feasting on the fruits of an illegal trade – and justifying it through sham acquisition policies, temporized denials and archly worded statements about serving posterity. To me, the protection of antiquities became a proxy for cultural colonialism. While I would like to think that the Getty scandal marked a change, I’m no longer sure. In my mind, the Getty’s selection of James Cuno as CEO and Timothy Potts as Museum Director – two openly avowed collecting hawks – marks a giant step backward from the enlightened, culturally sensitive stance the Getty adopted after it was caught with looted masterpieces. Now Cuno and Potts say they want to start to aggressively acquire Middle Eastern antiquities – coincidentally as war, terrorism and regime change have triggered wholesale looting of such artifacts, which will no doubt start bobbing up through the market in the coming years.
You may read this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.

August 15, 2012

Q&A with Joris Kila and Karl von Habsburg in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A with Joris Kila and Karl von Habsburg" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Kila and Habsburg are co-winners of the 2012 ARCA Award for Art Protection and Security. For more information about them, please see the article on ARCA Award winners in this issue.  Joris Kila answered questions on behalf of both parties.

Joris Kila is chairman of the International Military Cultural Resources Work Group. He is a researcher at the Institute of Culture and History of the University of Amsterdam, and a board member for civil-military relations with the World Association for the Protection of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict (WATCH), based in Rome. Additionally, he is a former community fellow of the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.  He is a member of the US Commands Cultural Historical Action Group and Chair of the International Cultural Resources Working Group. Until recently he served as network manager and acting chairman of the cultural affairs dept. at the Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Group North in the Netherlands. In that capacity he undertook several cultural rescue missions in Iraq and FYROM (Macedonia).
Noah Charney: Tell me about the Austrian Society for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and Blue Shield Austria. How did these initiatives begin and what are some of their current projects?
Joris Kila: The current Austrian situation concerning the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention (1954 HC) for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, especially within the Austrian Armed Forces (AAF), is not the product of well-organized activity; it is rather the result of a number of individuals’ efforts while working in a variety of positions at the right time. A long time passed between Austria’s 1964 ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention, and its implementation and dissemination within the AAF. The first Austrian “military mission” in which cultural property protection (CPP) played a role, occurred in 1968 in the context of the “Prague Spring.” The Austrian government and military leaders expected Soviet troops to cross Austrian territory on their way to Prague, violating the country’s sovereignty and neutrality. Knowing that the Soviet troops could not be stopped by military force, Austria prepared for an invasion. By initiative of the Federal Bureau for Monuments and Sites (FBMS) and under the supervision of its provincial departments, hundreds of Blue Shields, the emblem of the 1954 HC, were distributed in districts of eastern and northern Austria and, through the active participation of gendarmerie and army officers, these were attached to historical or cultural monuments along the anticipated Soviet route through Austria. It was greatly feared that Soviet troops would not respect Austria’s rich cultural heritage, which had already suffered badly during World War II. 
The idea was that this time the enemy would at least be made aware of the fact that with every destructive step they took, they were likely to be violating international law. This form of resistance without force at the climax of the Cold War initiated the birth of some sort of “Blue Shield Movement” in Austria, which finally resulted in the foundation of the Austrian Society for the Protection of Cultural Property in 1980. This civil organization is still characterized by having many regular and militia army officers among its members who are entrusted with most of the positions on its steering board. The Society also played an initial and decisive role in setting up the Austrian National Committee of the Blue Shield in 2008. Therefore, both organizations – forming an interface between civil and military expertise as well as providing an unrivaled pool of experts within Austria – consequently have an interest and high competence in (today's) military CPP. 
You may read the rest of this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.

August 13, 2012

Theft of Rhino head from Haslemere Educational Museum: One Year Later, A Potential Resolution

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA's European Correspondent

One year ago, I wrote about a rash of rhino horn thefts that had museums jumping to attention and, in some cases, going into overdrive to protect what horns were in their collections. There was a particular case that I had highlighted concerning the theft of a rhino head on display at the Haslemere Educational Museum in Southwest Surrey.  Now, I am very glad to report, there is a possibility of some closure for this particular case.

After the theft, which occurred in May 2011, BBC Crimewatch put out an appeal for any information connected to this particular theft. Due to information given to the authorities, two men, Tony Moore and Jamie Channon, have been charged with conspiracy to burgle in conjunction with the Haslemere theft. Both men were caught earlier in the year and charged with repeated counts of burglary, including this theft, but due to failures to appear in court, their sentencing has been pushed back until this September. Unfortunately, the rhino head has not been recovered.

August 12, 2012

Back to the Ancients: A Class Trip to Oplontis and Pompeii

 The villa at Oplontis
By Kirsten Hower,
 ARCA European Correspondent

 Last Sunday, the ARCA class of 2012 ventured south of Rome to explore two ancient Roman archaeological sites that are currently preserved and used as tourist attractions: Oplontis and Pompeii. Of the two, Pompeii is the more internationally recognized by a broader audience, whereas Oplontis is one of the best kept secrets of Torre Annunziata. Both make for practical and interesting trips for the ARCA students: both are archaeological sites that the Italian state is preserving while also keeping them open to the public for educational purposes. This was a chance for the students to see, in practice, the different circumstances of sites that are viable both scholastically and economically.

Pompeii, 1900, Brooklyn Museum Archives
We were incredibly lucky to have an amazing guide for both sites, Dr. Crispin Corrado who is the founding instructor of the Brown University program in Rome, who gave a historical background of anything and everything pertinent to both sites: a brief history of Rome and these two sites, background for each site, explanations of the architectural structures, etc. A veritable font of information, Crispin was very animated and informative, bringing the sites to life while leading the students around under the hot summer sun.

Though Pompeii is always a popular spot for students, Oplontis has, perhaps, deeper connections with what the students study during the semester. Not only is the villa important for examining practiced methodology of preserving a ‘functional’ cultural site, but it also has ties with a now famous controversy of the Medici dossier. One of the rooms at Oplontis, which features some of best preserved Roman walls paintings still in situ, had a fresco detached from the walls in the 1970s which then entered the illegal art market, where it found a place on the Medici dossier. In 2008, the same fresco was recovered by police at a private residence in Paris.

First century Roman wall paintings
 were removed from a room
much like this one at Oplontis
The trip to Oplontis and Pompeii was a great success, giving the students a day to wander through archaeological sites and to gain an on-site perspective of the pros and cons of preserving a site of historical importance for the interest of both scholars and the public. Hopefully this site visit will continue to be a success in future years of the ARCA summer certificate program.

August 10, 2012

Newly created list-serv for ARCA alum

Amelia, Umbria
by Kirsten Hower, Academic Program Assistant

We at ARCA are pleased to announce the launch of our newly created list-serv. This group will serve as an outlet of information for current ARCA students and alumni, as well as anyone interested in keeping up with ARCA. It has been created at a rather busy part of the year for us here at ARCA—as the summer certificate comes to a close and we sadly say goodbye to Amelia until next year—but our hope is that this list will serve to communicate interesting projects that we are undertaking, potential conferences and job announcements in the field, as well as a way for current students and alumni to keep in touch with ARCA and each other.

If you are interested in joining our list-serv, please follow this link: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/saveart.

August 8, 2012

Noah Charney's Q&A with Ernst Schöller in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

The Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Art Crime, Noah Charney, interviewed Ernst Schöller, the winner of the 2012 ARCA Award for Art Policing and Investigation.  Schöller is a long-standing member of the Stuttgart Fine Art and ANtiquities Squad and the German Art Unit of the police. Schöller is also a scholar, teaching about the investigation of art forgery. In addition to describing his background and how he decided to join the police force, Schöller discusses his work. You may read this article by subscribing through ARCA's website.

August 6, 2012

Classics Scholar Llewelyn Morgan and the “Buddhas of Bamiyan”: For more than 1,200 years a Buddhist icon reigned over an Islamic Trading Post

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

One of our ARCA subscribers alerted me to a book published this year by Profile Books (UK) and Harvard which tells of the long history of the gigantic Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban’s anti-artillery weapons in Afghanistan in 2001. My only knowledge of these objects is the furor created on international news of the videotape that showed the destruction of these cliff icons. YouTube has a video, “Afghanistan Taliban Muslims destroying Bamiyan Buddha Statues”, which supposedly interweaves the religious justification for this act of iconoclasm. But the destruction of the statues is not the point of Llewelyn Morgan’s book, which focuses on ‘their remarkably long lives’ (See "The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan - review" by Samantha Subramanian in The Guardian, May 18, 2012).

Via Skype and email, Llewelyn Morgan, a lecturer in Classics at Oxford University, discussed his book, which tells of the survival of these symbols of Buddhism alongside one of the major trading routes of Afghanistan, a limb of the famous “Silk Road”, for more than 12 centuries. His book is based on
the recorded impressions of travelers such as Xuanzang, journeying through Bamiyan en route elsewhere…. Writings of surveyors, soldiers and antiquarians of the Raj … texts by Muslim travelers allow Morgan to parse the surprising malleability, over the ages, of Muslim attitudes towards this Buddhist iconography. [The Guardian, Subramanian]
Buddhism arrived in the Bamiyan valley in the 1st or 2nd century AD.

A German visitor in the 1950s photographed
 another tourist's car at the foot of the Buddha.
Photo Courtesy of Edmund Mlzl.
ARCA blog: How long did it take you to write this book? And what drew you to this subject?
Dr. Morgan: It took me from starting research to submitting final proofs about 14 months. I had an interest in Afghanistan from a couple of sources. Like a lot of Classicists I was fascinated by the legacy of Alexander the Great and the Greek culture that persisted in Central Asia for centuries after him. Years ago, I was staying at my grandmother’s house (after her death), and was sifting through the antiques and knick-knacks she obsessively collected. I found a samovar and discovered that it was from Kandahar in 1881 during the Second Afghan War. Later I made friends with someone who was in charge of clearing mines in Afghanistan and he persuaded me to celebrate my 40th birthday by visiting the country.
ARCA Blog: What are your personal feelings after studying the history of these statues?
Dr. Morgan: It remains a terrible tragedy that they were destroyed. What I hadn’t realized before doing the research is what an immensely rich history that they had and what very significant monuments they had been for a variety of cultures. They were a wonder for three separate cultures, the Buddhists that created them, the Islamic peoples who followed, and then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, for the Western world. The 19th Century, when British and European travelers and spies rediscovered the statues, is a particularly fascinating period of history. The best way to compensate for an artistic crime is to fill in the proper meaning of these monuments.
ARCA Blog: Is this like the story of a murder victim?
Dr. Morgan: Indeed. Parallel to a murder victim. Rather like the Buddhas, most victims are anonymous until they are murdered. These Buddhas were very celebrated in the western world in the 1830s/1840s because so many people were writing about them. But their celebrity waxed and waned. In 2001 nobody had heard about them, their name recognition was restricted. Yet when I started talking about these statues, many people in their 50s and 60s who had visited as hippie travelers in Afghanistan brought me their photographs. The Buddhas of Bamiyan are now famous because they have been destroyed, and because of the circumstances in which they were destroyed, because their destruction was followed by the more serious events of 9/11. 
Key to the story of the Buddhas is that there were on this major route between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, not the only route through the mountains of the Hindu Kush, but one favoured for its comparative easiness. Traders, missionaries and armies moved through there. For the British in 19th century, and in this they followed armies going back centuries, Bamiyan was a critical strategic military location, occupied by them in 1839/40 (a bulwark against the threat they believed was posed by the Russians). 
The strategic location of Bamiyan and its position on the trade routes, all help to explain what made it a thriving Buddhist centre in the first place. Buddhism is a religion with very strong commercial instincts. Buddhist monasteries were banks and commercial operations as well as straightforwardly religious institutions. The gigantic Buddhas advertised the piety of this place to visitors, but also blazoned its wealth and power. The Buddhists of Bamiyan would have seen no contradiction in that, I don’t think. Buddhists and Muslims coexisted for a period at Bamiyan, we believe. But by 900 AD, there are no longer any Buddhists around. For 1100 years it has been a strictly Islamic community that surrounds it. But the statues had become an integral part of those Muslims’ home environment. The Muslims of Bamiyan are predominately Shiite, and the statues were incorporated into the Shiite mythology of the area, for example believed to be images of the last pagan king of Bamiyan and his wife, converted to Islam by Hazrat-I Ali, a kind of Islamic St George.

August 4, 2012

Stonehill Art Crime Symposium Visits Boston Museum of Fine Arts

by Virginia Curry, Stonehill Art Crime Symposium

Our class was warmly welcomed to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Professor Candice Smith-Corby from Stonehill College arranged for a private lecture presented by Victoria Reed, the Monica S. Sadler Assistant Curator for Provenance and the first Curator of Provenance in the United States. Her job is to research works with questionable histories both in the collection and on the MFA’s "shopping list". As a result, Reed’s other job is to break curators’ hearts.

The MFA, which like many museums has had to return works in recent years, took special care in creating Reed’s post in 2010. She is the first and only endowed curator of provenance at an American museum.

Ms. Reed elaborated on the practices of past acquisition management at the MFA and the steps that it now takes to ensure that the Museum exercises due diligence in acquisitions and researches any questionable provenance of exhibits already accessioned into the MFA collection, which opened its doors to the public in 1876. The class learned that the MFA, due to Ms. Reed's research, has already returned numerous accessions in the collection when she proved that the title to each of the exhibits lie elsewhere.

Rhona Macbeth the Director of MFA Painting Conservation directed our class on a private laboratory tour of her on-going conservation of the painting "Allegory of Justice" dated 1636, by Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch, 1590–1656) on loan from the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. The scale of this painting is such that the MFA uses a towering painting tube to transport the huge canvas within the Museum. 

"Allegory of Justice", 1636, Gerrit van Honthorst
This photograph of some of the members of our class with Ms. Macbeth gives a sense of the scale of the canvas, which was pieced together by the artist to present a larger than life portrait of Elisabeth, Electress Palatine and (briefly) queen of Bohemia (August 19, 1596 – February 13, 1662). She was born Lady Elizabeth Stuart, the eldest daughter to King James VI of Scotland and his Queen consort Anne of Denmark. She was thus sister to Charles I of England. With the demise of the Stuart dynasty in 1714, her direct descendants, the Hanoverian rulers, succeeded to the British throne.  In 1613, she married Frederick V, then Elector of the Palatinate, and took up her place in the court at Heidelberg. In 1619, Frederick was offered and accepted the crown of Bohemia, but his rule was brief, and Elizabeth became known as the "Winter Queen". She was also sometimes called "Queen of Hearts" because of her popularity.  Driven into exile, the couple took up residence in The Hague, and Frederick and their son drowned in 1632. Elizabeth remained in Holland even after her son, Charles I Louis, regained his father's electorship in 1648. Following the Restoration of the British monarchy, she traveled to London to visit her nephew, King Charles II, and died while there. Her daughter (illustrated in the paining as a winged figure flying above the scene, was known later as Sophia of Hanover. Her grandson became George I of the United Kingdom, thus making all her direct descendants heir to the British throne.  Honthorst depicts Elizabeth crushing Neptune, who is shown with his trident, under the bladed wheels of her carriage as her husband and son beckon from death to she and their surviving children.
Detail from "Allegory of Justice"

Our class also spoke with conservators who were preparing the severed head from the 2nd century A.D. cult statue of Juno for casting, and the conservation of the Etruscan couple sarcophagus of Larth Tetnies and Tanchvil Tarnai (approximately dated 3rd to 4th century B.C.E0.

After lunch at the MFA, we proceeded to Vose Gallery in Boston where we were met by Beth Vose, the director of the oldest family owned gallery in the United States. Ms. Vose gave our class a presentation concerning the history of collecting of the Vose Gallery, which first opened as an artist supply shop, and has been actively operated by descendents for six generations. Ms. Vose explained the role of the private gallery as collection consultants and the due diligence as they perform their acquisition and conservation of American paintings and sculpture from the northeast.

August 3, 2012

Stonehill's Art Crime Symposium Tours Industrial History Center featuring Shovels

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA blog editor

This week we're providing a service to the art crime symposium at Stonehill by posting the emails Virginia Curry sends me each day. Ms. Curry and Dick Ellis have been big supporters of ARCA over the years. This is what happened yesterday as reported by Ms. Curry:
The World of Art and Fine Art of Crime class toured the Stonehill College Industrial History Center with curator Nicole Casper. Some of the class is pictured in front of the silver plated commemorative shovels. 
Donated to Stonehill College by real estate developer, Arnold Tofias, in 1973, The Arnold B. Tofias Industrial Archives are the records, artifacts and papers of 19th and 20th century Ames enterprises, in particular the O. Ames Company, manufacturers of shovels. In addition to 755 shovels, the collection includes over 1,500 linear ft. of manuscript material.  
The Ames True Temper Collection was acquired by Stonehill College from 2002 to 2006 from the current Ames Company's facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia, since closed. The collection includes some materials from the 19th century but is dominated by 20th century items. Everything for inventories and catalogs to anti-submarine depth charges ("hedgehogs") made during WWII. The collection also contains promotional films and videos. See the finding aid for a more detailed itemization of items in the collection.

August 2, 2012

Former Scotland Yard Detective Dick Ellis "Waxes Poetic on the Topic of Due Diligence"

Former Scotland Yard Detective Ellis Teaching at Stonehill
Since this week's art crime program in Massachusetts sold out and not all of us can attend, ARCA Blog asked Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry to keep us posted on the activities. This is Ms. Curry's latest note and photograph:
Here's Richard Ellis instructing class on the topic of due diligence at the "World of Art and the Fine Art of Crime" symposium at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts.

August 1, 2012

Noah Charney's Q&A with Geore H. O. Abungu in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

George Abungu is the winner of the 2012 ARCA Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art. Dr. Abungu, a native of Kenya, has served as Chairman of the International Standing Committee on the Traffic of Illicit Antiquities since 1999, and as Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya from 1999-2002. Among his many projects, he was involved in the return to Kenya of looted vigango (traditional grave markers). For more information on him, see the article on ARCA Award winners in this issue.

1. How did you bring the vigango back to Africa from the United States?
Many greetings from Nairobi. I will now try to answer some of the questions you raised. First let me recognize the good work ARCA is doing, and to thank the membership for the award that I feel is a great privilege to me and to Africa as a whole. As an archaeologist and a heritage professional, I have spent a lot of my working life in museum and museum-related fields. I have dealt with the protection of works of art as a field archaeologist working on the Kenyan coast, as head of Coastal Museums Programmes, as Deputy Director of the National Museums of Kenya and, subsequently, from 1999-2002, as Director General of the National Museums of Kenya. The museum, apart from hosting the Gallery of East African Contemporary Art, was also in charge of all other heritage in the country, including the Mijikenda Kayas, where many of the vigango were stolen from in the past. 
I got involved with the vigango issue when I was still at the Coast of Kenya, working as the Coastal Archaeologist as well as Head of the Museums there. During that time we had to deal with thefts not only of the vigango but also the illegal sale and purchase of Swahili cultural materials such as chairs, doors and jewelry — all that qualify as works of art. With the cooperation of law enforcement agencies, we managed to apprehend a number of dealers who, unfortunately, due to the leniency of the law, often managed to get away with only small fines by way of penalty. However it was a lesson to others. 
As for the return of the vigango to Kenya, this happened after I left the museum. However I started the process of the return by working with two scholars from the USA who had worked on the Kenyan coast and knew the vigango and the families from whom they had been stolen. We basically blew the whistle, as well as contacted these institutions during my time at the museum, to inform them that we knew they had these items and, as a country, we wanted them back. As my successors at the museum continued to follow up through official channels with the institutions, I continued to write articles using these as examples of illicit and immoral acquisitions. In the end, both the Kenyan government, as well as the concerned institution, took the action to return two vigango. Since then, many have been returned.

You can continue reading this interview in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.