September 18, 2019

Mexican Foreign Ministry urges French auction house Millon (in Paris) to halt an auction of pre-Columbian art

Image Credit: Millon Drouot
The Mexican government, through its Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and its Ministry of Culture, have formally challenged the auctioning of 95 pieces of pre-Hispanic origin.  In doing so, they are calling upon French auction house Millon Drouot to halt its sale of the Manichak and Jean Aurance Collection of Pre-Columbian art which is scheduled to take place today and includes some 130 pre-Columbian art objects.  

During a press conference, the Mexican Ambassador to France, Juan Manuel Gómez-Robledo, indicated that a concern was lodged on September 12, 2019 by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, the competent authority in the matter asking that the auction be cancelled and that the objects in the collection contested restituted to the country. 

Raising their concerns about the provenance of the pieces, the Mexican authorities allege that some of the artifacts appear to have been stolen and/or illegally exported. Concerned with their status, María del Socorro Villarreal Escárrega, national coordinator of legal affairs for Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History stated that the INAH has filed a corresponding complaint with the Prosecutor's Office General of the Republic, collaborating with diplomatic authorities in order to seek the restitution of the objects. 


In their formal statement, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry stated that 95 of the 120 objects up for auction appear to be from early Mesoamerican complex civilizations such as the Olmec, which inhabited the Gulf Coast territory of Mexico extending inland and southwards across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, from 1600 BCE until 350 BCE and the Maya who assimilated Olmec influences into the emerging the city-states of the Maya civilization.  

According to the Millon catalog, and the Antiques Trade Gazette collectors Manichek and Jean Aurance purchased their first pre-Columbian artwork in 1963 from the French dealer Olivier le Corneur who operated Galerie Le Corneur-Roudillon.  They continued purchasing tribal art  for their Art Deco lakeside home in Vésinet from le Corneur, Henri Kamer, Pierre Langlois, René Rasmussen and Charles Ratton.  Some of those pieces seem to have passed through Los Angeles art dealer Earl Stendahl.

Earlier last week Guatemala confirmed that following their own formal protests on August 28, 2019 Millon had suspended the sale, at least for a while, of one of the pre-Hispanic pieces up for auction.


Lot 55 -  A stone relief depicting the Spearthrower Owl, was discovered by Teobert Maler in 1899 and dates to 700 CE.  It was stolen from the powerful city-state of Piedras Negras in the remote northwest area of the Department of Petén in Guatemala's Sierra del Lacandón in the 1960s.

Drawing from CMHI
v. 9-1.
According to UT-Austin archaeologist and Mesoamerican art historian and epigrapher, Dr. David Stuart, who first reported (in English) about Guatemala's Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes' efforts  to stop the sale in late August, the disputed stolen relief is a portion of Stela 9 found by Teobert Maler at the ruins if Piedras Negras in 1899 on the large terrace to the east of Structure J-3, and originally placed between Stelae 10 and 40.

Allowing time for the seller, the State of Guatemala and Millon to discuss the contested object and the legality of the sale in France, Drouot Paris issued the following comment on Twitter, hinting that the sale was a legitimate one, despite the crime of removing it from the territory.
In cases of property dispute, French law, articles 2274 and 2262 of the Civil Code, tend to prefer the bona fide purchaser, in their purchase of a stolen or misappropriated movable object over that of the victim, which in this circumstance is Guatemala and Mexico.   French Law provides that title can be obtained by a good faith purchaser by way of prescription after 30 years.

As of the writing of this article, neither the consignor nor Millon has not announced a response to the Mexican government's request. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 17, 2019

Egyptian prosecutor requests that former honorary consul of Italy be placed on INTERPOL’s red notice list

Image Credit: https://www.radiolfc.net/tag/m-skakal/
Today, Egyptian Attorney General Nabil Ahmed Sadek ordered the arrest of Italy's former honorary consul in Luxor, Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal and requested that his name be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in smuggling 21,855 artifacts from the port of Alexandria.  The objects were discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, sent through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  The mandate of the former honorary consul expired in 2014. Since then, Otakar has no longer had ties to the Italian embassy in Cairo. 

On May 25, 2018 Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's antiquities registries.  This meant that the ancient objects in the container, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic, as well as the Islamic era, had not been stolen from any known museum collection, but were likely the unrecorded finds of clandestine excavations of archaeological sites, possibly from the area near the Nile Rover city of Minya in Upper Egypt, 250 kilometers south of Cairo.  The objects were restituted to The Arab Republic of Egypt on  July 30, 2018.

Widely known as INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization's colour-coded "Notices" are law enforcement communication tools used to enable INTERPOL's 194 member countries to share alerts and requests for information worldwide on missing persons, criminal activity and criminals who are believed to have fled to other jurisdictions to try to evade justice. Created to enhance worldwide police cooperation, a Yellow notice is an alert to help locate missing persons.  A Red notice is effectively a request by a member country to other countries asking for help in locating and making a provisional arrest pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action on a person wanted in a criminal matter.  No country however is obliged to act on the notice and INTERPOL itself recognizes that "each member country decides for itself what legal value to give a red notice within their borders".


Raouf Boutros Ghali who holds passports from Italy and San Marino, is the brother of the former Egyptian Minister of Finance, Youssef Botros Ghaly whose served in that role under then President Hosni Mubarak from 2004 to 2011.  He is also the nephew of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1992 to December 1996 who died in 2016.  

The Egyptian Public Prosecutor also ordered the search of the Italian defendant's residence in Cairo as well as his bank's safe deposit box.  In carrying out this search warrant, other artifacts belonging to the Egyptian civilization were subsequently seized.  

September 15, 2019

Museum Theft: Literally taking the piss, a $4.9m golden lavatory has been stolen from Blenheim Palace


Pre-installation view, "America, 2016" by Maurizio Cattelan arriving at Blenheim Palace, 2019
Image Credit Blenheim Palace
Stolen during a burglary just days after it was plumbed into Blenheim Palace, the monumental country house in Woodstock, Oxfordshire where former prime minister Winston Churchill was born, artist Maurizio Cattelan's
Installation view, "America, 2016"
by Maurizio Cattelan
Image Credit: Blenheim Palace
18-karat gold, fully functional toilet has been yanked out of its posh installation setting on Saturday, September 14th.

Titled "America" the solid golden toilet some have deemed a smug symbol of excess, was created for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City where it debuted in 2016 as part of a "interactive" exhibition usable by the museum's patron's as a modest, single-occupancy museum restroom.  Similarly installed this week in Blenheim Palace's wood-panelled surroundings, the artwork is part of Cattelan's first significant solo exhibition in the UK in 20 years, which was set to run from 12 September - 27 October 2019.

In keeping with the interactive hilarity of Cattelan's installation, the golden throne was reservable in three minute time slots via bookings with the visitor's center in the Great Hall of the 18th Century stately home.  Collection patrons at Blenheim Palace were also encouraged to tag themselves in photos using the hashtags #AmericaBlenheimPalace or #CattelanatBlenheimPalace, though thankfully Brit's seem to have more decorum than to snap self-indulgent selfies on a golden loo. 


When a giant gold coin, weighing 100 kilos was stolen from the Münzkabinett (coin cabinet) at the Bode Museum in Berlin in the early morning hours of March 27, 2017 insider involvement was believed to play a part and subsequently thereafter an employee, who held a subcontracting job at the museum was named a suspect. 

During yesterday's remarkably straight-faced press conference, Inspector Richard Nicholls of the  Thames Valley Police addressed the media to announce details of the toilet's theft.  


Authorities believe thieves in possibly two vehicles left the palace after removing the toilet sometime around 4:50 a.m on Saturday, September 15th. A 66-year-old man has been taken into custody in possible connection with the theft but has yet to be named and until now the toilet has not been recovered. 

All puns aside, and in this case there are many floating around, gold is presently valued at around $1,500 per troy ounce. 18 karat gold is a mixture of pure gold and other metals in the ratio 3:1.  Using that ratio, the toilet would have been made up of 75% pure gold, 15% silver and 10% copper.  Weighing in at 103 kilos of gold (3311.53 troy ounces), once melted down, the smelted gold would be worth $4,967,295 USD.

Person's with any information regarding this incident, should contact the Thames Valley Police on 101, quoting URN 273 (14/9), or report their information via their law enforcement website: https://www.thamesvalley.police.uk

September 8, 2019

Restitution: Painting of Ivan the Terrible by artist Mikhail Panin

"Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina"
by artist Mikhail N. Panin
Image Credit: US Justice Department
An oil painting, titled Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina by artist Mikhail N. Panin, painted in 1911 will finally be going home almost 80 years after it went missing. The artwork had been stolen from the Ekaterinoslav City Art Museum during World War II and was only identified when it was consigned for sale in Alexandria, Virginia.

The artwork depicts the 16th-century Grand Prince of Moscow, Ivan IV Vasilyevich, the first Russian monarch to adopt the term "Tsar of All Russia" as his title.  In the painting  he is seen exiting the walls of a city, looking solemn on a white horse.  Known throughout Russian history as Ivan the Terrible, Ivan IV brutishly divided Russia into two separate territories in 1565.

During this period he ruled the first landholding, known as the Oprichnina, with an iron, and oftentimes terrorizing, fist from 1565 until 1572.  The land under his jurisdiction included the wealthier regions of Muscovy, the former Novgorod Republic in the north,  Dvina, Kargopol, Velikii Ustyug, Vologda and important regions for salt extraction such as Staraya Russa and Soligalich, which in practice meant that he had a monopoly of trade in this important commodity. The second territory, the Zemshchina was ruled by the remaining boyar duma, whose seat of influence and power included the more weakened Moscow. 

The stolen painting was one of 63 artworks known to have disappeared in or around 1941 from the Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum in the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk now known as Dnipro, taken ostensibly by Nazi German troops.  The artwork eventually made its way overseas to a house in far away Ridgefield, Connecticut where the home and the massive artwork were both purchased by David Tracy and his wife Gabby, a Holocaust survivor in 1987. The Tracy's purchased the home themselves from a previous couple who likewise purchased the home along with the painting in 1962, this time from a former Swiss soldier who emigrated to the United States in 1946 but whom had died in 1986.  The artwork had remained in the Ridgefield residence all that time, until the Tracy family, downsizing their home for a smaller condominium, and assuming the canvas was of modest value, consigned the painting to Potomack Company Auctions & Appraisals in Alexandria.

Painting as it appeared in Dnepropetrovsk State Art Museum, circa 1929
Image Credit:  US Justice Department
In preparation for its eventual sale, the painting's history was then researched by Anne Norton Craner, a fine arts specialist with the Potomack Company whose provenance research led her to documentation which identified the 1911 work as being by the Ukrainian artist Mikhail Panin.  As part of her due diligence, Craner contacted the museum in Ukraine, whose curators then supplied her with photos of the painting taken in 1929 when the painting was still part of the collection.  The museum also supplied related inventory documentation which included a notation recording that the artwork was stolen from a city museum and listing it as "taken to Germany by the Hitlerites."

With this information, Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein, owner and CEO of The Potomack Company informed the consignor and contacted the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office, who in turn worked with the State Department and Ukrainian diplomats.  Subsequently thereafter the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia issued a Complaint for Forfeiture in Rem on December 20, 2018 against the defendant property in accordance with Rule G(2) of the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions on the basis that the painting represented the proceeds of the interstate transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen goods.  Appreciating the need for returning the lost painting to its rightful home, the Tracy family agreed to waive any and all claims to the painting.  Once no other claims were filed, the US Government began making plans to return the artwork to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C. 

When speaking about the restitution process U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu stated “The recovery of this art, looted during World War II, reflects the commitment of this office to pursue justice for victims of crime here and abroad. The looting of cultural heritage during World War II was tragic, and we are happy to be able to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners.”

The Potomack Company, pleased with their pivotal role in the painting's restitution, will host a handover ceremony on Monday, September 9th at their gallery in Old Town Alexandria located at 1120 N. Fairfax Street.

Invitees to the event include:

Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States
FBI officers from the Washington Field Office who were involved in this case
Representatives from the US Department of State
Representatives from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia
The Tracy family

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 7, 2019

The interesting fate of Joshua Reynolds' painting "A Young Girl and Her Dog", stolen in 1984.

Image Credit Left: www.thecatalogstar.com
Image Credit Right: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (TFAM)
In 1984 a portrait of young lady Elizabeth Mathew with her dog, painted by Joshua Reynolds, was one of five artworks stolen from the mansion home, the Old Rectory of Sir Henry Price (1877–1963), and Eva ‘Eve’ Mary Dickson (1907–1994), the Lady Price, on church road in Newick, a village in the Lewes District of East Sussex, England.  The theft occurred during one of three burglaries which targeted at least twenty five artworks from Lady Price’s collection.  

Despite its (then) recent disappearance, the oil on canvas portrait, painted in or about 1780, sold a mere four years later during a London auction in July of 1988.  Leading up to the sale, the portrait garnered pride of place on the cover of Sotheby's auction catalog.   The winning bidder, an as yet unnamed member of the art trade, then sold the artwork on to the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (TFAM) in 1990.  All this without anyone; Sotheby's, the should-have-been-well-informed savvy art market buyer, or the prestigious Japanese museum itself, appearing to have done a thorough check on the portrait's validity on the art market before or after acquiring the painting. 

The painting, listed on the museum's website as A Young Girl and Her Dog, had once been exhibited extensively.  It toured as Girl and Dog when displayed at the British Institution in 1831, later at Grafton Gallery in 1891 and again at the New Gallery from 1899 until 1900.  The oil painting was also included as part of a 1913 national loan exhibition at New Grosever Gallery and given a different title, that of Portrait of Miss Mathew, later Lady Elizabeth Mathew.  Apparently relying on these public appearances, the auction house and the subsequent buyers appeared to accept the collection history supplied at the time of the painting's sale.


Thomas Hamlet; his sale, Messrs. George Robins, August 1, 1833
Wynn Ellis; his sale, Christie’s May 6, 1876, lot 96
William Stuart Stirling-Crawford, Milton, who bequeathed it to his widow, Caroline, Duchess of Montrose; her sale, Christie’s, July 14, 1884, lot 36
Henry J. Pfungst from whom it passed to Arthur Smith
Sir Lionel Phillips, Bt., Tylney Hall, Winchfield, Hampshire; his sale, Christie’s, April 25, 1913, lot 58
Arthur Hamilton Lee, Later Viscount Lee of Fareham (1868-1947)

Yet where and when the painting was in the many years that passed after the artwork was purchased by Sir Lionel Phillips in 1913 failed to raise any eyebrows. 

Advocating for the legitimate heirs, descendants of Lady Price, who have been asking the museum for the painting back for years,  Christopher Marinello of Art Recovery International, indicated that the artwork was sold omitting the fact that Sir Henry Price purchased the portrait directly from the Viscount of Fareham in August 1942.  Representing the family in this claim, Marinello provided the museum with a copy of original correspondence for the purchase of the portrait for £6000, as well as related confirming documents and a photograph of the artwork when it was proudly displayed to the left of a fireplace in the family's home.  

"A Young Girl and Her Dog" by Joshua Reynolds
as photographed in the home of Sir Henry and Lady Price
Image Credit: Art Recovery International.
As the painting was not insured at the time of its theft, which would then transfer ownership to an insurance company upon any claims payout) and in accordance with British Common Law, which favors the dispossessed owners and by proxy the family's heirs, the artwork is still legally "owned" by the family in the UK.  British Common law stipulates that a thief cannot pass good title onward, no matter how many subsequent owners subsequently purchase an artwork in apparent good faith. 

According to a report in the Art Newspaper, a lawyer representing the Fuji Art Museum, Haruhiko Ogawa, of Kumada & Ogawa law firm, stated at some point in the process that the museum is currently contesting the Price family heir's (Radley-Smith) claim.  The lawyer indicated that the family of Lady Price and their representative had not established without a doubt that the painting the museum has in its possession is in fact the same one which was stolen in Newick, despite there being no record of another exact work of art executed by the artist Reynolds which matches the individual female and scenery details portrayed in the singular commissioned portrait.  

Artist Joshua Reynolds made his living in the portrait trade and was paid well by wealthy clients who wanted flattering portraits of themselves and or their family members. Like some prolific artists of the period, he established a workshop of drapery painters and assistants who assisted him in keeping up with the large number of commissions he undertook.  Demand for Reynolds work at one point was so high that the artist's records substantiate that the painter had as many as 150 appointments for individual sittings in a single year, sometimes scheduling as many as three sittings a day to keep up with his busy work calendar.

This portrait of A Young Girl and Her Dog, was commissioned by Irish nobleman, Francis Mathew, later the First Earl of Llandaff.  Elizabeth Matthew was his daughter.  It is thought that Reynolds painted the details of Lady Mathew and left both the dog and the painting's surrounding background elements  to others working within his workshop.  This assumption may be speculative though as the pocketbook the artist kept for the period of time when this portrait was completed has been lost over time, obscuring the exact dates for this artwork's sitting, as well as the price paid to the artist for the commission of the 77.5 x 63.5 cm portrait.

Having said that, the purchase of art work on the international market is undoubtedly a ticklish business.  Japanese civil law assumes that if the possessor has acquired a thing stolen or lost in good faith by purchase at an auction, or in a public market, or from a trader who deals in such wares, the individual or individuals wronged can reclaim the object from the possessor, only upon the condition that the wronged individual repays to the possessor the amount which the latter, in this case the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum as the bona fide purchaser, paid for the painting.   

Perhaps to put pressure upon the TFAM, by drawing attention to the case during ICOM Kyoto 2019, the biggest conference of the museum field, Marinello issued a tweet which included a photograph of an apparently overlooked news article from the Mid Sussex Times, published on May 25, 1984, which reported on the theft, clearly mentioning a masterpiece by Joshua Reynolds and which included a large photo of the stolen painting.  Marinello's tweet pushed for the museum to act in good faith by revealing who the consignor was, reminding them of their obligation as an ICOM member museum to adhere to the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. 

ICOM's Code of ethics addresses diverse museum-related topics such as acquisition procedures and compliance with legislation and which specifically states:

2.2 Valid Title
No object or specimen should be acquired by purchase, gift, loan, bequest, or exchange unless the acquiring museum is satisfied that a valid title is held. Evidence of lawful ownership in a country is not necessarily valid title.

2.3 Provenance and Due Diligence
Every effort must be made before acquisition to ensure that any object or specimen offered for purchase, gift, loan, bequest, or exchange has not been illegally obtained in, or exported from its country of origin or any intermediate country in which it might have been owned legally (including the museum’s own country). Due diligence in this regard should establish the full history of the item since discovery or production.

The TFAM has been the subject of acquisition controversy in the past.  In 2012, in a tussle with Italy, the museum was involved in a dispute over the return of a Leonardo da Vinci painting commissioned in the early 16th century for the "Salone dei Cinquecento" of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence after it was established that the artwork had been illegally exported during World War II. The museum also claimed in that instance to have purchased that work in good faith.

On November 26th 2012 the museum and Italy's MiBACT issued a joint statement simultaneously in Tokyo and Rome, wherein the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum and Italy's Ministry of Cultural announced the signing of a long-term loan agreement alongside the donation of Da Vinci's Fight for the Banner, a moment of the "Battle of Anghiari" by the museum.

For now the Radley-Smith heirs sit and wait while the jurisdictions in question hash out who should be favored, the victim of theft or the acquirer in good faith of this stolen work of art.  Unfortunately in this case, the heirs of the family do not have the weight of an entire country's loans to dangle as a carrot for negotiation. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 4, 2019

Recovered: Stolen portrait of William Chester of East Haddon recovered after almost 30 years

LAPD Detective Detective Mel Vergara with
recovered painting stolen in 1991
Sometimes art is stolen with little public fanfare with the loss to owners never making newspaper headlines in quite the same way museum thefts do. This was the case almost thirty years ago when a thief or a group of thieves broke into the home of Judy Karinen in Hollywood Hills in 1991.  During that burglary, the culprit made off with a portrait of William Chester of East Haddon, painted around 1664, which Karinen had purchased for $4,000 in 1985.  


The painting was recovered this past summer, one of 50 stolen paintings Los Angeles police identified via a lead related to an auction earlier this year.  Searching through years of old police records, this single lost portrait was eventually identified by Los Angeles Police Detective Mel Vergara, who then contacted the painting's owner who was happy to have good news from the police department.

As a reminder to all art owners, LAPD officials commented that without the owner's original photo of the portrait of William Chester of East Haddon, which had been attached to the old police report, the stolen painting might never have been identified by officers doing a thorough records search.  Photographing and documenting your collection is key for detective work, as well as for most insurance policies.  Photographic records are also mandatory for listing missing items within the FBI's National Stolen Art File (NSAF) and in some other art loss databases such as the ones managed by Art Loss Register and Artive.

For now, the LAPD's search for artwork owners continues and the squad is asking for help identifying the owners of the portrait of a woman pictured above.  

August 27, 2019

Unsolved Art Theft: Revisiting the theft of Rodin's "The Man with the Broken Nose"


In broad daylight, during opening hours, in peak tourist season, two men entered the Rodin Hall of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen and quickly made off with a 25.5 cm bronze bust by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).  The museum heist was speedy and smoothly executed. 

Part of the Danish museum's collection for 95 years, the stolen artwork was one of approximately 200 busts Rodin created in the form of "The Man with the Broken Nose". The inspiration for which is believed to have been based upon the features of an elderly workman named “Bibi” from the Saint-Marcel district of Paris.  According to expert Jérôme Le Blay, formerly of the Musée Rodin and the founder of the Comité Rodin, these 200 artworks appear in as many as six distinct versions, some forty of which he believes are similar to the one stolen from the Glyptotek. 

Image Credit: 
Copenhagen Police
Having cased the museum nine days earlier, the brazen theft took place on the 16th of July in 2015.  During two separate visits the perpetrators disguised themselves as nondescript visiting tourists and entered into the Dahlerup Wing, the oldest part of the museum.  As verified by Copenhagen Police surveillance footage released one month after the theft, the two criminals were approximately 30 to 40 years of age and of average height, between 170-175 cm tall.

During their first reconnaissance foray inside the museum, the pair detached the bronze sculpture from its plinth, tilting it from its base and then replacing the object to its proper position when no alarm was signalled.  During their second visit, the two individuals entered the museum separately.  With no guard present in the gallery where the bronze was displayed, the first, wearing a greyish blue baseball cap, glasses, and a plaid shirt, feigned interest in another Rodin sculpture located in the same gallery, Les Bourgeois de Calais.  This allowed him to kill time without raising suspicion while awaiting the arrival of his accomplice.  

Image Credit: 
Copenhagen Police
The second man, wearing shorts, a light-coloured panama hat and dark sunglasses, entered the museum with two seperate mail bags, each strapped across his body; one in the front and one towards the back.  He is seen on CCTV stills release by police casually entering the Rodin gallery, where he is seen joining up with his accomplice.  

Once together in the Rodin Gallery, just off the museum's foyer, the straw hatted man removed his second bag and passed it over to his waiting accomplice.  This person in turn placed the empty bag on his own shoulder before the pair moved closer to the Rodin bust.  It is then that they made the first of two attempts to remove the statue from its pedestal.  Stalled briefly, mid-theft, when a visitor arrived, the two waited patiently while first one, then two individuals moved into and out of the gallery. 

Once the potential witnesses had left the gallery, the man in the straw hat continued to stand lookout from inside the gallery while also keeping his eyes on the connecting rooms.  When the coast was finally clear, his baseball hat-wearing accomplice deftly removed the bust from its unalarmed position and quickly placed the sculpture in the bag passed to him earlier.  The pair then exited the Copenhagen museum separately, with the museum's guards and guests none the wiser.

Rodin Gallery of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum. 
Arrow pointing to the pedestal were the sculpture once was.

"Man with the Broken Nose" by Auguste Rodin 
Stolen from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum
on July 16, 2015
Yet, despite sharing security footage with news agencies and a request to the general public should anyone recognized the thieves, few viable leads developed.   Having reached a dead end police formally closed their investigation without a recovery in April 2016.

What are the chances of this sculpture being recovered?

Despite the many counterfeit Rodin sculptures which have polluted the market, buyers' enthusiasm for the pre-eminent sculptor of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist era has not diminished and with time it is possible that this hot work of art might still bubble up on the art market.  In July 2015 Rodin's sculpture "Young Girl With a Serpent" (circa 1886), came up for auction at Christie's and was identified by staff working at Art Recovery International as an artwork stolen from a Beverly Hills couple's home 24 years earlier.

For now the curator's at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum have still to wait, very, very patiently.

August 21, 2019

Restitution: The grassroots work of the IPP pays off again.

Image Credit: Rahul Nangare, 
Indian Revenue Service Diplomat, First Secretary
High Commission of India, London
On August 15, the High Commissioner of India in London accepted the return of two objects looted from India.  The first was a 1st Century BCE - 1st Century CE carved limestone railing, which experts believe may have possibly been stolen from the Buddhist complex at Vaddamānu in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.  The second item, was a 17th century Indian bronze figure depicting the Krishna as Balakrishna, standing on a lotus base.  The Hindu deity is naked except for his jeweled ornaments, dancing with his right leg raised, holding a ball of butter in his right hand.  This statue is believed to have been taken from the area of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state located in the extreme south of the subcontinent.

Both objects were voluntarily relinquished by an unnamed collector said to have purchased the objects via an also unnamed individual, long implicated in illicit trafficking. This unnamed dealer is presumed to be Subhash Kapoor.

For the uninitiated, Vaddamānu in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district might not ring any bells.  But for S. Vijay Kumar, a Singapore-based Indian trafficking expert and co-founder of the India Pride Project, the area is of considerable historic importance and one subject to looting.  ARCA has also noted that excavations in the area have yielded railing pillars, carved in limestone ('Palnad marble), similar to the one that has just been restituted.  One example of such is pictured here. These objects, along with cross-bars, copings, and other architectural elements were used in ancient Vihara and Stupa, some which date as far back as the Mauryan Empire (322 BCE - 185 BCE).  At Buddhist sites such as these, carved stone railings, sometimes square in plan, but more often circular, were used to define the confines of religious sites and could also have been used as decoration to delineate an external processional path.

Both of these recently restituted pieces came to the attention of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) when the London-based collector who possessed them contacted the agency wanting to voluntarily surrender the objects to their rightful home.  The pieces are believed to have been purchased the objects via Subhash Kapoor, a disgraced ancient art dealer arrested in Europe and later extradited.  Kapoor is currently in Indian custody in the high security block of Tiruchirapalli Central Prison in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  There he awaits trial on criminal cases for illegally exporting idols and artefacts from plundered temples.

On 08 July 2019, the Manhattan District Attorney's office followed suit with the Indian government and filed their own formal criminal charges against Kapoor and seven other co-conspirators.  In the court's documentation,  the well organized smuggling ring is believed to have smuggled $145 USD million worth of objects out of India and in to market countries in an operation believed to have lasted for as long as thirty years. Arrest warrants have been issued for all eight defendants on a total of 213 Counts, ranging from grand larceny to criminal possession of stolen property.  


The co-conspirators listed in the July New York Criminal Complaint for Subhash Kapoor et al are: 

Sanjeeve Asokan - Asokan was arrested and charged as a co defendant to Kapoor in India in March 2009.  According to details outlined in the Indian criminal complaint Subhash Chandra Kapoor vs Inspector of Police, para 3., Asokan's involvement in the illicit trafficking ring extended to driving with individual looters to particular villages in Tamil Nadu in order to identify temples which were vulnerable to theft.  Having identified accessible antiquities ripe for the taking, it is alleged that Asokan then supplied the stolen artworks to Kapoor in the United States.  Shipping the loot in staggered shipments from India to lesson the impact of possibly losing an entire shipment should there be a customs seizure.  While awaiting trial in India Asokan is being detained since 25 March 2009 under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Slum-Grabbers (Act 14 of 1982).  As a co-conspirator in the New York case he has been charged with 21 Counts including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (9 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree (1 Count), and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Dean Dayal (also spelled Deen Dayal) - IAs earli as 2016 HSI special agents worked with Tamil Nadu law enforcement authorities to arrest Dayal, and other trafficking co-conspirators in Chennai, India.  As a result of that investigation Dayal was implicated as being one of the principles on the ground behind the actual thefts at targeted temples.  In New York Dayal now faces a total of 5 Counts including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (4 Counts) and one count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Ranjeet Kanwar (now well known as "Shantoo") - Kanwar was named in an earlier criminal complaint in Manhattan Criminal Court, signed by Special Agent Brenton Easter of the Department of Homeland Security against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener. According to statements by a former employee of Kapoor, Kanwar was one of Subhash Kapoor's alleged suppliers of stolen antiquities.  His name appears on a computer disk file folder that contained at least three pictures of  looted Seated Buddha #1 found at the Sofia Bros. Storage, in New York County, a storage facility rented by Subhash Kapoor. Kanwar faces a total of 4 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (1 Count), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (2 Counts), and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Vallabh Prakash - In November 2016 authorities in Indian reopened a then 11-year-old case with the help of HSI special agents, which served to identify the smugglers of the now repatriated religious stone idol of Vriddhachlam Ardhanari. Vallabh Prakash and his son, two antique dealers in Mumbai, operated Indo-Nepal Art Centre, a gallery which offered the stolen Ardhanari to Subhash Kapoor and who together smuggled the statue into the United States. Kapoor later sold this idol with false paperwork to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2004.  Father and Son were arrested in India in November 2017. Vallabh Prakash now faces a total of 11 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts) and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Aditya Prakash - As mentioned above in November 2016 authorities in Indian reopened a then 11-year-old case with the help of HSI special agents, which served to identify the smugglers of the now repatriated religious stone idol of Vriddhachlam Ardhanari. The son of Vallabh Prakash, Aditya Prakash, was co-proprietor of the Indo-Nepal Art Centre along with his father.  Arrested together with his father in 2017 several cases are still pending against the duo in Nellai, Palavur and Viruddhachalam. It is believed that many of the stolen idols from the temples in Tamil Nadu were smuggled through the involvement of this family, including 13 idols from the Sri Narambunatha Swamy Temple, Pazhavoor in Tirunelveli district on the Tirunelveli-Kanniyakumari border.  Aditya Prakash faces an additional 11 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts) and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.



Subhash Kapoor himself is listed in a total of 86 Counts in the recent New York charging document.  His charges include Grand Larceny in the First Degree (1 Count), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (16 Counts), Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (13 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (50 Counts), Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (1 Count) Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree (3 Counts), Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (1 Count) and one Count of Scheme and Defraud in the First Degree.

Before Kapoor's arrest on 30 October 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport for the charges he faces in India and his subsequent extradition from Germany to India on 14 July 2012, the influential dealer was widely feted in New York art circles.  In connection with his business, he maintained contacts around the globe, in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bangkok, Bangladesh, Dubai, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan, with several of his associates implicated in shipping and selling stolen objects supplied with fake provenance to hide their illicit origin. At the height of his operation, Kapoor personally visited Tamil Nadu frequently which underscores the intimacy of the collector-dealer-smuggler-looter network as it relates to these cases.

Reflective of and similar to the recent restitution, Kapoor's name has already been tied to looted antiquities from Andhra Pradesh, the zone where the limestone railing returned via the UK originates from.  In 2016, a 3rd century CE stone panel, illegally exported from India, originating from the Satavahana-era Buddhist Complex of Chandavaram. was also returned to India by the National Gallery of Australia.  In that instance, the museum stated that it had been duped into purchasing the carving from Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery for $595,000 USD in 2005 after the dealer provided themuseum with falsified provenance documentation indicating that the object had left the country of origin before the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  That object was later clearly identified as having been stolen from the Chandavaram site museum in 2001.


Terracotta Rattle in the form of a Yaksha 
Metropolitan Museum Accession Number: 1990.309
Likely as a result of the increased pressure by grassroots organizations such as India Pride Project and law enforcement and prosecutors pressing formal charges against actors in the US, UK and India, two museums in the United States are finally taking action in evaluating the ethics of retaining prized antiquities within their collections, which are likely tied to Kapoor's illegal activities. According to an article in the New York Times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has at least 15 antiquities known to be directly or indirectly associated with Subhash Kapoor which have been acquired after 1990.

The first, the terracotta rattle pictured at left in the form of yakshas (male nature spirit), dates to the 1st Century BCE Shunga period, comes from the archaeological site of Chandraketugarh in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is documented in the Met's collection with no other provenance aside from a passing mention that it was purchased from Kapoor's now shuttered Madison Avenue gallery, Art of the Past.

At the time of Kapoor's arrest in Europe, the Met's management and curatorial staff showed little interest whatsoever in reviewing the legitimacy of the Kapoor linked pieces within their collection.  This despite the spartan provenance which accompanied many of his objects and the fact that it has been proven in other instances that the network falsified provenance documentation.

Now, perhaps in hindsight, and in the wake of recent embarrassing seizures, including an Egyptian mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, an Italian Bell-Krater by Python and a Lebanese marble head of a bull it seems that the Met has finally decided it might be prudent to rethink its stance on some of its art acquisitions from India.

Image Credit:  S. Vijay Kumar
Via Twitter 8 February 2019
Likewise on 20 August 2019 it was finally announced that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had come round to deaccessioning its own contested Buddha.  First identified by India Pride Project in February 2018 and related to the same theft as the restituted Nalanda Buddha identified at Maastricht's TEFAF in 2018, LACMA had, until recently, resisted acknowledging that the bronze in their collection was stolen 58 years ago.  This despite the fact that the bronze was matched via an image India Pride Project had obtained of 14 objects stolen from the Nalanda Archaeological Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Nalanda, Bihar, India in 1961.  Despite this overwhelming evidence, it took almost a year and a half of pressuring the museum,  pursuing India’s claim, for LACMA to decide to deaccession the stolen bonze.

All too often, even when faced with proof of illicit origin, museums weigh the rarity or price of their acquisition above the ethical responsibility of voluntarily restituting objects found to have passed through the illicit market.  When they do, they overlook the cumulative cultural cost of lost art to poorer and more vulnerable source countries such as, in this case, India.  It is critical to remember that each and every object stolen or looted, whether or not the statute of limitations has expired, presents a loss to the source nation's cultural patrimony, and when there are many objects plundered, as can be seen within this one trafficking network, each of these losses has a cumulative negative effect.

Those working in the black market bank of the fact that many sculptures stolen from small villages are less likely to be reported to the police, and if they are reported, that not much is achieved because little documentation is made outlining the details surrounding the theft or the object itself making it difficult to determine the actors involved.  Thankfully illicit antiquities researchers, and now more often key prosecutors, like those in New York, are willing to consider the evidence collected by diligent researchers and scholars, as well as reviewing the historic records of civil servants, even retired ones, in order to access overlooked details like old photographs and museum records which can sometimes help determine in determining if the provenance provided to contested pieces is fact or fiction.

By:  Lynda Albertson




August 12, 2019

More from the Rogues' Gallery - An orphaned William Ashford painting, stolen in 2006, returns home.


Some art thieves are savvy characters, others are...let's just say, special.

By December 2018, burglar, petty criminal, art and book thief, Andrew Shannon has racked up 52 convictions for burglary, theft and criminal damages, 13 of which related to offenses which took place in foreign jurisdictions, including the handling of stolen property.

Andrew Shannon Photo Credit: Collins
Some of his criminal offenses have been mundane, like the 2016 theft of seventeen electric toothbrushes worth only €200 from a supermarket in Swords, a suburb of Dublin.  Others have been just plain peculiar, like the intentional damage he inflicted punching Monet's 1874 painting Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat, an incident that took place at the National Gallery of Ireland on 29 June 2012.  That bizarre act of vandalism resulted in three tears, the longest of which was 25 centimeters, and took conservators eighteen months to repair.  For this impulsive incident, Shannon was sentenced by Judge Martin Nolan in December 2014 to six year imprisonment, with the final 18 months of his sentence suspended. 


A known serial thief as far back as 2009 Shannon seems to have had a penchant for burgling stately homes, often with the help of accomplices. Travelling from Ireland to target English properties, he often posed as a tourist, pilfering porcelain vases, ashtrays, books, ornamental lions, figurines, valuable antique books and once, even a walking stick. 

Carton House in Kildare
The historical family seat of the FitzGerald family.
By 2014, police were narrowing in on his escapades and in April Ireland's Gardaí or "the Guards", the police service of the Republic executed a search warrant on Shannon's home and recovered some 43 paintings some immediately linked to known thefts and others not.  While owners were identified for some of the artworks, others went unclaimed despite a nationwide appeal.  Shannon sued for the return of these remaining art orphans, however, Judge John Coughlan ruled against him.  Basing his ruling on the fact that Shannon was already notorious as a thief as well as the fact that the claimant had failed to provide verifiable proof of actual ownership, the judge ordered the forfeiture of all remaining unclaimed artworks which then become the property of the state.

In 2016 Shannon was convicted of stealing 57 stolen antique books, once part of the library at Carton House in Kildare, including one of only six rare 1660 editions of the King James Bible.  The books had disappeared in November 2006 when left in storage during a restoration of the country house.  These were recovered in the suspect's home, displayed in neat rows.  When questioned about their origins, Shannon lied to the authorities and stated that he had purchased them in 2002 at a fete in the Midlands.

As recently as May 2019 Shannon lost his appeal Dublin Circuit Criminal Court over an earlier conviction stemming from the theft of an 1892 oil painting by Frederick Goodall stolen from Bantry House, in Cork, in March of 2006.  Blaming his sticky fingers on both his heart disease and his addiction to benzodiazepines and harder substances while recovering from a quadruple heart bypass, the court prosecution built their case against the prolific offender by illustrating how the kleptomaniac had habitually and repeatedly filched a surprising array of objects, some of which had very little monetary value.  Not buying into offender's medical complications excuse, Judge Patricia Ryan sentenced Shannon to two years imprisonment, backdating Shannon's sentence to 20 February 2018,  the day he was taken into custody for this particular offense. 

Flash forward to this summer, when in June 2019 one of the seized 2014 artworks, a painting by English painter William Ashford, was put up for sale at Adams Art Gallery.  As a result of the publicity around the upcoming sale, the painting was recognized by someone who had once worked on the artwork when it was part of the collection at the Royal Dublin Society.

This orphaned artwork, missing since 2006, has now been returned to the RDS.

August 6, 2019

Recovered: Almost half a century after it was stolen the Portrait of Admiral Charles Fanshawe comes home


In September 1971 six portraits were stolen during a burglary at the Valence House Museum in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Shortly after the thefts, law enforcement recovered two of the art works and all 6 frames but over the next four decades the investigation would grind to a standstill with no further recoveries.

That changed in January 2019 when the Fanshawe family set up a Google Alert to notify them if and when any family memorabilia might come up for sale and through a bit of good luck, received a Google notification that a Fanshawe portrait, listed at a value of $3000, was to be auctioned in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

With the help of the FBI Legal Attaché in London and the Upper Dublin Police Department, London's Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit worked with the FBI's art crime team in the United States to recover the portrait which is set to go on display later this month. 

August 3, 2019

Still Missing: Remembering the theft at the Sonobudoyo Museum


This blog post revisits the case of theft of the Sonobudoyo Museum in Yogyakarta, which occured on On August 11, 2010.  Nine years after the burglary, authorities have still found no traces of any of the stolen objects and the theft is considered to be the largest museum collection loss in the history of Indonesia. 

In total some eighty-seven pieces, many dating from the the 8th and 9th centuries from the Medang Empire or Mataram Kingdom, a Javanese Hindu–Buddhist kingdom that flourished between the 8th and 11th centuries, were stolen.   

On the evening before the theft was detected, Tuesday, August 10, 2010, the Sonobudoyo Museum was open until 10pm for a shortened version of Wayang Kulit, an Indonesian form of shadow puppetry, which described historic storylines executed by a dhalang, or puppet master. 

The theft however was not detected until the morning of Wednesday, August 11, 2010, when the museum opened.  Staffer Bambang Suprayogi, became suspicious when he discovered broken glass in his office adjacent to the collection storage location which in turn led to broken glass from three of the museum’s glass display cabinets.   

Examining the crime scene, police found that the thief or thieves may have entered through a broken window but failed to find any of the perpetrators' fingerprints.  Later it was determined that the alarm system and CCTV were not functional for an extended period of time. 

Some of the objects which were stolen include:

» a gold mask,
» 19 gold plates,
» a gold crown,
» numerous necklaces,
» and a Dhyani Buddha statue made of gold-plated bronze.

To date law enforcement investigations have not identified the culprits or recovered the stolen objects.  In 2011 investigators focused on security irregularities and suspicions converged on two museum employees however no charges have ever been formally brought.  Some believe the theft occurred over an extended period of time and not simply during one specific evening.  






July 28, 2019

Conference: 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium - Save the Date and Call for Presentations

Image Credit:  City Gallery Wellington
Event:  ArtCrime2019 - the 5th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium
Location: City Gallery Wellington
Te Ngākau Civic Square, Wellington, New Zealand
Date: Saturday 19 October 2019

Hosted by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and other sponsors, ArtCrime2019 will encompass a wide range of presentations on issues and aspects of art crime in New Zealand and elsewhere, under the umbrella of the overall theme of "iconoclasts, vandals and artists".

The event will include a range of presentations, plus ample opportunities for networking.

Those interested in presenting are invited to submit 200-word abstracts for 20-minute presentations, within the broad ambit of the overall theme by Friday 9th August 2019 to:

artcrimenz@gmail.com

Abstract proposals should be pasted into the body of submission email and include a short biography (up to 350 words, and including were appropriate short summaries of relevant publications and previous conference or symposia presentations). 

Successful presenters will be notified by email by Friday 30 August 2019 and will have their Symposium's registration fee waived. 

For further information please see ehe New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust  symposium website page