Showing posts with label Frieze. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frieze. Show all posts

January 20, 2019


Stolen 80 years ago, a section of an Achaemenid-era (550-330 BC) bas-relief, once part of a long line of rock-carved soldiers displayed and then stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and later recovered 2000 miles away in Edmonton, Canada has been put on temporary exhibition, touring at the  Mashhad’s Khorasan Great Museum, northeast Iran. 

Patron views relief during an unveiling ceremony held at the
Khorasan Grand Museum on Monday, December 24, 2018
Image Credit: Iranian Student News Association
The limestone sculpture, from the UNESCO-registered site of Persepolis in southern Iran, was recently restituted to Iranian officials by the District Attorney of New York County in September, 2018.

Relief takes centerstage at the Khorasan Grand Museum
Image Credit: Iranian Student News Association

July 25, 2018

New York Supreme Court judge orders plundered bas-relief from the city of Persepolis must be returned to Iran

A New York Supreme Court judge has ordered the plundered bas-relief from the city of Persepolis, which dates from the 5th Century B.C.E., must be returned to Iran as the country from which authorities say it was stolen more than 80 years ago.  

In February 2014 ARCA wrote about a sandstone bas-relief panel then-titled, "Head of a Guard" stolen in September 2011 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and found 2000 miles away in Edmonton.  The Persian Achaemenid relief from Persepolis was one of the museum's only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE) and had been part of the museum's permanent collection for decades. 

It was discovered thanks to a collaborative criminal investigation by the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with a Loss Adjuster from the insurance firm AXA Art.

Shortly after its recovery, and with the MMFA unable, or uninterested, in buying the piece back from its insurer, the Persepolis relief was sold.   AXA Art sold the relief to  London antiquities dealer Rupert Wace, owner of Rupert Wace Ancient Art and the object entered the commercial art market.

Rare and highly valuable on the ancient art market, the relief's debut was highlighted in an article by Royal Academy of Art's Charles Saumarez Smith and Sam Phillips titled What to see at Frieze 2016.   In that article, the pair picked out some of their favourite artwork on sale at the London fairs and this image of an ancient fellow was one of them.

The article opened with a high-resolution image of the Assyrian relief and went on to say that the antiquity was located at the booth of Sam Fogg near the show's entrance.  It mentioned the relief as being museum quality and that it was once part of the Montreal Museum of Art collection but made no mention of its theft in Canada or why the Museum did not buy back the object at the time it was recovered.  A further article in The Guardian stated that the piece was for sale for £2.2 million. 

But then the little soldier didn't sell.

The Park Avenue Armory. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Later, on October 27, 2017, law enforcement authorities confiscated the antiquity from Rupert Wace's own stand at the Park Avenue Armory during the first hours of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in New York.  The seizure was done under orders from the New York district attorney’s office on the basis that it had been unlawfully transported out of its country of origin.

Court records indicate that archeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago had documented that the same bearded, eight-inch-square, relief of a Persian imperial guard could be seen in old photographs adorning the Persepolis ruins in Iran as late as the year 1936.  Given that the Iranian government had criminalised the export of such antiquities in 1930, the New York authorities seized the antiquity as evidence in a possession of stolen property investigation.

Antiquities dealer Rupert Wace argued that the relief had been donated to the Quebec National Museum by Canadian department store heir and collector Frederick Cleveland Morgan sometime between 1950 and 1951 and had been openly exhibited at the museum without any requests from Iran up until the date it was stolen in 2011.

Image Credit:  Courtesy of the
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
But on Monday, July 23, 2018 a New York Supreme Court judge sided with Iran and ordered that the eight-inch-by-eight-inch work be returned to its country of origin on the basis that a thief cannot pass on good title on stolen goods.

As can be seen by this artworks presence in both the London and later New York sale venues, insurance claims can get complicated when it comes to magnificent art works once donated without fabricated, little, or no provenance to museums.  Especially when it comes to objects donated during time periods when stricter standards of due diligence may not have been satisfactorily applied.  This is especially true when high-value, high-portability and rapidly appreciating works of art are stolen and subsequently recovered years later. 

Updated:  26 May 2018

To view New York's very very interesting Application for Turnover and its details on the transactions and due diligence of both AXA and the dealer purchaser in determining this object's legitimacy in the market, please see here. 

To view New York's Final Turnover Order please see here. 

By Lynda Albertson

October 9, 2016

A Persian soldier from Persepolis loses his second home

In February 2014 ARCA wrote about a sandstone bas-relief panel then-titled, "Head of a Guard" stolen in September 2011 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and found 2000 miles away in Edmonton in February 2014. The relief was recovered thanks to a collaborative criminal investigation by the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with a Loss Adjuster from AXA Art.

At the time of the recovery, Clare Dewey, then a Claims Manager with AXA art in Canada stated that AXA's "responsibility to our policy holders doesn’t end with a claims payment; we have a duty to work with law enforcement to recover cultural artefacts."
Achaemenid-era carving of Persian and Median soldiers in traditional
costume (Medians are wearing rounded hats and boots), in Persepolis, Iran
The Persian Achaemenid relief from Persepolis had been, at the time of its theft, part of the museum's permanent collection for decades. So imagine my disappointment when this photograph turned up on ARCA's Instagram feed.


A bit of follow-up research seems to indicate that the handsome soldier holding his weapon unfortunately is no longer part of the MMFA's collection and has entered the commercial art market as the piece is highlighted in an article by Royal Academy of Art's Charles Saumarez Smith and Sam Phillips titled What to see at Frieze 2016.   In the article, the pair pick out some of their favourite artwork at this year’s Frieze fairs in London and our little fella is one of them. 

The article opens with a high-resolution image of the Assyrian relief from Persepolis and goes on to state that it is located at the display stand of Sam Fogg near the show's entrance.  It mentions the relief being museum quality and that it was once part of the Montreal Museum of Art collection but makes no mention of its theft or why the piece apparently didn't return to the museum's collection after all. A guardian article states the piece is for sale for £2.2m. 


"As the curator who was responsible for organizing the exhibition hall from which the object was stolen over two years ago, I am obviously very happy to see this beautiful work of ancient sculpture return to the museum. It was one of our only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE). 

It represents in low relief the head and shoulder of an armed Persian guard and probably decorated the walls of one of the several Achaemenid palaces spread across the Persian empire. Similar pieces are found in various museums and most were looted from palace sites in the first part of the 19th century. This particular piece is very well preserved and had suffered no damage during its recent adventure. 

The work of the RCMP and the Sureté du Québec in recovering this artefact was remarkable and the officers in question are to be complimented for the quality of their work and its successful end. We all hope that this success will deter would-be thieves from attempting other such thefts. The investigation continues to try and recover the second object stolen from the museum also in the autumn of 2011." 


As can be seen by this artworks presence in the London sale venue at Regent's park, insurance claims can get complicated when it comes to magnificent art works held by museums.  This is especially true when high-value, high-portability and rapidly appreciating works of art are stolen and subsequently recovered years later.   

Who gets to keep an insured artwork usually depends on the policy-holder's "buy-back" rights; specifically written clauses contained in property insurance policies that insure against physical loss or damage of high-value tangible property. In many cases buy-back clauses give the insured, in this case a museum,  first rights when in comes to buying the object back from the insurance company.  The buy-back amount is usually the amount of the original physical loss payment plus, on some occasions, a loss adjustment fee. 

When things go missing, in-house counsel for museums and boards of trustees must manage the financial loss when these assets are stolen and then weigh if it is in the museum's best interests to buy the object back if and when they are found.  Sometimes museum's decline to do so, and sadly, as may be the case with this lovely example of Persian art of the Achaemenid period, sometimes a museum just doesn't choose to, or have the financial liquidity to do so, and the object then goes up for sale on the commercial art market. 

By Lynda Albertson