Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts

November 14, 2012

November 12, 2012

Pretoria Art Museum in South Africa robbed

"Street Scene" by Gerard Sekoto was one of the paintings stolen
 from the Pretoria Art Museum
 (City of  Tishwane, Courtesy of The Los Angeles Times' website)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Three men paid admission to the Pretoria Art Museum, checked to see that the art gallery was empty, then pointed a gun at a museum employee and used a list to steal six paintings worth 15 million South African Rands on Sunday morning -- although one of the paintings was abandoned when it did not fit into the getaway car, a silver Toyota Avante.

Robyn Dixon for The Los Angeles Times identified the painting left behind on the sidewalk as "Two Malay Musicians" by Irma Stern, valued at $1.5 million, the most valuable work taken from the museum.  

"It's particularly distressing to see the increased use of violence in the commission of art crimes," said Chris Marinello, director of the Art Loss Register.  "Let's face it, very few museum security measures can stand up to an armed group of criminals.  The last thing we want to see is airport- like security at museums around the world but it does look like we're approaching that solution.  It's a sad commentary on society."

The museum's closed-circuit television system was not working -- a problem was reported on Thursday, according to a spokesman for the municipality.  The museum's CCTV was repaired Monday morning, Dixon reported.

Found this posted on Art Insure's Facebook Page
The five stolen paintings included work by Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto, Maggie Laubser, JH Pierneef, and Hugo Naude.

Jon Gambrell of the Associate Press reported from Johannesburg that the stolen art is valued at $2 million in US dollars:
The robbers favored oil paintings in their theft, grabbing a 1931 painting by famous South African artist Irma Stern of brightly colored sailboats waiting against a pier, city spokesman Pieter de Necker said. Other works stolen included a gouache drawing of an eland and bird by South African landscape artist J.H. Pierneef, a pastel-toned street scene by Gerard Sekoto, a thick-stroked oil painting of a chief by Hugo Naude and a picture of a cat near a vase full of petunias by Maggie Laubser.

September 30, 2011

Forgery in South Africa: The Story of Frans Claerhout

A 'fake'

by Toby Orford

Higher prices for art are an inevitable sign of emerging market maturity – and also widespread criminal activity. Although art dealers and auctioneers are discreet about the scope of the problem in South Africa, the sales of art attributed to the artist Frans Claerhout on an internet auction site is blatant evidence that art forgery is an ongoing problem that cannot be ignored or, it seems, stopped.

A Belgian Catholic missionary priest, Frans Claerhout, lived most of his life in the Orange Free State. From 1957 onwards – heavily influenced by Flemish expressionism - Claerhout painted a large number of landscapes and figures. Other media included drawings in charcoal, pen-and-ink and crayon.

In 2002 the artist belatedly acknowledged that a close family friend of 45 years had started independently to copy his work, without his knowledge or involvement, and that “hundreds” of forgeries had been sold as originals in well-known Bloemfontein art gallery.

Claerhout died in 2006. Several years later a suspiciously large number of works are being sold on South African internet auction – and private - websites. Anonymous sellers are advertising works at prices in the region of ZAR 3,000 (approx USD 375) to ZAR 7,000 (approx USD 875). As Artinsure ( has noted, in a clumsy attempt to manufacture credible provenance, paintings are accompanied by a “Certificate of Authenticity” and, on the back, a reproduction of a supposedly original message from the artist. Unfortunately, the pro forma message does not refer to the artwork to which it is attached -  and is also false.

The quality of the work is inexplicably amateurish and inferior, and obviously inconsistent with the artist’s style, technique and imagery. Moreover, buyers have reported that paintings have arrived with fresh, wet – even smudged – paint, on board that only recently became available in South Africa.

Nevertheless, the tactic of selling fakes very cheaply on the internet has been quite successful. It has been reported that more than 30 such forgeries have been identified. The low prices are both a temptation and a warning. It is usually the less wealthy and less experienced purchaser that is deceived. Tempted by greed to “beat the market”, even those who suspect that they have been deceived probably don’t care. Or, for such a low outlay, they are prepared to take the risk – or to turn a blind eye to what is going on.  
Cecile Loedolff, an art curator, said in 2002 that the Absa Bank Collection had decided a long time ago to stop buying Claerhout paintings:

" I don't touch a Claerhout ….. I find it very strange that nobody became suspicious earlier. In the last few years, Claerhouts have been issued at the speed of white light."

People are naturally concerned about the authenticity of anything attributed to Claerhout and this will always be bad news for the value of his art. This may explain why as recently as Monday 26 September 2011 several Claerhout paintings failed to sell at a major fine art auction in Cape Town.

The South African Police are investigating. Previous police investigations have failed and a lack of training, experience and resources means that criminal prosecutions are unlikely. Unfortunately is not taking any action, because (it says) it has yet to be presented with any “hard, factual evidence or proof” and has not been contacted by the authorities.

And so, nearly ten years later, the uncertainty, which some lamely predicted would “sort itself out”, continues. The general reluctance to confront and stop such obviously fraudulent activity is surprising.

Privately funded litigation might be the only way to break this vicious circle. Robert Badenhorst is an artist and gallery owner who agrees that Claerhout values have dropped. He is currently considering whether to overcome inertia and to organise a private investigation in order to collect the evidence that is necessary to prosecute the sellers. Civil litigation against them is also a possibility. Although the buyers who have been cheated want to recover their losses, the main objective of any legal action would be to “name and shame” – and stop the forgeries. This is necessary in order to protect Claerhout’s legacy. But it is also necessary to protect the reputation of South African art in general. 

© Toby Orford 2011

July 26, 2011

South African Lawyer Specializing in art law, shares his experiences with conferences in Milan and Amelia

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The ARCA blog has been running a series of posts about the speakers who presented at ARCA's third annual Art Crime Conference on July 9th and 10th. Toby Orford, a lawyer specializing in art law in South Africa, attended ARCA's conference in Amelia this year. He also attended a conference in Milan. We decided to share his experiences with readers of our blog. During the conference, Mr. Orford stayed at Palazzo Farrattini, a Renaissance building within the walls of this medieval town.

ARCA Blog: Toby, what conference did you attend in Milan and what was your perception?
Toby: Speakers at Christie's Holocaust Art Looting and Restitution Symposium included eminent international lawyers, academics and activists. The choice of Milan was deliberate. Italy's inconsistent track record of restitution "requires a more extensive explanation" and some of the speakers - notably Charles Goldstein from the Commission for Art Recovery - pointed out inter alia that missing art works taken from Italian Jews is probably still in Italian museums, institutions and private collections. The lack of serious research or restitution in Italy (and indeed instances where restitution has been revoked and export licenses blocked) is in contrast to Italy's recent campaigns for the recovery of its own cultural property. Other countries have made greater efforts. Norman Palmer spoke about the work of the UK's restitution commission - the Spoliation Advisory Panel. He and the other experts highlighted the on-going and unresolved moral and legal aspects of restitution - as well as changes in government policy and (post the Washington Conference) the development of changing legal principles and claims procedures. All in all the Milan conference was a thought-provoking precursor to ARCA's Amelia conference.
ARCA Blog: This is the first time you attended the ARCA art crime conference. What had you expected and did the conference meet your expectations?
Toby: The focus of ARCA goes beyond World War II restitution. The conference dealt with all kinds of present-day threats to cultural property, including looting, theft, fraud and destruction. Not surprisingly, as a lawyer I appreciated the legal discussions. I think that there is scope for some more "law" next time - with reference to the achievements noted during the Milan conference. But the other disciplines created new insights into the practical and theoretical aspects of heritage protection. The more academic topics were usefully balanced at the end of the proceedings by Chris Maranello's matter-of-fact talk on the day to day work of the Art Loss Register. He reminded us that it is vital to translate words into action. So, yes, the conference met all of my expectations and expanded my understanding considerably. I am also finding the ARCA blog's talk summaries very useful.
ARCA Blog: What do you think will most be carried back with you to South Africa as far as knowledge and experience?
Toby: Restitution is much talked about in Africa but in a confused and undisciplined way. This is mostly due to misunderstanding and misinformation. And, thanks to colonial complications, frustration. The hard won and piecemeal progress, and the on-going challenges in other parts of the world, explain the nature and scope of the problem - and identify some of the solutions. And so both of these disciplined and focused conferences - in their different ways - helped me to understand what has happened, and what still must happen. Others should benefit too and, for example, I am recommending the work of ARCA to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). Perhaps ARCA will benefit from closer ties with similar agencies in other countries?