Showing posts with label theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theft. Show all posts

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

March 2, 2018

Repatriations - a 17th century Italianate landscape and a first century CE marble sculpture depicting Aphrodite

Two months into the new year brings with it two significant repatriations for objects stolen in Italy and illegally transferred for sale on foreign art markets.  Both artworks, an oil painting and a marble statue, were discovered during auction sales, despite having been stolen in Italy. 

This week a 17th century Italianate landscape, attributed to either Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765) or Andrea Locatelli (1695-1741), has made its way home to Italy.  

Donated in 1892 by the Italian noble Torlonia family, the oil painting was stolen on January 1, 1994.  In November 2017 the artwork was identified by the Italian authorities when it came up for sale at a London auction house. Its starting bid: 40.000 GBP.

At some point the painting appears to have passed through the hands of the Roman branch of the London auction house, before being transferred to London for sale.  Under Italy’s Cultural Heritage Code any artwork created more than fifty years ago (i.e. before 1947 in this case) by a deceased artist requires an export licence in order to be exported.  No information has been released by the Italian authorities as to if the consigner provided the auction house with such a document and if so, if that document was valid or fabricated.  

After this week's press conference, the painting will be returned to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and reintegrated into the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica where it will go on display at either the the Palazzo Barberini or the Palazzo Corsini. 


One month earlier, on January 30, 2018 the Carabinieri reported that a first century CE marble sculpture depicting the torso of the goddess Aphrodite had also been repatriated to Italy.  This marble statue, with an estimated value of €300.000 had been stolen in 2011 from the University of Foggia and was identified by Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale for sale in Munich Germany in 2013. 

In the scope of a lengthy investigation, Italian and German authorities identified identified an organized smuggling ring, operating between Italy and Germany, where looted antiquities plundarded from Italy passed from the hands of a looter, through a  middleman, who carried out the deliveries abroad, on to the individual in Germany who sold objects to collectors interested in antiquities in Germany. 

In 2016, when those involved in this trafficking operation were taken into custody, more than 2,500 objects were seized which had not yet made their way to Germany.   The statue of Aphrodite, was returned to Italy via international letters rogatory and with cooperation from the German authorities as well as the Public Prosecutor's Office of Rome. 


October 6, 2017

Friday, October 06, 2017 - ,,, No comments

Theft: Pierre-Auguste Renoir "Portrait d'une Jeune Fille Blonde"

Image Left: Pierre-Auguste Renoir self Portrait
Image Right: Stolen "Portrait d'une jeune fille blonde" 
Image Credit: La Gazette Drouot
Painting: Portrait d'une Jeune Fille Blonde
Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Medium: oil on canvas with dimensions of 14 cm by 12.2 cm
Identifying items: AR initials in the top left of the painting.  Frame labeling: Chaussegros (Vichy), and a canvas numbering "022"
Stolen: September 30, 2017
Location of Theft: l'Hôtel des Ventes de Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines)
13, rue Thiers, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France

The painting was taken, unnoticed, from the wall of a gallery the Parisian auction l'Hôtel des Ventes de Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines) operated by SGL Enchères/F. Laurent de Rummel where the artwork had been on display just prior to its auction.  

Image Credit:  Online Auction Catalog http://www.sgl-encheres.com/
The thief purportedly unhooked the painting and left the premises without being seen.  Value details can be seen in the screen capture from the auctioneers website above. 







February 6, 2014

Lipinski Stradivarius, Milwaukee: Highlights from the Milwaukee Police press conference on the theft and recovery of the violin loaned to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

By Lynda Albertson

During today’s noon press conference regarding the theft and recovery of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's Lipinski Stradivarius, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said: “There are good days and there are bad days. Today is a good day.” Barrett then went on to state that the investigation into the recovery of the violin was due in large part to the model cooperation between the Milwaukee Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and the helpful citizens of the city.

Chief Edward Flynn of the Milwaukee Police Department indicated that during the course of the investigation officers followed up on various tips phoned in to both the police department’s tip line and others phoned in directly to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

In investigating several possible leads the Milwaukee Police Department and members of the FBI's art squad, including Special Agent David Bass looked into local “taser” buyers in the Milwaukee area.  In the course of their research the self defense products firm Taser International provided information to investigating officers which included the name of one Michigan purchaser, Universal Knowledge Allah, who’s identity proved critical in the arrest and recovery of the Stradivarius.  

Following the execution of five separate search warrants, officers detained three suspects.  Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn described those arrested as two men ages 41 and 36 and one  32 year old woman, who was later described as being the possible driver of the get-away car. 

While two of the subjects brought in for questioning were not directly named during the official law enforcement press conference, the following three individuals were listed by Wisconsin News and Radio Station 620WTMJ as the three individuals brought in by the police for questioning yesterday:  Universal Allah, Salah Jones and Latoya Atlas.  One of these three suspects, Salah Jones, is a 41-year-old Milwaukee resident once linked to the theft of the $25,000 statue "Woman with Fruit" by Nicolas Africano from the Michael Lord Gallery on November 7, 1995.

Conversations with one of the three detainees led to police requesting a sixth search warrant Wednesday night, February 5th for a home located on E. Smith Street on Milwaukee's south east side.  Upon executing the search warrant, the Lipinski Stadivarius was recovered in what appears to be good or excellent condition stored in a suitcase in the house's attic.

The residence where the violin was recovered appears to have been an acquaintance of one of the detained individuals brought in for questioning.   Police did not indicate to reporters that this individual had any involvement in the theft. While no formal charges have yet been filed, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm indicated that charges are likely to be filed against at least one of the suspects as early as Friday. 

No information was available at the press conference regarding whether or not any of the leads in the recovery warranted all or part of the $100,000 reward offered by an anonymous donor for information leading to the safe return of the Lipinski Stradivarius.

Here's a link to the announcement by the Milwaukee Police regarding finding the Lipinski Stradivarius violin.

November 22, 2013

Museum of the History of the Olympic Games: Seven men sentenced in Patras for theft

The ARCAblog asked Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, who accepted an award at ARCA's Conference last June, for Greek accounts of the conviction of seven men for the robbery of the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games. Dr. Tsirogiannis recommended this link: Anthi Koutsoubou at News 247 and provided a correct translation:
The conviction of seven people, accused of robbery in the museum of Ancient Olympia in February 2012, was decided by a three-member Criminal Court in Patras on Wednesday, November 20. More specifically,  five of the seven who faced charges [each one of them faced different charges] of robbery, theft of antiquities,  attempted sale of stolen antiquities and attempted murder, were jailed. The man who had entered the museum and grabbed the artifacts received 17 years imprisonment, two were sentenced to six years and two others to seven years. Two Bulgarian defendants, were also found guilty, but were given 2 years suspended sentence and were released. 
The ARCAblog asked Dr. Tsirogiannis if this crime was related to any organized crime.
"I think that it was proved that the hit at the museum was an amateurs' job, as it was the way they tried to sell the gold ring [to undercover police in a hotel in Patras]. Although seven of them (two Bulgarians got two years each, suspended), the group can hardly be named as "organised". It seems that they took advantage of the extremely poor guarding of the museum, for financial reasons. Plus, they were heading to a different museum, the main Archaological Museum of Olympia, aiming to steal ancient gold wreaths and a collection of stamps, but were mistaken and hit another museum nearby, a smaller one! How "organised" is that?"
In February, Elinda Labropoulou for CNN reported on the theft and described the Museum of the History of the Olympics as a smaller building located near the main Archaeological Museum of Olympia.

The mastermind of the theft had intended to sell the gold ring for 1.5 million but the price fell to 300,000 euros. 

From this article (translated here from Greek to English): The gold signet ring dating back to the period of the 16th century BC was the most valuable object of the stolen loot. The ring belonged to a ruler of Anthia and was found in the famous royal tomb "Chang 4" at "Rachi" ara in Antheia Greek Kalamata. The ring shows two male athletes about to participate in an event bull-leaping. The ring had been loaned by the Archaeological Museum of Messenia. In the investigation, scientists of the Division of Criminal Investigation sought information on the DNA of two thieves. Security cameras recorded images from the theft, showing inexperienced looters, furiously grabbing at anything of value.

Dr. Tsirogiannis added in an email:
From the very beginning, immediately after the theft, I pointed out that it would be difficult for the thieves to sell these antiquities because they were very well recorded (http://www.channel4.com/news/armed-robbers-loot-ancient-greek-museum), another clue that the thieves did not belong to an "organised" group. Some did not agree with this view at the time (http://paul-barford.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/olympia-theft-getting-rid-of-stuff.html Paul is a good friend), but the arrest of the thieves, the way it took place, the interrogation and the discovery of all the objects, proved my point.
For another source, MSN distributed the article Agence France-Press, "Seven Sentenced over Olympia Robbery in Greece".

January 8, 2013

Permanenten Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum robbed of Chinese antiques

Here's a link to the surveillance video of two men carrying baskets who break into the West Norway Museum of Decorative Arts (Permanenten Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum) in Bergen through a window panel, smash glass display cases, and grab items before running back out in less than two minutes.

The Norway Post reports online that 23 Chinese antiques of made from "jade, bronze, porcelain and wood" were stolen on Saturday, January 5.  Earlier the Norway Post quoted the Bergen Tidende that the alarm sounded at 5.20 a.m and that the same institution was robbed two years ago.

Here's a link to an article in the online news-in-English.

Update: The museum has posted detailed versions of the photos on their Facebook page and would like help spreading the images world wide.  Please like and repost.  With the help of social networking perhaps these objects will be reported as being seen. 

October 16, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "Planning Revenge: Art Crime and Charles Frederick Goldie" by Penelope Jackson

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Penelope Jackson writes about "Planning Revenge: Art Crime and Charles Frederick Goldie":
Charles Frederick Goldie is one of New Zealand's best-loved artists.  His portraits of Maori have been the victims of theft, vandalism, and forgery for decades.  Goldie's portraits remain highly prized and valuable.  This article highlights and gives an overview of the art crime that Goldie's oeuvre attracts, and offers some explanations behind what has become a catalogue of illegal practice.
Penelope Jackson is the Director of the Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga, New Zealand.  She holds an M. Phil (University of Queensland) in Art History and an MA (Hons) in Art History (University of Auckland).  The author of Edward Bullmore: A Surrealist Odyssey (2008) and The Brown Years: Nigel Brown (2009), she has contributed to The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and journals including Art New Zealand, Art Monthly Australia, Studies in Travel Writing and Katherine Mansfield Studies.

You may read this article by subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime through the ARCA website.

May 20, 2012

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

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

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

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

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