November 11, 2010

German Forgers May Have Used Catalogs of Jewish Art Dealer


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

German forgers may have used the records of a long-dead Jewish art dealer as provenance for as many as 35 second-tier French and German expressionist paintings sold through auction houses in Cologne and London which may have defrauded art collectors of more than 15 million Euros over the past two decades.

The alleged forgery activities of a German couple and their extended family and friends are detailed in a report in Der Spiegel with additional analysis by Mark Durney at Art Theft Central in October. Although only one painting has been confirmed as a fake, according to Der Spiegel, all of the paintings from two fictitious collections that claim to have been purchased through the same art dealer in Germany in the 1920 are now suspect. Many of the paintings are stamped with a fraudulent sticker trying to identify the artworks as from the Galerie Flechtheim.

Provenance of these suspected paintings may have been lifted from sales and exhibition catalogues from a Dusseldorf art gallery owned by the Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim who fled Nazi Germany when his business was confiscated in 1933. Der Spiegel reported that parts of his collection and documents from his business were lost. Flechtheim, who died in London in 1937, represented Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Paul Klee, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann and other painters in the 1920s who were later deemed by Nazi officials to have produced “degenerate art”. Galerie Alfred Flechtheim held exhibitions of works by André Durain, Juan Gris, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, and Paul Cézanne in 1929; and Edzard Dietz, August Renoir, Fernand Léger, Max Beckmann in 1928. A 1926 portrait of Alfred Flechtheim by Otto Dix hangs in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (see image above).

Flechtheim’s heirs have tired to recover about 100 paintings by artists such as Picasso, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Vincent van Gogh from German and American museums. In July 2010, the Fleichtheim heirs claimed a portrait of the actress Tilla Durieux by Oskar Kokoschka from the Museum Ludwig in Cologne (Zeit Online, translated, “He Was His Own Best Client Client,” July 8, 2010). Flechtheim’s gallery was taken over by the Nazis in 1933. Alex Vömel, the new ‘owner’, sold the Durieux portrait from Flechtheim’s private collection in 1934 for a price below the 1931 insurance value, according to the heirs’ lawyer, who also claim that there’s no record that Flechtheim received any proceeds from the sale.

In another litigation news, the heirs of George Grosz are pursuing the restitution of paintings they claim Grosz left on consignment with Flechtheim before Grosz also fled Germany in 1933.

November 10, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - , No comments

You're Invited to ARCA's Happy Hour: Thursday November 18 (San Francisco)

ThirstyBear Brown Bear Ale

Thursday, November 18
6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m
Thirsty Bear
661 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

ARCA warmly invites those in the Bay area to join us for some free drinks, nibbles, and lively discussion about art crime and cultural heritage protection. This is an excellent opportunity to meet ARCA staff, volunteers, and experts and professionals in the field of art crime. We look forward to seeing you there!

For further information email Joni Fincham, Managing Director director@artcrime.info

November 9, 2010

Freeze of BBC License Fee Continues Dream of Art Thief Who Stole Goya’s “Portrait of the Duke of Wellington” from the National Gallery in 1961


The only successful theft from London’s National Gallery took place on 21 August 1961, when a brazen thief stole Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Forty-nine years later, on 19 October of this year, the thief’s ransom demands were protected well into the future.

One of the most bizarre incidents in the history of art theft, the Goya heist baffled police. Someone had snuck into the National Gallery through an unlocked bathroom window, had evaded security guards, and made off with a painting which had just been saved from sale to an American tycoon by the British government. The sale of the Spanish painting, property of the Duke of Leeds, had been frozen in order for the British nation to match the sale price, thereby keeping the painting in England. £140,000 had been hastily raised (the equivalent of around £2 million today), and the 1812 portrait of the English war hero was saved. It went on display at the National Gallery in London on 3 August—less than three weeks later, it was gone.

The Press had a field day, and the theft infected the popular imagination. In the background of the first James Bond film, Dr No, which was filmed soon after the crime, one can see a copy of the missing Goya portrait decorating Dr No’s villainous hideout.

Then the London police received the first of many bizarre ransom notes. They promised the safe return of the painting in exchange for discounted television licenses for old age pensioners.

Surely this was a joke? But the ransomer was able to identify marks visible only on the back of the painting, proving that it was in his possession. The ransomer, whose notes were theatrical and flamboyantly written, thought it outrageous that the British government would spend such a sum on a painting when retired British citizens had to pay to watch television. The Goya would be returned, wrote the ransomer, if a charitable fund of equivalent value, £140,000, were established to pay for television licenses for old age pensioners. There seemed to be no personal motivation for the theft, only outrage at the government’s TV license scheme.

But the police would not negotiate. A second ransom letter arrived, which read:
Goya Com 3. The Duke is safe. His temperature cared for – his future uncertain. The painting is neither to be cloakroomed or kiosked, as such would defeat our purpose and leave us to ever open arrest. We want pardon or the right to leave the country – banishment? We ask that some nonconformist type of person with the fearless fortitude of a Montgomery start the fund for £140,000. No law can touch him. Propriety may frown – but God must smile.
Still the police would not respond. A third ransom letter turned cheeky:
Terms are same. . . . An amnesty in my case would not be out of order. The Yard are looking for a needle in a haystack, but they haven’t a clue where the haystack is. . . I am offering three-pennyworth of old Spanish firewood in exchange for 140,000 of human happiness. A real bargain compared to a near million for a scruffy piece of Italian cardboard.
But while the police would not budge, they were no closer to identifying the thief. In 1965, however, a note arrived at the offices of the Daily Mirror newspaper with a luggage check ticket for the Birmingham rail station. The ticket yielded a surprising package at the Birmingham—the stolen Goya. It had been deposited by someone identifying himself as a “Mister Bloxham,” likely a reference to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, in which an infant is found in a handbag at a rail station luggage check. The painting had been recovered, handed over as a sign of good will by the thief, who realized that his demands, which he felt were entirely reasonable and noble, would not be met. But who was the thief?

On 19 July 1965 a portly, 61-year old retired cab driver who bore a striking resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock walked into a police station to turn himself in. Kempton Bunton, a cuddly 252 pound grandfather, did not match the expectations of an ingenious, if eccentric, art thief. He had, perhaps unsurprisingly, been fined twice for refusing to pay his own TV license. The theft seemed to have been motivated solely by charity, although there are those who believe that he took the fall for someone else.

Bunton was not worried about being tried, he told the police, because he knew of an odd loophole in British law. In court, he was found not guilty of having stolen the painting, because the judge noted an antiquated clause which stated that if the jury believed that Bunton always intended to return the painting if his ransom negotiations failed (and he did return the painting) then they must acquit. Heeding the judge’s advice, the jury found Bunton not guilty of having stolen the Goya—but he was found guilty of having stolen the painting’s frame, which was never returned. He was given a slap on the wrist, three months in prison, and was gently scolded by the judge, who said: “motives, even if they are good, cannot justify theft, and creeping into public galleries in order to extract pictures of value so that you can use them for your own purposes has got to be discouraged.”

This comical theft would play a major role in shaping UK law. In 1968, as part of England’s new Theft Act, Parliament included a clause which made it illegal to “remove without authority any object displayed or kept for display to the public in a building to which the public have access,” thereby making Bunton’s “borrowing” of the Goya a criminal offense.

Television licenses were eventually revoked for old age pensioners, satisfying, long after the fact, the unusual ransom demands of Kempton Bunton. But in recent weeks the issue has once more been in question. Would a latter-day Bunton be prompted to make a similar, high-profile statement in protest to the licensing fee? The matter was finally resolved on 20 October of this year, when it was announced that free license fees for pensioners will be extended until at least 2017.

Kempton Bunton, floating on his cloud up in Heaven, must be looking down upon us with a satisfied smile.

We would like to thank Alan Hirsch for research assistance on this article.

November 8, 2010

Revisiting the Cultural Plunder Database

Biche more, Gustave Courbet, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Revisiting the “Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Richsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume”

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

The database of stolen art from Jewish French and Belgian collectors processed through the Jeu de Paume in Paris from 1940 to 1944 has received more than 11,000 visits from 97 countries since its public release three weeks ago.

The database, which can be accessed at http://www.errproject.org/jeudepaume, is a Joint Project of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with the cooperation of the Bundesarchiv (The German Federal Archives), France Diplomatie: Diplomatic Archive Center of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, and The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The website for the database also includes a photo gallery of the Nazi’s “Special Task Force”, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), processing art works through the center of Paris and another section of works of art considered objectionable (“Degenerate”) by the Nazis – works by artists such as Max Ernst, Salvardor Dalí, and Kees van Dongen.

Users can browse by art owners, by collection, or by artist. Information about the art includes measurements, a title in German, and the name of the owner and the collection and in many cases, whether or not the painting or artwork was restituted to its wartime owner.

An 1857 painting by Gustave Courbet (titled in German Totes Re him Walde or in French Biche morte) entered the Jeu de Paume between September and October of 1942. It was considered for a possible exchange, but was returned to France in 1949. In 1951, the French national museum collection placed it into into the Louvre until 1954 when it was sent to the Musée National Ahmed Zabana in Oran. The painting stayed in Algeria for 31 years until it was stolen in October of 1985.

A painting “considered for exchange” indicates that the ERR staff wanted to trade the painting with art dealers as “payment-in-kind” for works of art desired by Hermann Goering and other Nazi dignitaries for their collections or for the Reich.

Sixteen years later, a reproduction of the same painting, now under the new title of Chevreuil Mort/Dead Deer, appeared in an auction catalogue for a sale scheduled at the George V Hotel in Paris on December 19, 2001. Recognizing the stolen the painting, the French museums rquested that the painting be withdrawn from the sale. It was seized by the police, then transferred to the musée d’Orsay on October 29, 2002.

The ERR Collection Name was “MA-B” or “Möbel-Aktion Bilder”, a category of more than 1,300 matches. "Möbel Aktion" means that it was ‘Operation Furniture’ that the work was removed from a Jewish home. “Bilder” means it was a picture. However, the original owner was not identified by the Nazis and the painting has not been returned to that family.

Could the family who owned that painting make a claim for the return of their painting today? We asked this question to Marc Masurovsky, the project’s director and a consultant to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“If it is the same painting and was not recovered by a legitimate owner and there is someone who can attest to be the rightful owner of the work, that person can make a claim for the unrecovered object,” Masurovsky wrote in an email. “As you know, the database is a work in progress and much information still needs to be added, especially with respect to the postwar fate of many of the works and objects described in the database.”

November 5, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010 - No comments

Applications Wanted for the 2011 Postgraduate Program

ARCA (the Association for Research into Crimes against Art) is now accepting applications to its third Postgraduate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Both the application and prospectus are available here:


Applications are due in early January, and we try to keep enrollment to a small number, probably under 25.  This really is a special program, and a terrific opportunity for a wide variety of folks interested in careers which touch art and heritage crime.  We try to balance practical courses in security measures with theoretical grounding in law, policy, art history and criminology.


I am excited to have the opportunity to spend most of the summer in Amelia volunteering as the Academic Director. Frankly, I feel a bit guilty calling this a 'volunteer' position. I Teach writing to law students here at South Texas the rest of the year, but I really look forward to the opportunity the ARCA program provides each summer to teach and discuss my first love—art and heritage.  My wife Joni will be on site as well as the managing director of ARCA, and our President and Founder Noah Charney will be a regular presence.  The faculty are a terrific bunch from all over the world who bring a great deal of practical experience to the courses. 


A house in Amelia
As the prospectus aptly puts it, this program provides in-depth, Postgraduate level instruction in a wide variety of theoretical and practical elements of art and heritage crime:  its history, its nature, its impact, and what can be done to curb it.  Courses are taught by international experts, in the beautiful setting of Umbria, Italy.  Topics include the history of art crime, art and antiquities law and policy, criminology, the laws of armed conflict, the art trade, art insurance, art security and policing, risk management, criminal investigation, law and policy, vandalism and iconoclasm, and cultural heritage protection throughout history and around the world.  This interdisciplinary program offers substantive study for art police and security professionals, lawyers, insurers, curators, conservators, members of the art trade, and post-graduate students of criminology, law, security studies, sociology, art history, archaeology, and history.

I am more than happy to answer any questions (fincham "at" artcrime.info) about the program, as is ARCA's Business and Admissions Director Mark Durney (ma "at" artcrime.info).

November 3, 2010

ARCA Alum to speak at Sotheby's Institute of Art

Leila Amineddoleh, Class of 2010 in ARCA's postgraduate program, is presenting a 1-hour overview about art law on Thursday, November 4th, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Sotheby's Institute of Art (570 Lexington Ave.) The event is held by the New York State Bar Association's Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Section. Further information may be accessed at:

http://nysbar.com/blogs/EASL/2010/10/morning_lecture_series_breakfa.html

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - ,,, No comments

ARCA students attend SAFE's Beacon Awards

SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone) honored four men with a combined total of more than 75 years of working for the U.S. government in recapturing and returning cultural heritage property at the sold-out 2010 Beacon Awards at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City on October 29.

A non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage worldwide, SAFE aims to raise public awareness about the irreversible damage that results from looting, smuggling and trading illicit antiquities.

The organization’s Beacon Awards ceremony commenced with introductory remarks by its president and founder, Cindy Ho, who thanked all of the event’s attendees for raising their voices against the destruction of antiquities. She urged all present to raise public awareness about this problem, asserting that it is humanity’s shared responsibility to protect our heritage. Ms. Ho thanked the Beacon Award winners for their tireless in efforts in protecting cultural heritage property then welcomed the moderator, Marion Forsyth Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners, LLC, who introduced the honored speakers.

The 2010 Beacon Awards honored four professionals in the law enforcement sector, Robert E. Goldman, David Hall, James E. McAndrew, and Robert K. Wittman. Goldman served as an Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal prosecutor and worked with the FBI to investigate museum and art theft. David Hall also served as an attorney for the government in his capacity as Special Prosecutor for the FBI’s Art Crime Team. James McAndrew acted as an expert on international art and antiquity investigations and on customs and international trade law with the U.S. Customs Service and then with the Department of Homeland Security. Robert Wittman led a successful career with the FBI for twenty years, and was instrumental in founding the FBI Art Crime Team.

Friday evening the four award winners participated in a panel about their experiences in protecting art. Each man spoke about his role in protecting antiquities and art, and shared personal anecdotes about his practice. Each honoree expressed the idea that the public shares a responsibility in guarding art and antiquities because these objects are the property of all humanity. After their presentations, the award winners responded to questions asked by the moderator and audience members.

The honorees were asked why they had devoted years of their lives to protecting art and cultural heritage property. The men agreed that they all felt immeasurable joy when they repatriated priceless art objects to their rightful owners. The gratitude expressed by the property recipients was compensation that could not be quantified.

Robert Goldman said that after each one of us perishes, antiquities and cultural heritage property objects endure and continue to represent man’s accomplishments and humanity’s shared history.

After the speeches and award ceremony ended, Beacon Award audience members enjoyed a food and drink reception where they had a chance to mingle with the award winners. Robert Wittman autographed copies of “Priceless”, his best-selling book about his experiences with the FBI Art Crime Team.

Included in the audience were students who had studied art crime in Amelia with the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.

Leila Amineddoleh, a 2010 student in ARCA's postgraduate origram, said, “The award winners were fantastic; their dedication to the protection of cultural heritage property and antiquities is moving, their professional experiences are fascinating, and it is inspiring to hear about law enforcement’s ability to protect humanity’s treasures.”

Further information about SAFE can be obtained at www.savingantiquities.org.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - ,, No comments

ARCA Alum Julia Brennan speaks to ICOM committee


ARCA alum Julia Brennan recently spoke at a meeting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to members of the International Council of Museums about the role of conservators in preventing looting of antiquities in the field.

Brennan, a textile conservator, and Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage, presented a paper, “The Role of Conservators in the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trade: Responsibilities and Opportunities,” at the Interim Meeting for the Legal Issues in Conservation Working Group, International Council of Museums, Conservation Committee, (ICOM CC LIC) on October 18.

The Legal Issues in Conservation Working Group focuses on policies affecting conservation professions and wanted to listen to people who had been in the field describe to conservators what to look for when trying to spot a looted or stolen antiquity.

Ms. Brennan, a graduate of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime program in 2010, has worked in the field of textile conservation for more than 25 years. Her extensive field work in Asia and Africa has included establishing textile museums, national artifact databases, and training museum staff and monk body in the protection of cultural property. The presentation elaborated on Ms. Brennan’s thesis “Deterring the Illicit Art Trade and Preserving Cultural Heritage: Redefining the Preventative Conservation Mandate”. The talk was a call to action for the conservation community, illustrated through looting case studies, and practical solutions and changes in practice for conservators, as well as professional liability.

In the presentation, Ms. Brennan acknowledged that conservators are sometimes part of the laundering of illicit antiquities, cleaning away dirt before the objects make their way through the art market.

“The trial of Marion True was a wake up call for people in the field,” Brennan said. Coincidentally, her presentation occurred the same week that the legal case against the former curator of the Getty Museum terminated. “Here was a case that heralded a change in international attitudes about museum collecting and served as a wake-up call for encyclopedic museums to cease their cavalier and illegal practices of acquiring without sound provenance.”

According to Brennan, conservators should work to write reports on objects in line with Object ID guidelines, in case something happens to a piece later, and check with looted art databases and other organizations to determine if an object has been reported stolen.

If an object looks suspicious, conservators can contact UNESCO, INTERPOL, IFAR, customs officials, and the Art Loss Register, Brennan suggested.

“Art collectors are flocking to high-end galleries and auction houses around the world and buying billions of dollars worth of antiquities each year,” Brennan wrote. “And with the passion of the serious connoisseur, they proclaim themselves preservers of the past. This is far from the truth: most antiquities have been stolen from an archaeological site at some point in history.”

Brennan discussed the conservation codes of ethics as well as the importance of ICOM’s Red List, Object ID, the Getty’s MEGA project in Jordan, AAM’s new Standards of Acquisitions, teaching proper cataloguing, outreach, and self-education.

Ms. Brennan encouraged conservators to learn about the laws, conventions, illicit trade, auction house practices, and be pro active. “The profession most intimate with artifacts’ actual materials, whether it is paintings, ceramics, bronzes, or textiles, needs to be more forensically directed, and serve as hands-on watch dogs for the world’s cultural patrimony,” she said. “Collaborating with law enforcement, ICE, FBI, insurance companies and setting up a conservator call-list was one practical suggestion like a “conservation corps” that partners with museums and other cultural institutions.

She provided several models of cross disciplinary projects where protection of cultural property overlaps with health care, environmental protection and eco tourism.

Using the notorious 1989 Indiana based AUTOCEPHALOUS GREEK-ORTHODOX CHURCH OF CYPRUS and THE REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS, Plaintiffs, v. GOLDBERG & FELDMAN FINE ARTS, INC., and PEG GOLDBERG, Defendants, Ms. Brennan analyzed the case from the role of the conservator. In examining the motivations, she pointed out that the underlying theme was greed and financial gain. The destructive restoration of the mosaics (including flattening what were curved artifacts) was irreversible. She went on to discuss the expanded role of conservators in the chain of custody of antiquities and all artifacts, and the important physical material role they play in the protection of cultural heritage both in source and market countries, the field, as well as large international museums. She emphasized that conservators hold an important card in the final ethical treatment or ‘cleansing’ of illegally gained artifacts.

Washington DC-based Ms. Brennan frequently lectures to historical societies and collectors on the care and display of textiles. She currently teaches preventative conservation workshops in Thailand.

November 2, 2010

November 1, 2010

Former National Archives Department Head Under Investigation

A former department head at the National archives is under federal investigation after Federal agents searched his home last week.  Leslie Waffen had worked at the national archives for 40 years, heading the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video unit. Federal agents seized material from his home last Tuesday and searched his home. There are no details yet about what kinds of items were recovered.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld is quoted in the TBD piece detailing the investigation last week: "The threat is there. Incidences have transpired and they continue to transpire, and my job is to, A, investigate active cases and, B, educate the public".  Brachfeld offers more details on the National Archives Archival Recovery Team (ART) in the fall volume of the Journal of Art Crime, which will be available in early December. To subscribe see http://www.artcrime.info/publications.  

The Wright Brothers missing Airplane patent
One of the biggest challenges for the National Archives is its role as a repository for the people. It is open to the public, but it contains a massive amount of material. Much of this has not been systematically inventoried. By way of example there are stores of government documents in salt mines in Hutchinson Kansas.  Stored there are dismantled pieces of the hospital room where President John F. Kennedy was treated after he was shot. Given all of this material, and the access the public has, one of the biggest problems will always be insider thefts. The problem of the employees of the archives taking valuable objects and keeping or selling them.  The Government Accountability office recently issued a report on the National Archives after items had gone missing.  Lost items include the Wright Brothers patent for the first airplane, Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton gin, a copy of President Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech, as well as target maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

These insider thefts are a betrayal of one's profession, but also rob future generations of these important pieces of their past.  To see a truly staggering list of missing documents, look at this list of missing historical documents and items.
  1. Elahe Izadi, National Archives agents raid home of Leslie Waffen, former archives department head, TBD, October 29, 2010, http://www.tbd.com/articles/2010/10/national-archives-agents-raid-home-of-leslie-waffen-former-archives-department-head-26544.html (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  2. Audit Shows Records At National Archives At Risk : NPR,  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130844620 (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  3. U.S. GAO - National Archives and Records Administration: Oversight and Management Improvements Initiated, but More Action Needed, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-15 (last visited Nov 1, 2010).
  4. Faye Fiore, Guardians of the nation's attic - Los Angeles Times, L.A. Times, August 8, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/08/nation/la-na-treasure-hunters-nu-20100809 (last visited Nov 1, 2010).