May 30, 2012

Art Crime Documentary: "Portrait of Wally" (Part Two)

Rudolf Leopold/The Leopold Museum
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor


This is a continued review of the art crime documentary "Portrait of Wally". The information presented here is from the film directed by Andrew Shea.

Lea Bondi founded St. George’s Gallery in London.  After the war, Bondi spent several years recovering her paintings and was able to get back the ones from her gallery but not those that had hung in her apartment, recalled her nephew Henry Bondi.

In 1946, Bondi returned to Vienna.  She went to the Restitution Court, not for the Portrait of Wally, but for the contents of her gallery that was now called “Galerie Friedrich Welz”.  The Austrian court declared that Welz had renovated the gallery and that Bondi would have to pay the war criminal Welz 9,000 Schillings before recovering her business.


Director Andrew Shea's documentary discusses the confusion about the Egon Schiele painting Portrait of Wally after World War II.

Sophie Lillie, author of Was Einmal War (What Once Was), said that Bondi asked Welz about the Portrait of Wally.  Welz told Bondi that the painting had been erroneously confiscated with the property of another Jewish collector, Dr. Heinrich Rieger, and given to the national collection at the Belvedere Museum. The Rieger family had been rounded up and deported to die in a concentration camp, Lillie said in the documentary.

Portrait of Wally was listed incorrectly as a “drawing” not as an oil painting. “The mistake should have been recognized immediately,” Lillie said.  “Mistaking a painting for a drawing is a big mistake.”

“The idea that the director of the National Gallery of Austria was unable to tell the difference between an oil painting and a work on paper is clearly an absurdity,” journalist David D’Arcy told the camera.

Thomas Trenkler, Editor of Der Standard, sums up that the Belvedere Museum “knew that the painting they had bought didn’t belong to Rieger and that something was not quite right”.

Klaus Schröder, former Managing Director of The Leopold Museum, said: “But to imply that the Austrian Gallery would have tampered with the sources to facilitate possible sales is totally absurd.”

Monika Mayer, Director of Provenance Research, Austrian Gallery at the Belvedere:  “Of course, to us it seems quite exceptional if we look at it retrospectively.  How can there be a confusion between a drawing an a painting from a famous collector, Heinrich Rieger, and a famous collector, Heinrich Rieger, and a famous oil portrait of Wally Neuzil? That seems extremely mysterious and we can’t explain it.  I didn’t go as deeply into the details of the case as others have. I don’t actually think there was a conspiracy.”

Bonnie Goldblatt, former Senior Special Agent for Department of Homeland Security, who had worked on the case said in the documentary: “My belief is that the museum wanted to amass a huge art collection and it was good timing.  A law had been passed then that forbid the exportation of work by Austrian artists, which came in handy.  If Jewish collectors weren’t in Austria, they would have to sell it to the museum instead of taking it out of the country to sell.”

Even the U. S. Army had documented numerous times that the painting had not belonged to the Riegers and told the Belvedere the same thing, asserted Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture United in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

In a deposition in Vienna with American prosecutors, Dr. Rudolf Leopold spoke of his relationship with Lea Bondi:  ‘I met Ms. Jaray in London in 1953.  She sold me a few Schiele pieces and explained to me that she would like to talk to me about a picture that she had once owned.’

Ernst Ploil, attorney and art collector, explained in the documentary:  “Leopold knew who owned looted art.  He knew about the problems of not being able to export those pieces of art.  He got in contact with the owners who had left Austria or had been forced to leave Austria” and offered to purchase the recovered looted art.

Hector Felicano, author of The Lost Museum: “Right after the war there was such turmoil in the art market that you could get just about anything you wanted if you had the money.”

In 1954, Lea Bondi asked Leopold to watch over the Portrait of Wally, to make sure it didn’t disappear, according to Robert Morganthau.

Again, the film returns to Leopold’s deposition in United States v. Portrait of Wally: “The question is, what did she say to you, and what did you say to her?”
Leopold: “Well, I already explained this before.  After we had struck a deal regarding a couple of sheets, works on paper, that is, she asked me, where is the Portrait of Wally? And I said in the Belvedere.” 
Leopold: “Well, what you’re asking me – and I then said, well, what you’re asking me to do is simply impossible to do, because if I just went to the Gallery and asked them to hand me over the picture, they will probably throw me out.”
Journalist D’Arcy narrates what happened next: ‘Leopold returns to Vienna and barters with the museum for a Schiele he has for this painting.  He already had Egon Schiele’s self-portrait of the same date so for him it was a case of uniting the pair of pictures’.

The Austrian Gallery had exchanged “Vally from Krumau” for “Portrait of a boy (Rainerbub)”.

The next thing Lea Bondi knew, according to art historian Lucille Roussin, the painting was being exhibited as part of the Leopold collection.

Thomas Trenkler, Editor for Der Standard: “The museum must have been afraid that the painting would have to be given back. Thus, that the Museum sold it, or rather exchanged it for other artworks, this was a white wash.”

This review will be continued in two days.

May 28, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012 - , No comments

Art Crime Documentary: "Portrait of Wally" (Part One)

Egon Schiele's 1912 "Portrait of Wally"/Leopold Museum
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

A Nazi stole Egon Schiele’s Portrait of Wally from the Vienna residence of Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray in 1939. For three decades, until her death in 1969, Mrs. Jaray wanted to recover her painting, even soliciting help from Dr. Rudolf Leopold, another Schiele expert and art collector who frequented her art gallery in London.

What Lea Bondi did not know was that Dr. Leopold had found her painting at the Belvedere amongst the works of the Austrian National Gallery.  The picture was mislabeled as "Portrait of a Woman" and identified as part of the collection of Dr. Heinrich Reiger, who had died in the Holocaust.  In the 1960s, Dr. Leopold traded another Schiele painting for the "Portrait of Wally" but instead of returning it to Bondi, he kept the stolen artwork for himself for more than three decades.

In 1997, Portrait of Wally was part of an Egon Schiele exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York where Lea Bondi’s relatives recognized her painting.  Her nephew, Henry Bondi, requested that the museum return the stolen picture to the family. When the museum denied the request, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau issued a subpoena to seize the painting before it could be shipped back to the Leopold Museum in Austria.

The dramatic 70-year-old battle to recover this painting is documented in the 90-minute film "Portrait of Wally" directed by Andrew Shea and produced by P. O. W. Productions.  This documentary uses film footage of Nazis in Austria and numerous interviews with the lawyers, journalists and art collectors involved to explain an important legal case regarding the “last prisoners of World War II” (as described by Ronald Lauder, then Chairman of MoMA).

Egon Schiele (1890-1918) painted "Portrait of Wally Neuzil" in 1912 with oil paint on a wood panel measuring 32 by 39 centimeters.  This picture stayed in storage in the United States for 13 years while lawyers for MoMA and the Leopold Museum fought restitution to the Estate of Lea Bondi.

In this insightful documentary, Morgenthau discusses why he issued the subpoena:
We heard about the allegations of the owner of the Schiele paintings.  It was the 11th hour, and they were about to return them to Austria so we kind of threw a Hail Mary pass.  We issued a grand jury subpoena hoping we could develop the evidence to support that case, but if we hadn’t issued it, the painting would have gone back and we would have never had a chance to ascertain the true ownership.
Willi Korte, Art Researcher and Investigator, Co-Founder, Holocaust Art Restitution Project, on the importance of the case:  “We wouldn’t be sitting here talking about art restitution in 2010 the way we do if we wouldn’t have had Wally and I can’t think of any other case that had this significance. It is the case out of all art restitution cases that really shaped the discussion for the following years.”

CBS News Correspondent Morley Safer, was also on camera: “These are vestiges of people’s history, of the family’s history and it is terribly important I think that that be honored … there should be a rush to judgment on these cases.”

Judith H. Debrzynski, formerly an arts reporter for The New York Times, recalled that in late 1997 people were talking about Dr. Leopold as an excessive art collector who reputedly personally conducted extensive conservation on the artworks at the Leopold Museum.  Then someone mentioned to her about “the Nazi connection” in regards to the Schiele exhibit at MoMA and Debrzynski got curious. This film clearly defines the history and legal complications of this case in a fascinating narrative. [In this post and the subsequent posts this week, information on this case is all from the documentary.]

In 1920s Vienna, Lea Bondi operated a modern art gallery.  She brought, sold, and displayed works by the young Schiele at a time of freedom and experimentation in Austria.  In the second half of the 19th century, the Emperor Franz Josef had given Jews the same rights as citizens. Vienna’s Jewish population had increased from 6,000 in 1848 to at least 200,000 in Austria by 1930.  Vienna of the 1920s was like Berlin, very open to modern ideas and thought and sexual morals were as loose as they are in New York now, Thomas Weyr, journalist and native of Vienna, tells the camera.  “Everything changed overnight,” Weyr said.

In March 1938, the mostly Roman Catholic Austrians voted to join Germany in the "Anschluss".  Hitler paraded under Nazi banners draped over the balconies of apartment buildings in the main streets of Vienna while Jews lost their right to vote and their businesses.

“Lea said it was a time when if you belonged to the right party, you could do what you wanted, never mind if it was legal or not,” recalled her grand niece Ruth Rozanek in the understated manner she maintains before the camera throughout the documentary.

Lea Bondi owned a gallery in Vienna that was quite well known, according to Lucille Roussin, an attorney and art historian.  “However, this painting, Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele, was not part of the contents of that gallery," Roussin said.  "It was her personal property.”

Henry Bondi, Lea Bondi’s Nephew, said that after the Anschluss, everything was confiscated from his aunt because she was Jewish.

In other supporting documentation, Lea Bondi had written to Otto Kallir, founder of Galerie St. Etienne in NYC, that Portrait of Wally had been in her private collection “privatbesitz” and had nothing to do with her gallery.  It had hung in her apartment at 38 Weisgerberlände.

Journalist D’Arcy retold the background of the story: Friedrich Welz, an art dealer and Nazi Party member, confiscated Lea Bondi’s gallery.  Then he went to her home, saw the painting on the wall, and said he wanted Portrait of Wally too.  Welz threatened Bondi; her husband told her to give it to Welz, that they might want to leave as soon as tomorrow. Welz took the painting and Lea Bondi left Vienna for London the next day (18 March 1939).

Hildegard Bachert, co-director of Galerie St. Etienne in New York City recalled the political atmosphere in Vienna: “Their lives were in the balance there.  There wasn’t any negotiating and God knows I know that you couldn’t negotiate with Nazis.  You were lucky if they didn’t shoot you on the spot.”

Part two continued in two days.

May 24, 2012

Sustainable Preservation Initiative (Part two)

Larry Coben and Dr. Jaime Castillo with a local dance troupe
dressed in Moche costumes celebrating the opening
of the new artisan training and tourist center.
by Rebekah Junkermeier, Guest contributor


Continued from May 22.


Coben’s Sustainable Preservation Initiative attacks the problem of looting and decay in a completely new way, one he’s dubbed “People Not Stones.” Instead of focusing on the cultural heritage, SPI focuses on the local community. By investing in locally-created and -run businesses whose financial success is tied to the preservation of the site, SPI provides viable and sustainable economic alternatives to looting for the community.

A grand idea—but does it actually work? As it turns out, yes. Case in point, SPI’s first project at San Jose de Moro, an ancient cemetery and ritual center of the Moche, an ancient civilization that flourished in northern Peru from 100 to 800 AD. Head of SPI’s initiative at San Jose de Moro is Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo, Professor of Archaeology at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru.  Dr. Castillo began excavating San Jose de Moro in 1991, uncovering the tombs of ancient Moche priestesses in the process.  but while the cultural heritage of San Jose de Moro is rich, the surrounding community is a poor one.  Unable to meet their basic needs, local residents often looted the archaeological site.

"For years we were making little contributions to the towns, schools, and to some pressing need, but we could never focus on a long term and sustainable effort," said Dr. Castillo in response to questions about community development in an email.

Upon meeting Coben at an archaeological conference, both saw the potential of an SPI project at the site.  With an SPI grant, local residents constructed a new artisan center, where local artisans are trained and create replicas of the famous MOche fine-line ceramics.  Adjoining is a new visitor center, where the ceramics are sold and where local residents, primarily local high school students, are trained as guides of the site.  Proper signs have been erected to direct tourists and explain the site.  Community members and Peruvian archaeologists have prepared a guidebook and brochure.

"Until now," Professor Castillo wrote, "the SPI program has transformed directly the livs of 20 people that work directly with the project producing ceramics or metal, of 30 others that work in the archaeological excavations, and by extension their families and relatives."

In just one year, the project has achieved economic sustainability and viability.  As a result, looting at the site has come to a halt.

With such success at San Jose de Moro, there's been an outpouring of requests for similar programs at other sites.  One of these is Pampas Gramalote in Huanchaco, Peru, site of SPI's latest initiative.  With a relatively small investment, SPI plans to create jobs and attain similar results at this ancient and modern fishing village, where archaeologists recently discovered a massive child sacrifice recently reported in National Geographic.


Young students at the artisan cent
"People can't eat their history," Coben writes.  "We need to provide an alternative to other potential uses of archaeological sites.  That enables us to help people better their lives and gives them a powerful economic incentive to preserve our shared heritage."

This is exactly what Sustainable Preservation Initiative is doing; not only stopping looting and decay, but, more importantly, transforming lives along the way.

You can follow Sustainable Preservation Initiative on Facebook and Twitter.

May 22, 2012

Sustainable Preservation Initiative (Part one)

Incallajta, the ancient Incan site in central Bolivia
by Rebekah Junkermeier, Guest contributor

Looting, growing crops, grazing cattle, and playing soccer. What do all these things have in common? They’re all destructive forces contributing to the decay of ancient cultural heritage sites (yes, even soccer). While ancient ruins are just that—ancient—often destruction comes as a result of actions beyond just the passage of time, particularly in remote and impoverished areas. In an attempt to provide themselves and their family with the essentials, residents of a poor, local community will often loot the site or use it for other purposes, accelerating the damage.

“About 75 miles east of Cochabamba, Bolivia, which is the third largest city there, Incallajta is truly in the middle of nowhere,” says Larry Coben, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist and founder and CEO of the Sustainable Preservation Initiative, describing the ancient Incan site in central Bolivia. While leading excavations at this endangered archaeological site, Coben saw looting and other destructive practices first-hand: “I would talk to the community time and time again about not growing crops on this site and not grazing cattle at this site, not playing soccer at this site and I was not able to stop them,” Coben recounts in a recent interview with Bigthink.com, a website that features top thinkers and doers from around the globe.

Out of desperation, Coben bought a gate for $50 and put it up five miles away from the site in consultation with the local community. “I said to the community if a Bolivian comes through, charge them nothing, but if a foreigner comes, charge them $10.” In an area where the per capita income was roughly $100 per year, the residents didn’t believe him. Who would pay $10 to look at these rocks? “But I knew that a tourist who had rented a guide and a taxicab or a car and had driven almost 3 hours, would certainly pay $10,” Coben says.

In just the first two weeks, 8 tourists had already visited. “So we actually had a complete return on investment in a week and a half,” says Coben, “I wish I could do that with all of the transactions in which I enter,” he added.  Most importantly, however, the community began to view the archaeological site in a different light. “They stopped growing crops and paid people not to grow crops there. They stopped grazing,” Coben reports. “It became not just an important part of their past and history, which they knew, but this site had relevance to their daily lives, not just intangibly, but tangibly a real economic benefit.” The idea for the Sustainable Preservation Initiative was born.

“I can certainly preserve any archeological site in the world if you give me enough money,” Coben says. “I'll build Fort Knox around it and make sure that no one gets in, but that’s hardly a good risk/reward calculus. I’d be spending a ridiculous amount of money for very little preservation and no community benefit.” Unfortunately, this is still the tactic that most preservation organizations use, building large and expensive museums or visitor centers in an attempt to attract tourism and protect the site from looting and decay. This paradigm, however, repeatedly fails. The museums close, the visitor centers are empty, the site isn't preserved, and looting continues.

This post continues on May 24.

May 21, 2012

Police and Art Gallery of New South Wales Suspend Search for Stolen Self-Portrait of Frans van Mieris Stolen in 2008

A Cavalier, a self-portrait by Frans van Mieris
Andrew Taylor, arts writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, recently interviewed ARCA's CEO Lynda Albertson when reporting that the Art Gallery of NSW (New South Wales) has given up the search for the 17th century Dutch self-portrait of Frans van Mieris stolen almost five years ago.

The painting was insured for $1.4 million, Taylor reports, and the police have suspended the search "after exhausting all avenues of investigation."

New South Wales police told the SMH that the small painting may have been smuggled out of the country.

"The world is full of art lovers with rich tastes and and richer pocketbooks," Albertson was quoted by Taylor in the article.

Taylor reports A Cavalier was screwed into the wall with 'two visible keyhole plates' and 'in a room with no camera surveillance and a guard intermittently present' when it was stolen in 2008.

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.




May 19, 2012

BBC News reports Italian police seize 100 artworks from man convicted of altering slot machines in bars and cafes

Italian police seized 100 artworks, including an original painting by Salvador Dali, as part of an asset forfeiture of more than 330 million euros from a reputed Mafia member convicted last year of collecting millions of dollars in illegal profits from tampering with slot machines in Italy, reported Alan Johnston from Rome for BBC News.

The art will now belong to Italy.

The convict, associated with organized crime out of Calabria, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and had to give up more than 200 properties in Rome, Milan and Paris.


May 18, 2012

REVISITING BOOKS: An Earthquake Shatters Expectations in The Caravaggio Conspiracy

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA blog editor

Peter Watson writes in The Caravaggio Conspiracy that in 1980 when he was trying to negotiate the purchase of Caravaggio's Palermo Nativity that going to southern Italy with a 'briefcase full of cash' was considered dangerous. Watson wrote:
This was the time in Italy when kidnapping was increasing alarmingly.  In fact the risk of kidnap was so great that even going to Naples simply as a businessman was not without danger.  The proportion of foreign visitors to the city had slumped from 50 percent of hotel business to less than 10 percent.  Furthermore, a report had shown that murders by the Mafia at that time accounted for 29 percent of all killings, as opposed to 13 percent a decade before.
Watson was offered the painting in London by a member of the gang art detective Rodolfo Siviero had suspected of stealing the Palermo Nativity.  Watson received a phone call from Italy that he could have the Caravaggio painting for 150 million Italian lire or $150,000 American dollars.  The journalist booked three nights at the Excelsior in Naples to conduct the transaction.

In nearby Laviano, Watson was presented with two photographs of the painting:
It looked terrible.  It was very dark, darker than I had imagined it could look.  Bits appeared to have flaked off near the heads of the onlookers on the right of the painting and there was a patch, of damp or oil or whatever, in the right foreground covering the ankle and hand of St. Lawrence.  Worst of all there was a ragged crack, about a third of the way up, bisecting the Virgin's hands and penetrating St. Lawrence's shoulder.  That seemed consonant with the canvas having been rolled for some time, possibly immediately after it had been stolen.
Watson is told that the painting is in Sicily but that it can be brought to Naples in a few days.  Then a deadly and destructive earthquake leveled Laviano. Watson was unable to contact with his negotiators and any hope of purchasing the stolen painting vanished.

May 16, 2012

ARCA Founder Noah Charney and ISGM's Security Director Anthony Amore Talk about the largest art theft in US history and the hunt for the paintings 22 years later; NBC's "American Greed" to feature Gardner Museum Heist Tonight

Vermeer's "The Concert"
CNBC's Lindsay Nadrich (with Reuters contributing) writes about the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum online "22 Years Later, $300 Million Art Theft Investigation Heats Up."

Last week's search of the Connecticut home of an alleged Mafia member, 75-year-old Robert Gentile, with a ground-penetrating radar device found two guns but no artworks.

Noah Charney, Founder of ARCA, is quoted here.
"Vermeer's "The Concert" is probably the single-most valuable missing artwork today," art crime expert Noah Charney said.
Anthony Amore, author of Stealing Rembrandts and an instructor at the ARCA program in 2009, issued a statement to CNBC:
"While the Museum continues to thrive, the investigation into the 1990 theft remains very active," Anthony Amore, the Gardner's security director, said in a statement, "We will continue to work every day to recover the stolen masterworks.
To hear the full story of the Gardner Museum Heist, watch "American Greed" Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC (in the United States).

REVISITING BOOKS: Watson's "The Caravaggio Conspiracy" and the motive for stealing the Palermo Nativity

Agrigento Ephebe
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA blog editor

Part two of three

In the 1984 book, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, published by British journalist Peter Watson, Rodolfo Siviero is described as a the leading detective of stolen art in Italy.

Before Caravaggio's Nativity was stolen in 1969, Siviero had been working to recover art misplaced since World War II.  Siviero was 'an undercover agent in German-occupied Italy', Watson reported, and was 'head of the Italian Secret Service attached to the Allied Command.'  Part of his job was to oversee the protection of works of art, Watson explained.  When Siviero became the first Italian ambassador to Germany after the war, he used wartime records to look for paintings looted by the Nazis from the Uffizi, Watson wrote, and listed works Siviero helped to recover: Bronzino's Deposition of Christ, Antonio Pollaiuolo's Labors of Hercules; Domenico Feti's Parable of the Vine; a self-portrait by Lorenzo di Credi, a Nativity by a pupil of Correggio; Botticelli's Primavera and Paolo Uccello's The Battle of San Remo.

When Siviero returned to Italy, he was put in charge of the Delegation for the Recovery of Missing Works of Art (Watson).  He recovered works of art not related to war looting.  Watson wrote that Siviero recovered a fifth century B.C. bronze statue known of a boy known as the Ephebus from the Mafia in a sting operation.  Siviero posed as the "nephew" of a Florentine art gallery that would purchase objects without asking questions about ownership.  The bronze was recovered, Watson wrote, and six men arrested shortly before Caravaggio's Nativity was stolen.  "It was the Mafia's way of exacting revenge.  And this time, it was whispered, Siviero would not see the stolen work of art again.  Ever." (Watson)

This article concludes on May 18.