November 30, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "The Hattusa Sphinx and Turkish Antiquities Repatriation Efforts" by Aaron Haines

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Aaron Haines writes about "The Hattusa Sphinx and Turkish Antiquities Repatriation Efforts":
On March 1 of 2012, Art News journalist Martin Bailey reported that the Turkish government had prohibited the loan of cultural artifacts to the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism stated that these museums have artifacts that were illegally removed from Turkey, and that the ban would be removed once the contested objects were returned.  Soon it was discovered that Turkey had given the ultimatum to many other museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Dumberton Oaks, the Museum of Art at Bowling State University, the Louvre Museum, and the Berlin Pergamon Museum.  Turkey has prohibited exhibition loans to any of these museums until the requested objects have been returned. 
Turkey has been petitioning for the return of most of these artifacts for many years, but most often these petitions have come in the form of simple requests.  This is the first time that the country has made such a widespread and forceful demand.  This should not come as a surprise, in light of recent events regarding Turkey's repatriation efforts.  Of particular importance was its recovery of the Hattusa Sphinx, returned last year from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.  Turkey was forceful with Germany, and the two countries were able to quickly come to an agreement.  This success emboldened Turkey and gave it the necessary confidence to use forceful tactics with other reluctant countries and institutions that own contested objects.  Exploring the motivations and actions of both parties involved with the Hattusa Sphinx will shed further light on why Turkey recently enforced this ban and what their plans are for the future.
Aaron Haines is a teaching assistant at Brigham Young University where he is pursuing a B. A. in Art History and Curatorial Studies.  He has worked at the Museo civico in Siena, italy as well at the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University.  He recently completed training with the Provenance Research Training Organization in Magdeburg, Germany and is a Foreign Language Area Studies Scholar.

November 28, 2012

Richard "Dick" Ellis on Working with Michel van Rijn

Richard "Dick" Ellis is an art crime investigator (with The Art Management Group), the former founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiquities Group, and a lecturer at ARCA's post-graduate program in researching art crime.

Here in this video "The Odd Couple of Art Theft" posted on YouTube, Mr. Ellis' discusses working with Mr. van Rijn, an admitted former smuggler.

November 26, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: Review of Edmund de Waal's "The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance"

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Catherine Sezgin reviews Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (Picador, 2010).

Edmund de Waal is a British ceramic potter and academic uses the history of his family's netsuke collection to allow readers to understand this Japanese art in his memoir:
I pick one up and turn it around in my fingers, weight it in the palm of my hand.  If it is wood, chestnut or elm, it is even lighter than the ivory.  You see the patina more easily on these wooden ones: there is a faint shine on the spine of the bridled wolf and on the tumbling acrobats locked in their embrace.  The ivory ones come in shades of cream, every color, in fact, but white.  A few have inland eyes of amber or horn.  Some of the older ones are slightly worn away: the haunch of the faun resting on leaves has lost its markings.  There is a slight split, an almost imperceptible fault line on the cicada.  Who dropped it? Where and when?
The story involves 19th century Paris, Nazi occupied Vienna, and post-war Japan.

"Not since Jonathan Harr's book, The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece, has a book so influenced me," Ms. Sezgin writes in the review.

Ms. Sezgin edits the ARCA blog.

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

November 23, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: Review of Andrew Shea's documentary film "Portrait of Wally"

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Catherine Sezgin reviews Andrew Shea's documentary film Portrait of Wally:
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 recovery 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 Palace, 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 to explain an important legal case regarding the "last prisoners of World War II" (as described by Ronald Lauder, then Chairman of MoMA).
Catherine Sezgin is editor of the ARCA blog.

November 21, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "The Lord Byron Forged Letter: Where's the Questioned Document Analysis (QDE)?" by John Daab

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, regular contributor John Daab writes on "The Lord Byron Forged Letter: Where's the Questioned Document Analysis (QDE)?":
Lloyd Smith was an avid collector of rare books and letters amassing thousands of works upon his death.  In 1957 the Morristown National Historical Park Museum was elated to find that they were the recipient of 300,000 of Smith's works from his estate.  Contained with these artifacts was a letter from Lord Byron, the poet.  Over the last 40-50 years the letter was exhibited on occasion but, for the most part, it lay in storage (Pfister, 2011).  In 2010 the letter was scanned and brought to the attention of nearby Drew University scholars, who suspected that the work was not genuine (Appendix exhibit B). The evidence supporting the forgery call was that there were anomalies in signature, date, type of address to Captain hay (the receiver of the letter), and wording used.  The scholars argued that the signature was not that of Lord Byron, the dating of the months did not match Byron's dating, the word "affectionately" was not typical for Byron, and the use of "My dear Hay" to address Captain Hay his friend was not appropriate (Fischer, 2012 Appendix C).
To confirm the conclusion found by Drew Scholars, the National Historic Park Museum enlisted the services of Doucet Devin Fisher from the New York Public Library, a Byron scholar and member of the Byron Society.  Fisher compared the letter with the notes of a Rutgers University Byron scholar Leslie Marquand, and found that the letter was a forgery.  Fisher noted that the Byron letter under review matched a similar forgery.  What is not apparent from the various narratives and media accounts found regarding the announcement of the forgery, is a clear description of how the forgery was determined.  The fundamental rule in scholarly research and forensic examination is that another researcher may carry out the research in similar fashion and reach the same conclusion.  Verification informs reliability and, without it, specious conclusions may emerge.  What seems to be problematic and a serious issue is that those carrying out the process of document determination, in terms of authenticity, is the extent that the process establishing the forgery followed proper QDE, or Questioned Document Examination (FBI, 2009).  Before we engage in the QDE process ourselves, let us first define and discuss some of the concepts presented in the account of the latest Byron fake and those lacking in the examination.
John Daab was formerly a NYCTP Police Officer and an NYU Professor.  John holds the following designations: Certified Fraud Examiner, Certified Forensic Consultant, Certified Criminal Investigator, Certified Instructor, Diplomate American Board of Forensic Examiners, Certified Homeland Security, and Certified Intelligence Analyst.  He holds the degrees of Ph.D. MA, MPS, MA, MBA, and BA.  He writes regularly for The Journal of Art Crime.

November 19, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "The Sword in the Museum: On Whether La Vallette's Sword and Dagger, Currently Housed in the Louvre, Should be Returned to Malta" by Mario Buhagiar

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Mario Buhagiar writes on "The Sword in the Museum: On Whether La Valette's Sword and Dagger, Currently Housed in the Louvre, Should be Returned to Malta":
The debate about the spoils of war and national heritage is always an intense one.  Whenever I ask somebody whether a recognized objet d'art which used to be in a country's possession out to be returned to its first home, I always get a resounding 'yes.'  In Malta's case, the most popular objet d'art in question is La Valette's sword.  Together with its matching dagger, the sword was a gift from Philippe II of Spain in 1565 to The Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of Malta at the time, Jean Parisot De La Valette (active 1557-1568), marking the Knights of Malta's victory in the Great siege and the subsequent retreat of the Ottoman forces.(1) The set of weapons remained in the Order's possession for more than two hundred years after the death of the Grand Master, who first received it on the Order's behalf.  This sword was later taken by Napoleon's forces when they invaded Malta, and is now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Mario Buhagiar is a professor and head of the History of Art Department at the University of Malta.

November 14, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - No comments

Update on Pretoria Art Museum Theft

Photo Credit - Wikimedia Commons
By Lynda Albertson.

Four of the paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum have been found in a small private cemetery in Sunridge Park, behind the Dutch Reformed Church in Port Elizabeth.

Brigadier Marinda Mills of the South African Police Service (SAPS) said the recovered paintings appeared to be Maggie Laubser's Cat and Petunias (1936); JH Pierneef's Eland and bird (1961); Irma Stern's Fishing Boats (1931) and Hugo Naude's Hottentot Chief.  Mills told the press that an officer had received an early morning tip from an informant and that the paintings were recovered beneath a park bench by a patrolling canine officer.  Though no formal evaluation had been conducted, it appeared that the paintings were in good condition overall.

This photo released by the South African Police Service (SAPS)
Earlier in the week, Daywood Khans, a member of staff from the museum, speaking with interviewers from South African radio station Eye Witness News (EWN), reported that during the theft thieves, posing as students had pointed a gun at him and produced a "shopping list" of artworks.  Why the paintings were abandoned 700 miles away is still unclear.

Journalist Karabo Ngoepe from Independent Online, A South African news website had reported yesterday that law enforcement has received a tip claiming that a prominent Pretoria artist was suspected of being behind the robbery but did not name the artist.   At this time there is no confirmation that this police lead had any connection to the paintings being abandoned and no arrests have been made.



November 13, 2012

Kunsthal Rotterdam Theft: Messenger bags may have allowed thieves to flee on foot or by bike

Painting by Gauguin stolen from Kunsthal Rotterdam

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Here’s a link to an article by Robbert Blokland and Jolande van der Graaf published today in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraf regarding progress on the investigation of the theft at the Kunsthal Rotterdam last month.

Here Arthur Brand, private art investigator, provided an analysis of the article along with his own commentary:
A retired Dutch police office (Dick Gosewehr) is claiming that the police are doing something wrong in their investigation of the Kunsthal Rotterdam heist if they are looking for a getaway car.  If you look carefully at the surveillance video of the theft, you can see that the bags that the the thieves are wearing are what messenger boys use in cities for delivery packages on bicycles.
The police have been desperately searching for an escape car, but these are bags used for when people are carrying something on their back while walking or on the bicycle.  His theory is that they never used a car.
 
If you go to the map showing the Kunsthal Rotterdam in the museum park, you can see it’s difficult to approach the gallery or park a car on a busy street during a robbery.  It would be less conspicuous to travel by bike or to walk because the police would have a hard time finding you.  They might have stashed the paintings somewhere near the museum and maybe 1-2-3 days later when the heat was down, they could have come back to collect the paintings.  It would explain messenger bags and no escape car.
 
The retired police officer says that the CCTV cameras focus on cars and street traffic but wouldn’t necessarily follow someone walking into the bushes.
 
Martin Cahill was known to have buried stolen paintings – and sometimes he could not find them later.
 
Half of Martin’s gang is still in The Netherlands and the Rathkeal Rovers who are still operating have been linked in the past to very big art thefts.  One of them is now in an American jail for tricking an antiques dealer.  The Rathkeal Rovers see each other every November and December when they return to their town to celebrate the holidays so they all know each other.  Irish Travelers, the Cahill gang, and the Rathkeal Rovers all know each other and deal in drugs and steal art.  The Cahill group were not originally Irish Travellers but came from the poorest level of society.
 
George Mitchell and some of the other people took their expertise with them to the Netherlands.  Kunsthall is a temporary art collection.  If they took a look back last year and saw that the paintings were visible through the glass walls then all they had to do was wait for a big exhibition and strike after it opened.  It’s not 100% but rumors go that way and it’s just too obvious.  If police ignore this link, then they are doing a bad job.

Kunsthal Rotterdam Theft: Private art investigator Arthur Brand suspects Irish gang involved in rhino horn theft last year and last month's robbery


Matisse painting stolen last month from Kunsthal

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Dutch private art investigator Arthur Brand has a theory that ties two seemingly unrelated museum thefts together: the theft of the rhino horns from Rotterdam’s Natural History Museum and last months’ theft of paintings from the Kunsthal Rotterdam.

Mr. Brand, who described himself as “well informed about art thefts in Holland”, introduced himself via the Internet and told me that I could ask former Scotland Yard detective Charley Hill to vouch for his credibility (which Mr. Hill did via email).

In a conversation via Skype, Mr. Brand extended the dialogue begun last month on the ARCA blog by former Scotland Yard art detective Charley Hill in regards to the Kunsthal robbery:
Mr. Hill: My view is that this theft was particularly well organised, done quickly and in the almost certain knowledge that the thieves and what they stole would be long gone by the time the police arrived. Also, the thieves were apparently not opportunists such as the two with a ladder at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam some years ago who smashed a window and took the two pictures nearest the broken glass, nor were they Balkan bandits with machine pistols like the ones who hit the Munch Museum in 2004, or the Buhrle Collection in Zurich a few years ago.


The closest pattern I know is of Irish Traveller raids on art in the 1980s through 2010. The pattern in Rotterdam the night before last was closer to that. See the art crimes of The General as he called himself, Martin Cahill of Dublin. Interestingly, one of Cahill's gang, George Mitchell, known as The Penguin, lives close to Rotterdam where he works in commodities with his Colombian, Russian, Dutch, Brit, Irish and other friends. I wonder if he has a part to play in this? He could do something about getting those pictures back, I'm sure, if any good Dutch police officer not in his pay asked him for some help.
 This is Mr. Brand’s assessment:

George “The Penguin” Mitchell escaped to Holland in 1996 after the murder of Irish reporter Veronica Guerin.  Mitchell lived in Amsterdam and Rotterdam before moving to Morocco a couple of years ago.  He visits The Netherlands to see family and to do business (one of those businesses dealing in Indonesian antiquities).  I thought about what Charley Hill said about The Penguin’s involvement and made some inquiries in the underworld and learned that an Irish connection could very well be possible.

Mitchell, who once worked for the gang of art thief Martin Cahill, is said to know members of  the Rathkeale Rovers, a gang of Irish Travellers (gypsies) suspected of stealing rhino horns from a few dozen museums throughout Europe.  Rhino horns are valued for medicinal purposes in eastern Asia.  Thieves make millions with that but there is more to this group.

The Rathkeale Rovers were linked in 2005 to the theft of the Henry Moore sculpture stolen and melted down for bronze scrap metal.  Irish Travellers were suspected in the 2003 theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder from Drumlanrig castle in Scotland.  Although the painting was recovered in 2007, the thieves who removed the painting from the home of the Duke of Buccleuch have never been caught.  In 2005, according to rumors and a source in the FBI, Irish Travellers planned to rob the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.  I have been told that George Mitchell was connected to Martin Cahill’s associate Martin Foley who is suspected of robbing the Russborough House in 2001 and 2002.

The Rathkeal Rovers were almost certainly at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam on August 26, 2011 when three rhino horns were stolen.  If you look at this image of the Kunsthal, you can see a building to the left – about five to ten meters away from the art gallery.  This is the Natural History Museum.  If you look back from there, you can see right through the big glass windows of the Kunsthal and see the art displayed.  What I suspect and it’s backed up by a few rumors, the thieves stealing the rhino horns probably figured that this was too good to be true – that they were looking into the worst protected museum in the world.  If you smash a window you are in and you can take 100-200 million euros worth of paintings.  Why steal rhino horn for less than 20,000 euros when we can kick in the glass window and get 100 million?  The rumor in the criminal world is that the Rathkeale Rovers are behind the Kunsthal Rotterdam theft.  One year after rhino horns were stolen from a museum in Rotterdam, another theft occurs at the art gallery just five to ten meters away.  Nobody has brought these two events together even though the Irish Travellers and the Rathkeale Rovers have been linked to art thefts and they are well connected to the old Cahill group known as the world’s best art thieves.  They all know each other.  After the IRA murdered Cahill, part of his gang thought they should go to the Netherlands and Amsterdam is the best place to go if you still want to deal in drugs.  The best art thieves and Irish Travellers live in the Netherlands.  It was even more difficult to break into Natural History Museum than the Kunsthall – you can send in a girl of 10 to steal art from there.  I cannot confirm the rumor that it was an Irish job but I can logically connect the events –- there is only one group right now robbing museums.

Here's the link to an article by Jolande van der Graaf and Robbert Blokland published today in De Telegraf on the Kunsthal Rotterdam theft which we'll discuss in the next post.