April 13, 2013

German Government Agrees to Return Oskar Kokoschka's "Portrait of Tilla Durieux" to Flechtheim's Heirs

Oskar Kokoschka's "Portrait of Tilla Durieux" (1910)
Museum Ludwig/Marcus Stroetzel via Bloomberg
The ARCA Blog mentioned Alfred Flechtheim and a painting by Oskar Kokoschka in November 2010 when German forgers were suspected of using fraudulent stickers from the Dusseldorf art dealer's gallery to sell artworks falsely attributed to French and German Expressionist artists ("German Forgers May Have Used Catalogs of Jewish Art Dealer").

Alfred Flechtheim fled Nazi Germany when his business was confiscated in 1933 and died in London in 1937. Flechtheim's heirs have tried to recover more than 100 paintings by artists such as Picasso, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Vincent van Gogh from European and American museums.

Catherine Hickley reported for Bloomberg News on April 9 that the German government has agreed to return Oskar Kokoschka's "Portrait of Tilla Durieux" (1910) to Flechtheim's heirs:
“Portrait of Tilla Durieux” (1910) has been in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne since 1976. Flechtheim’s great-nephew Mike Hulton, a medical doctor based in California, filed a claim for the painting’s restitution in 2008, saying the dealer sold it under duress and didn’t get a fair price. The museum said Flechtheim was already in financial trouble before the Nazis came to power and sold the painting to pay off debts. 
“The view of the advisory commission is that this case cannot be exhaustively clarified,” the panel, led by former constitutional judge Jutta Limbach, said in a statement. “Because of an absence of concrete evidence, it is to be assumed that Alfred Flechtheim was forced to sell the disputed painting because he was persecuted.”

Francisco Goya's 1978 "Witches in Air" is subject of auction house theft in Danny Boyle's fictional film "Trance"

Francisco Goya's Witches in Air, 1798
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

In Danny Boyle's fictional movie, Trance, Francisco Goya's $25 million painting is stolen during an auction in a choreographed heist. One of the thieves, Simon (James McAvoy), works at the auction house. Simon betrays his accomplices before a bump on his head precedes a case of amnesia. Rosario Dawson is the hypnotherapist and Vincent Cassel (who played an art thief in Oceans 13) is the criminal boss applying the pressure on the bewildered lad with the big blue eyes and Scottish brogue to recall where he hid the stolen painting.

In reality, Goya's Witches in Air is owned by the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. The 1798 oil painting is not on display:

Three bare-chested characters wearing dunce caps hold a fourth, nude character in the air while another lies on the floor, covering his ears, A sixth figure flees, his head covered with a white cloth. With his hand, he makes the gesture intended to protect him from the evil eye. At the right of the scene, a donkey stands out against the neutral background.
This was one of six canvases Goya sold to the Duke and Duchess of Osuna in 1798, as decoration for their country house in La Alameda. They are linked to the etchings from his Caprichos series, in which he presented scenes of witches and witchcraft similar to this one.
This painting was acquired by the Prado Museum in 1999 with funds from the Villaescusa legacy.
The film also includes references to Rembrandt's "Sea of Galilee" stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 (the whereabouts of Dutch master's only seascape is publicly unknown) and an imagined room of "lost paintings" including Caravaggio's Nativity (stolen from a church in Palermo in 1969 and rumored to have been eaten by pigs).

Saturday, April 13, 2013 - ,,, No comments

A True Goya Painting Theft: History of Stolen Painting from the Toledo Museum of Art in 2006

Here's an example of a true theft of a painting by Francisco Goya on November 7, 2006, which occurred when the artwork was being moved from one museum to another.

David Johnston for The New York Times reported on November 17 ("Goya Theft is Attributed to Inside Knowledge"):

Federal investigators have concluded that thieves armed with detailed shipping information were behind the removal of a Goya painting from a truck en route to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from Ohio last week, law enforcement officials said Friday. 
The 1778 painting, “Children With a Cart,” was packed inside several nested crates aboard a locked unmarked truck used by a professional art transporter. The crated painting was removed from an outer shipping container in the truck while it was parked at a Howard Johnson Inn near Bartonsville, Pa. 
The two drivers checked into the hotel around 11 p.m. on Nov. 7, according to the motel manager, Faizal Bhimani. He said the white midsize truck was left in an unlighted parking lot adjacent to the hotel, out of sight of the hotel’s rooms and the main office. 
When the drivers returned to the truck at about 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 8, the locks had been broken and the painting, insured for $1 million, was gone, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Here's a link to the press release from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the Goya painting.

 Here's the link to the FBI's press release on November 20, 2006 upon recovery of Goya's "Children with Cart" within three weeks of the theft.

Here's a link to the NPR story of the FBI Art Crime Team which reports that the Goya painting stolen from the Toledo museum was recovered within 10 days.

Here's a link to an article in The Wall Street Journal online in 2011 with a motivation for the theft:

Robert K. Wittman, former head of the FBI's Art Crime team and now a security consultant in Philadelphia, notes that history's most infamous art thefts, including the 1990 Isabella Steward Gardner Museum heist in Boston, targeted works hanging on walls, not in transit. But he adds that art on the move is at its most vulnerable. 
Mr. Wittman helped recover a 1778 Goya masterpiece stolen off a truck in Pennsylvania in 2006 en route from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio to the Guggenheim in New York. In that case, its two drivers made the dumb decision to check into a motel for a nap. They returned to find their parked truck busted open and the unmarked Goya crate gone. The thief didn't know what he had, and said he wanted to get rid of it. He didn't destroy the painting because "it kind of grew on me." He had a lawyer contact authorities saying he had found it in his basement—there was a $50,000 reward—but wound up pleading guilty and being sentenced to five years in prison.
Goya's 1778 "Children with Cart" is still on display at the Toledo Museum of Art.


April 12, 2013

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Louvre's one-day protest to procure help against threat of pickpockets follows strikes in 2009 and 1999 against reduction in staff

The Louvre reopened on Thursday after a one-day strike by museum security protesting the problem of pickpockets by children entering the museum for free.

Police will now join security staff in combatting the problem of relieving tourists of cash, according to museum officials.

In December 2009, employees of France's Culture of Ministry closed monuments such as Louvre, Museé d'Orsay, and Versailles Palace in a strike protesting the government's plan 'to replace only one out of every two retiring civil servants, which they say will cripple French museums'.

In 1999, French museums closed due to strikes. Marlise Simons for The New York Times reported on the situation then:
The main demand of the strikers, all employees of the Culture Ministry, is that they want the Government to hire more people and create at least 1,000 new jobs. They particularly want more security guards, whose numbers, the strikers contend, have not swelled to match the ever-growing stream of visitors. Strikers also demand that the Government end the system of hiring people on temporary contracts and instead offer permanent jobs.
On Friday, hundreds of frustrated tourists milled around near I. M. Pei's glass pyramid that gives access to the Louvre. Instead of a ticket to the museum, visitors got pamphlets from striking workers, explaining their grievances. They did not get much sympathy. A family from Sydney, Australia, said that seeing the Louvre's great collections from ancient Egypt and Greece would have been the highlight of their trip to Paris.

April 10, 2013

Louvre closed due to "exceptional circumstances"

Paris' Louvre at night (Photo by CR Sezgin)
The Louvre's website pops up a message today:
Due to exceptional circumstances, the Louvre museum is currently closed. We apologize for the inconvenience and will keep you informed when the museum opens again.
The New York Times' Arts Beat blog reported:

PARIS –The Louvre museum was shut on Wednesday after 200 guards and surveillance agents went on strike to protest the growing number of often violent pickpockets who prey on them and tourists. 
“For more than a year, pickpockets have come here every day,” Thierry Choquet, a member of the main union at the Louvre, said. “They threaten guards by telling them that they know where they live.” 
The pickpockets are often minors from Eastern and Central Europe, Mr. Choquet said, who “buy entry tickets, threaten agents and attack tourists.” 
On Wednesday the museum’s management said that it would beef up security forces at the Louvre, which usually attracts between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors a day at this time of year.
BBC News quoted sources as saying that the pickpockets included children.

The Guardian reported that earlier efforts had failed:
The museum said in a statement that pickpocketing was a growing problem despite measures taken last year, including tighter co-operation with the police and temporary bans on people already identified as pickpockets from re-entering the museum. Late last year, the Louvre filed an official complaint to the state prosecutor over visitors falling victim to the thieves.
The Telegraph reported how it's done:
Many of the thieves are children who get into the museum for free and then start asking people for money. 
“Do you speak English?” is their usual opening gambit, and then they surround victims, helping themselves to money and possessions.
And the difficulty in resolving the problem of the 'children of Romanian immigrants (France's Interior Minister)':
“The children are tough and very well organised,” said one member of [Louvre] staff. “They stop at nothing to get what they want, and work in gangs.
“We can only do so much, but arrests are usually impossible because of their young age. If they are kicked out, they return the next day. They are very aggressive towards staff, putting people in danger of attack.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - , No comments

New Yorker Leonard A. Lauder Donates $1 Billion Cubist Art Collection to The Metropolitan Museum

Picasso's "Woman in an Armchair"
owned by Leonard Lauder
 is one of 78 works donated to the Met
Today The Met approved a gift of 78 Cubist works from philanthropist and cosmetics heir Leonard A. Lauder, according to The New York Times ("A Billion Dollar Gift Gives the Met a New Perspective").

Forty years ago, Leonard -- the older brother of Neue Galerie's founder Ronald S. Lauder -- began collecting paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Cubist artists. NYT article describes the donation to the Met: 
The trove of signature works, which includes 33 Picassos, 17 Braques, 14 Légers and 14 works by Gris, is valued at more than $1 billion. It puts Mr. Lauder, who for years has been one of the city’s most influential art patrons, in a class with cornerstone contributors to the museum like Michael C. Rockefeller, Walter Annenberg, Henry Osborne Havemeyer Robert Lehman.
In September 2007, a Montreal man, Georges Jorisch, claimed Leonard Lauder owned a Klimt painting, "Blossoming Meadows", Nazis had stolen in Vienna from his grandmother, Amalie Redlich. Lauder disputed the painting's history and within three months the lawsuit was dropped. [In November 2011, Jorisch sold a recovered Klimt painting, Litzlberg on the Attersee, at Sotheby's for $40 million.]

April 6, 2013

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Easter Theft at the Villa Giulia: Reports from online publications in Italian

Almost one week after thieves robbed the Villa Giulia in Rome and stolen jewelry, this is what information has been published online in Italian (indirectly quoted from translated material):


Il Giornale dell'Arte.com reported that at least ten gold necklaces with emeralds, pearls, and rubies from the 19th century Castellani Collection were stolen on Easter weekend when thieves smashed the display cases on the floor above the entrance to the museum. Police are investigating if there could have been inside help as the 112 alarm (Italy's version of 911) didn't go off immediately. 
The pieces may have been selected as a "theft by commission" or because it might be easier to remove the precious stones and resell these piece on the market as the Etruscan one's are well documented and these less so.
For now investigators are focusing on the the entry point downstairs, an assessment of the 50 or so staff associated with the museum's surveillance, and with reviewing tapes CCTV tapes both during the theft and in the days preceding the assault in the hopes that perhaps the assailants cased the museum in the days preceding the event passing themselves off as visitors.
Corriere della Sera reported that the Carabinieri are still waiting for a formal inventory of the stolen pieces and that other objects were damaged when the casing was smashed.
Given the execution of the event, law enforcement is placing a higher focus on the statements of the various staff responsible for the museums security watch to look for irregularities or contradictions of their recollection of the events as they occurred during the theft.
There is also speculation as to if the smoke was used to possible create a diversionary fire, create a smokescreen to hide the thieves movements or to perhaps signal their pick-up at the completion of the theft.
Law enforcement are also investigating other thefts of local residences in the area to look for similarities.
Libero Quotidiano reported that the Regional Association of Roman Goldsmiths, in cooperation with the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, has been working on a project that to document the complexity of the Castellani Collection in relation to historic archaeological finds in jewelry making and 19th century recreations and creativity. Part of the project involved preparations for a traveling exhibition that highlighted the School Castellani Goldsmiths in relation to previous Roman and Etruscan jewelry, with an emphasis on how these original styles were/are being utilized in contemporary jewelry. 


As first reported in La Repubblica on March 31, Easter Sunday:
The thieves arrived from the back of the museum. At 11.30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, thieves locked the guards in the gatehouse, went upstairs to the Hall of Gold, smashed three display cases, and stole jewelry collected by the Castellani family in the 19th century. The thieves used a smoke bomb to obscure images on the surveillance camera.
Neither the police nor the museum have identified which items were taken although one government official says that the items were not from the valuable archaeological collection of the National Etruscan Museum. The extent of the theft was limited by the appearance of the police who were alerted by the guards. Officials are reviewing footage from the CCTV cameras.

Daniele Particelli writing for Crimeblog.it on March 31:
Thieves launched tear gas to obscure the surveillance cameras as they entered the museum.
An alarm system was triggered when the first display case was smashed in the Hall of Gold; two guards had alerted the police whose arrival reduced the thieves time to grab objects.
Roma Daily News published on April 2:
Police investigators are reviewing hours of surveillance tape, looking for suspects who may have visited the Etruscan museum in the days leading up to the theft. The number of thieves is identified as three. The thieves used plastic ties to obstruct access to the gates surrounding the museum grounds.

April 5, 2013

Friday, April 05, 2013 - , No comments

Easter Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Roundup of information published in English

Almost one week after the Easter theft of unidentified pieces from the Castellani jewellery collection at the Villa Giulia, what details have been published in English?

Gazzetta del Sud.online reported on April 2 the criticism the Italian government is facing over the museum theft in Rome:
A robbery over the Easter weekend at Rome's Villa Giulia Etruscan museum led to calls Tuesday for improved measures to secure Italy's culture ministry. "It took a multimillion (euro) theft to point attention to one of the longstanding problems that weigh on the management, protection and safety" of Italy's cultural sites, said Giuseppe Urbino, the national secretary of the Confsal Unsa Beni Culturali union.
Late Saturday, robbers stole dozens of rare items, including ancient jewelry. "Thefts have become routine, but never has any minister - at least in the last 20 years - tried to carry out a healthy safety policy". The union leader pointed the finger at spending cuts, following outgoing Premier Mario Monti's "spending review", which have left few resources for training, security upgrades and personnel, with many museum guards performing double shifts. "The management class at the culture ministry has demonstrated incompetence, and it is also for this reason that something must change in order to help culture in our 'bel paese' rise again," Urbino said.
Wanted in Rome.com reports:
The thieves gained entry after forcing open one of the entrance doors. They smashed two cabinets on the upper floor containing items from the important Castellani collection comprising more than 6,000 whole and fragmented artefacts including ancient and modern gold, and amber pendants dating from the early 7th century BC. 

However this activated the alarm system and before fleeing the thieves only stole some 19th-century jewelry, not among the museum's most valuable items.

Investigators believe that the thieves visited the museum before the robbery, possibly posing as tourists.

April 3, 2013

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Florida Sheriff Reviving Search for Religious Paintings Stolen from Museum of the Cross in 1968

A Sarasota County sheriff's detective in Florida, Detective Kim McGrath, is reviving the search for 15 religious paintings by Saturday Evening Post illustrator Ben Stahl which were stolen from his Museum of the Cross on April 16, 1968.


Associated Press' Tamara Lush reported on the new search for the paintings stolen more than four de cades ago (Florida's Herald Tribune, "Stolen Religious Art an Enduring Mystery").
Commissioned to illustrate a Bible for the Catholic Press in the mid-1950s, Stahl painted the 14 Stations of the Cross. Later, he decided to paint larger versions, along with a 15th painting, "The Resurrection," because he wanted his work to end on a positive note. All 15 paintings were 6 feet by 9 feet, and painted in oil. In 1965, Stahl and his wife moved to Sarasota and decided to open a museum for the large-scale paintings. Called "The Museum of the Cross," it was one of the main tourist attractions in the area at the time.


One witness remembered seeing a white van near the museum that night, while Stahl recalled two visitors from South America who asked odd questions in the days prior to the theft. The trail eventually went cold, and Stahl and his family didn't think investigators were trying as hard as they could.
"It was devastating," said Regina Briskey, Ben Stahl's daughter, who was working at the museum at the time. "It was incomprehensible, because at that time in Sarasota, there was hardly any crime."
The artist's son, David Stahl, wrote on a website that he even contacted witnesses and possible informers around Florida, but claimed authorities didn't pay attention.
Keeping an old art theft case open:
McGath -- who is also investigating the cold case of a quadruple murder in 1959 in Sarasota and its possible link to the "In Cold Blood" killers in Kansas -- said she is poring over records. She wants to talk to anyone who might have information about the Stahl art heist. 
Interpol Washington is also involved. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas said this week that officials recently sent out a message to all 190 Interpol member countries in an attempt to renew interest in the case, which she said is one of 500 open art heist cases being investigated by the agency.

April 2, 2013

Theft at the Villa Giulia, Rome: Background on the The Jewellery in the Augusto Castellani Collection

The Castellani Collection is located on the site
plan in the dark green (one half circle and
 another rectangle) above the entrance.
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The Short Guide to The Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum (second reprint 2008) includes a description of the jewellery in the Augusto Castellani Collection.

The article dated March 31 in La Repubblica reporting the theft at the Villa Giulia last Saturday night did not identify the items stolen.

The Collection Castellani is described as being in Room 19 (half circle) and Room 20 (smaller rectangle) on the upper floor above the entrance to the Villa Giulia. The Short Guide places the jewellery in Room 20.

The Castellani jewellery collection at the Villa Giulia includes 'ancient articles in gold along with the "modern" pieces produced over the years by the Castellani goldsmiths."

The collection was assembled in the latter half of the 19th century - a time when intensive and indeed fruitful excavations were being carried out on the great sites of Etruria and Latium - thanks to the enthusiastic initiative of the family progenitor, Fortunato Pio. This friend and disciple of Michelangelo Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, began to collect antiquities "to replace in our city of Rome what the Pope sold to France in 1860".
The archaeological gold objects include a 'splendid pectoral in gold and amber' and 'three finely-wrought figured pendants in amber' from the early 7th century BC Galeassi tomb discovered in Palestrina in 1861. A necklace with miniature amphora pendants (Castellani reconstruction from two necklaces of similar typology, style and chronology) is from Tarquinia in the 4th century BC.