July 7, 2020

Caveat Emptor - if the last name is....

Caveat Emptor if the name on the collecting history of your Egyptian artifacts are:

⇏ Ashraf Omar Eldarir (see our earlier post today).

⇏ Anything with any spelling that says something like ex-private Ezeldeen Taha Eldarir collection; ex-Salahaddin Sirmali collection.

⇏ Anything with "formerly Collection Salah al-Din Sarmali Bey. Acquired by Izz al-Din Tah al-Darir Bey in Egypt.


Pieces with Ezeldeen Eldarir provenance can be found with Howard Rose in his 16 September 2019 Arte Primitivo sales catalogue.


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Egyptian hieroglyphic relief fragment is with James Ede at Charles Ede Ltd.


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Hematite Heart Amulet and this Wooden Standing Figure of a Manat with Christoph Bacher Ancient Art.


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Egyptian Wood Painted Sarcophagus Mask with Howard Nowes at Art for Eternity.


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this pair of Ancient Egyptian Bronze Eyes with Trocadero via M Goodstein at Explorer Ancient Art.


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Egyptian Polychrome Gesso Coffin Lid with Bob and Teresa Dodge at Artemis Gallery


Izz al-Din Tah al-Darir Bey's name appears on this Ptolemaic Royal Portrait, possibly of Ptolemy III Euergetes and the Portrait Head of the Emperor Severus Alexander of a Man pictured above.  Both were with Jean-David Cahn at TEFAF at Stand 422 in March 2020.  In fairness to Cahn, in this instance, one of these also snuck through Christie's before arriving in Switzerland.




All of this to say that it looks like one smuggler begat many pieces which are likely of concern and if you are a buyer, and you expect the market to be looking out for your best interests, you might want to think again. 

By: Lynda Albertson

Ashraf Omar Eldarir, A US Citizen, indicted for smuggling Egyptian antiquities


The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (HSI) - Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has formally released information related to an antiquities trafficking investigation underway in the Eastern District of New York.  The case involves Ashraf Omar Eldarir, a US Citizen residing in Brooklyn who has been charged with smuggling Egyptian antiquities into the United States.

Stopped on 22 January 2020 upon arrival to John F. Kennedy International Airport from overseas, Eldarir provided US Customs and Border Protection authorities at the U.S. port of entry with a CBP declaration form, the double-sided slip of paper everyone entering the US must complete and hand over to  U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon arrival declaring the value of the goods they are bringing in from overseas.  On this form, Eldarir declared that he was only carrying merchandise and agricultural products valued at $300.  Instead, upon inspection of his belonging by CBP personnel, Eldarir was found to be transporting three suitcases full of bubble and foam-wrapped packages.

When unwrapped for further inspection by border patrol agents, the packages were found to contain 590 ancient artifacts, some of which still had adhering sand and soil, a signal which betrays their having been recently excavated.  Questioned by the authorities about the contents of his luggage, Eldarir was unable to produce any documentation which would show that he had obtained authorization from the Egyptian authorities for the exportation of the objects he was transporting.

As a result, Eldarir was subsequently arrested on 28 February 2020 and charged in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, on two counts of smuggling, under Title 18 U.S. Code § 545, 2 and 3551 et seq. According to the U.S. Department of Justice indictment, the first charge of smuggling is related to the aforementioned January 2020 seizure.   The second charge us related to an earlier trip, on 18 April 2019, where the defendant is alleged to have smuggled a single artefact from Egypt.

If convicted of one, or both charges, Eldarir will face a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for each count.   The United States will also seek forfeiture of the following antiquities in accordance with: (a) Title 18, United States Code, Section 982(a)(2)(B):

  • forty-one (41) ancient Egyptian gold artifacts;
  • nineteen (19) ancient coins;
  • two (2) Greco-Roman rings;
  • thirty-one (31) ancient Egyptian talismans (Ptolemaic period);
  • fourteen (14) ancient beads;
  • twenty-six (26) ancient Egyptian wooden figures;
  • four hundred (400) ancient Egyptian faience ushabtis;
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian wooden panels with painted figures;
  • one ( I ) ancient Egyptian large stone face;
  • two (2) Egyptian wooden masks;
  • two (2) Egyptian stone panels with hieroglyphics; 
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian canopic jar lids;
  • two (2) ancient Greco-Roman stela;
  • one (1) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta headless torso with robes;
  • seven (7) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta statues; 
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian large terracotta vases; 
  • two (2) Egyptian smalIterracotta vases;
  • two (2) Egyptian alabaster artifacts;
  • two (2) ancient Egyptian Osiris headpieces/crowns; 
  • twenty-six (26) ancient Greco-Roman oil lamps; 
  • one (1) Greco-Roman terracotta pilgrim's flask;
  • one (1) ancient Egyptian polychrome relief.
How long Mr. Eldarir has been at this remains to be disclosed. But these pieces are just the tip of a growing iceberg.  


On 1 May 2013 it seems that Eldarir sold four Egyptian limestone relief fragments for Wahibrenebahet through Bonhams in London for €31,766 claiming they were from his personal collection, inherited through his grandfather who was a friend of Prince of Egypt Omar Tosson.  Curious as to what proof of export he showed then. 


He also sold a Limestone Relief Fragment for £28,750 via Alexander Biesbroek.  Same provenance, same question as to what proof of export Mr. Biesbroek or his buyer reviewed. 





And that's not all, there's more to come.  

Caveat Emptor

My suggestion is for every ancient art dealer or collector who has a piece with Eldarir provenance (and likely nothing to prove its legitimacy aside from its laundering) should really consider contacting HSI's Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) unit.  They know how to google things as well as I do, and contacting them first might save you from embarrassing seizures, and no one wants that now. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 6, 2020

Online Conference - Fighting the Trafficking and Illegal Circulation of Documentary Heritage



Conference Title: Fighting the Trafficking and Illegal Circulation of Documentary Heritage

Date:  7 July 2020 - Virtual Event


Time: 1:00 – 2:00 PM (online)

Languages: Arabic, with English interpretation provided

Sponsor: Qatar National Library

Target Audience: Professionals interested in documentary heritage and related law enforcement officers

Focus:  For several years, the trafficking and smuggling of heritage items from libraries and archives has been steadily increasing, especially in the MENA and West and Central Africa regions which have often been plagued by politica upheaval and or military conflicts. 

This event will focus on documentary heritage, which is often at risk and in some cases less protected by various national legislations.

During this event, the hosts and guest speakers will discuss and present on the specific issues and challenges, in addition to the "Himaya" project suggested by Qatar National Library to support efforts to counter the trafficking and illegal circulation of the documentary heritage. 

Speakers: 
Dr. Rajaa Ben Salamah, General Director of the National Library of Tunisia 

Dr. Alsharqi Dahmali, Member of the Advisory Council of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), Morroco 

Stephane J. Ipert, Director of the IFLA PAC at Qatar National Library 

Moderator: Maxim Nasra, Book Conservation Specialist at Qatar National Library 

Spaces are limited, please click the link to register for the VoiceBoxer event. 

July 4, 2020

Exploring Stolen Memory

Personal Effects of Antonio Amigo Sanchez.
In January 2018, in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day, a traveling exhibition produced by the Arolsen Archives – the International Center on Nazi Persecution, (known as the International Tracing Service, ITS, or the Internationaler Suchdienst in German up until May 2019) was hosted at UNESCO in Paris.  Commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27th, the large-format poster exhibition highlighted a collection of around 3,000 personal belongings, from concentration camp inmates, which the former ITS archive hopes to be able to return to families.

Inside the the Arolsen Archives
Titled Stolen Memory, each poster in the exhibit showed the names of people as well as photos of the objects these prisoners carried with them when they were arrested by the National Socialists more than seven decades ago.  Simple things, like pocket and wristwatches, wallets and rings, a cherished family photo, or shopping coupons, or a utilitarian pocket comb.  Each one is a poignant and very personal reminder of the day these individuals were stripped of their freedom, and in most cases, eventually, their lives.

At the close of World War II the SS, attempting to cover their tracks, destroyed most of these prisoner traces, together with most of the documents connecting objects to their victims when many of the concentration camps were cleared. Yet, a small inventory has been preserved where tracing them to an individual victim is possible, mostly from the Neuengamme concentration camp system in northern Germany, as well as some objects from Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. 

Sadly, few personal effects of Jewish prisoners survived.  Those that do belong mostly to members of the Jewish community in Budapest, who were not deported directly to the gas chambers at the end of 1944, but were first shipped to Germany and used as forced laborers in the arms industry.

With brutal matter of fact record-keeping, Nazis bookkeepers at concentration camps like Neuengamme recorded the property of its prisoners by name, keeping them until their murder, or until they dropped dead from "Vernichtung durch Arbeit" the practice in concentration camps in Nazi Germany of exterminating prisoners by means of forced labour.  This written testimony of persecution has been essential, not only for tracing missing persons and their effects but also for documenting the atrocities carried out by the National Socialist machinery of terror.

The majority of the personal items in the Arolsen Archives salvaged after the war belong to political prisoners and detained forced laborers from Poland, Russia and the Ukraine though some objects are also the last memories of victims as far away as Spain. 

Now, a digital story-telling version of the Stolen Memory initiative can be experienced online.  Here, web participants can view objects owned by 14 former prisoners of the concentration camp Auschwitz, which tell the stories of just a few of the victims of Nazi politics.   Of the more than 5000 objects tied to individuals collected by the archivists, some 3000 still lie on the shelves.  For families, getting them back is a painful, if precious recovery, because often those effects represent the only traces of their lost loved ones they have, most of whom never returned home.

Take a look here and perhaps help find the rightful owners of these memories.


July 1, 2020

Auction House Seizure: A Roman marble portrait head of the Emperor Septimius Severus, circa 200 CE seized at Christie's

Image Left:  Christie's Catalogue where the stolen sculpture was identified.
Image Right:  Showroom image of the stolen head of Emperor Septimius Severus

An ancient Roman marble head was seized on the basis of a search warrant requested by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office on June 24th at Christie’s auction house based on evidence provided by the Italian Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, attesting that the portrait bust had been stolen from Italy in on 18 November 1985 before eventually landing in New York.  Taken at gunpoint from the Antiquarium of the Campanian Amphitheatre in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, in the Province of Caserta, situated 25 km north of Naples in southern Italy.  The sculpture depicts Septimius Severus who served as Roman emperor from 193 to 211 CE. 

The antiquity was published in Christie's 28 October 2019 catalogue Faces of the Past - Ancient Sculpture from the Collection of Dr. Anton Pestalozzi which included two pages describing the biography of the Roman Emporer and the object's comparable likeness to other portraits of Severus in the Serapis-type style, including one at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Denmark.

For the object's provenance, Christie's stated:

◘ with Jean-Luc Chalmin, London

◘ with Galerie Arete, Zurich, acquired from the above, 1993

◘ Dr. Anton Pestalozzi (1915-2007), Zurich, acquired from the above, thence by descent to the current owner. 

According to Roman Historian Cato the Elder the site at Ancient Capua where the object originates was founded by the Etruscans around 800 BCE and is remembered most for being the site where slaves and gladiators led by the legendary Spartacus revolted 73 BCE. 

While details on this particular investigation have not yet been released to the public, one of the troubling aspects in this case - of which there are many - and the most disturbing perhaps, is the failure of anyone whose hands this object passed through to have properly investigated the provenance of this portrait head.  No one, from Jean-Luc Chalmin, to Hans Humbel at Galerie Arete to the Zurich-based lawyer-collector Dr. Anton Pestalozzi ever bothered to ascertain by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom they had obtained the artifact had the legal right to possess it.

Amphitheater Campano Santa Maria Capua Vetere
On the bright side, this third object seizure in a span of weeks should send an important message to the auction powerhouse, as well as to dealers who profit from the sales of illicit material, that the Antiquities Trafficking Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the US and Italian authorities are committed to protecting cultural heritage around the world.

Update:  A second artefact, stolen during this same armed robbery, a head portrait depicting the beloved elder sister of Roman Emperor Trajan, Ulpia Marciana (August 48 – 112) was recovered, twenty-five years ago, ten years after the theft.

June 29, 2020

Object Alert: An Illicit antiquity breezes through the windy city

Hindman Auction Catalogue - 16 June 2020
Lot 157
Most of the time, when one thinks of illicit antiquities one imagines them transiting their way through lofty auction showrooms in London, New York, or more recently, as was in the news last week, Paris.  One doesn't usually suspect a homegrown auction house, from the windy city of Chicago, as a place to spot hot art that once passed through the hands of one of Italy's most notorious bad boys, art dealer Giacomo Medici.  But the market for looted or unprovenanced cultural property in America is still going strong and plundered artefacts have the tendency to scatter farther than you think.  Sometimes, when they do, they turn up in places that we don't expect, well, at least until we do.

An art dealer who post-sentence resides in an expansive seaside villa west of Rome, Giacomo Medici was convicted 13 December 2004 of participation in an organized criminal group as its principal promoter and organizer.  Men in his network plundered large swaths of Italy's territory, with the network's loot making its way into some of the world's most prestigious museums and lining the shelves of extravagant private collections.  But despite the sixteen years that have past since his conviction, Medici's ill-gotten wares continue to bubble to the surface, not unlike Italian gnocchi, one object at a time, in slow dribs and drabs and usually not even mentioning his name as was the case with this recent artefact.

This time, in late June, an investigation lead by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in collaboration with the New York District Attorney's Office and the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage turned up another one of Giacomino's antiquities, this time at Chicago's very own, Hindman Auctioneers, a firm which merged in 2019 with Ohio-based Cowan's and shortened its name from Leslie Hindman to just plain Hindman

Photographed on pages 116 and 117 of Hindman's 16 June 2020 Antiquities and Islamic Art catalogue, Lot 15, A Roman Marble Torso of a Faun with a Goose lists the artefact's provenance succinctly: 

Private Collection. London, acquired in New York in the early 1990s 
Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch. London, 2013

What was provided to back up this claim, or what import, export, or shipping documents were submitted to demonstrate that this Italian antiquity's passages into the United States previously, then back across the sea to the UK, then back into Chicago were legitimate, leaves me curious. 

With no difficulty, and without auction consignment profits to incentivise (or disincentivise) my due diligence, I was quickly, and without too much trouble, able to find and cross-reference the 2013 sale via the Forge & Lynch Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) catalogue.   This sales PDF documented the previous sale of the mythological half-human, half-goat, creature with a discreet tail in a two-page spread.

Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.,
Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) Catalogue - 2013

Joint proprietors of the art dealership Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., Forge and Lynch left Sotheby’s in London in 1997 when the auction house began winding down its London antiquities sales, and continued working together for their own ancient art gallery formed in UK in July 2000.  Both art dealers are familiar with the problem children antiquities dealers of yesteryear from their Sotheby's days, and both have continued to get their reputations scorched brokering suspect art via more recent problematic dealers like Subhash Kapoor. 

So even without Medici's name clearly printed on anything provenance-y provided by the Faun's consignor to Hindman, one has to question first where Forge & Lynch themselves got the piece, and secondly, their own provenance entry for the earlier sale of this artefact, which reads: 

Probably acquired in New York, early 1990s  
Private collection, London, early 1990s-2013

This entry leads me to ask why Hindman changed the "probably acquired in New York" to definitely acquired in New York.  It is also curious why Hindman left off the non-specific "Private collection" in London which at first shakes, might appear less problematic than Robin Symes, whose name appears elsewhere in the June catalogue for LOT 83 from this sale. 

Did someone at Hindman find paperwork that changed the Faun's purported New York acquisition from probable into definite?  And what about that private collection in London from the 1990s until 2013.  Wasn't that one line, even vaguely written, not naming names worth mentioning on the big empty space of the full-page advertisement for the sculpture?  So why did Hindman elect to omit this detail?  

My hunch is that Hindman, who voluntarily relinquished the sculpture of the Faun to the authorities once evidence was presented by law enforcement, operates under the assumption that the occasional confiscation of a found-to-be-looted antiquity identified in their sales catalogues is a reasonable cost of doing business in the murky world of ancient art.  

Risks Hindman has already proved willing to take in the past and that illicit antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis, cooperating with HSI-ICE, pointed out in an earlier Hindman auction, published in the auction house's Worldly Pursuits: An Adventurer’s Collection. The Estate of Steve and Peggy Fossett cataloug. In that sale Tsirogiannis identified three antiquities which matched archival photos in the Medici and Symes archives which proved that the objects had once passed through, or been shared with the networks of Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Christo Michaelides.

But let's go back to this month's Hindman, June 16th auction catalogue.  In this summer's sale 127 objects out of 273 are listed without any provenance dates whatsoever.  Of the 146 remaining objects included in the catalogue which do list some date references:

15 show collection history dates which predate the UNESCO 1970s convention;
12 show collection history dates only to the 1970s;
85 show collection history dates only to the 1980s;
32 show collection history dates only to the 1990s;
and 2 only go back as far as the 2000s.

Knowing that illicit trafficking eyes cannot monitor every single sale, or inquire about every single object consigned to every auction house around the world, leaving out provenance details creates an environment conducive for a game of risk, with dealers more than willing to play, chalking up any losses from the occasional identified object after it has been illegally exported, as inventory shrinkage.

By limiting the details of what is written in provenance descriptions for objects being sold, dealers and auction houses create intentional impediments to those who try to research an object's legitimacy, making it more difficult to discern when an antiquity has passed through the hands of suspect dealers and when a legitimate object has simply been badly documented by a previous owner careless with their receipts.  And that's just speaking to those interested enough, and with the time to dedicate to actually monitor the previous sales of ancient artefacts.

According to a new report published to the LiveAuctioneers website, this inaugural Hindman ancient art auction brought in nearly $1M in sales, proving once again, that despite all the academics screaming about the necessity for clean provenance, buyers of ancient art, for the most part, are not unduly curious about the collection histories of their potential ancient art purchases.  Likewise, more collectors continue to be oblivious or disengaged as to whether or not the antiquities market is problematic and whether or not their lack of curiosity, and lack of due diligence before buying, acts as a catalyst for the destruction of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean world.

Should Hindman have known better with this artefact and should they have been more forthcoming with all of the collection histories listed for this $1M sale's catalogue? Yes and yes.

Hindman Auctioneers was founded by Leslie Hindman in Chicago in 1982.  The firm was not born yesterday, therefore they should be aware of the problems of illicit material infiltrating the ancient art market.  Thomas Galbraith who took over from Leslie Hindman as CEO of the company she founded, (she remains on the board) previously worked as Artnet’s director of global strategy and as interim CEO for Google Venture's start-up Twyla, an online sales platform for art, meaning they both are experienced in art world sales. Given the people at Hindman's helm, and the company's sales presence on the Live Auctioneers sales portal, it also stands to reason that the Chicago auction house has employees with sufficient technical abilities and talent to Google the legitimacy of the objects they accept on consignment and the names of dealers which are problematic.  Given that neither Galbraith nor Hindman are new to the problems of the world, one can assume that their lack of transparency when it comes to collection publishing collection histories for the objects they auction is a conscious choice.

But despite all this, the windy city seems to be gaining ground in the art market. Phillips and Bonhams, both based in London, having opened there, alongside already existing Christie's, and Sotheby's, to keep Hindman company. And browsing through the names of important London and New York ancient art dealers like Charles Ede Ltd., and Royal Athena Galleries whose's pieces were selling in this June's Hindman catalogue, it seems apropos to remind collectors of ancient art (once again) of the need to open their eyes and ask for proof of legitimacy, before simply forking over cash for what might turn out to be tomorrow's new seizure. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

June 24, 2020

Another looted conflict antiquity from the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, Lebanon seized. This time at Royal Athena Galleries in New York

Left Image provided by the NYDA's Office and HSI-ICE
Right Image from Royal-Athena Galleries catalog
When speaking of the effects of conflict antiquities, the market's most vocal proponents, the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and the Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Œuvres d’Art (CINOA) often reflect on the limited number of objects seen in market circulation derived from the recent Middle East conflicts.  Members in positions of power are invited to speak at UNESCO, stand at podiums at trade events, and write articles lamenting that collectors and the trade in an age-old tradition, are under attack by heavy-handed regulators.

They never seem to quite get around to discussing in detail any of the illicit artefacts that  HAVE made it into the ancient art market, sometimes not identified for decades, and long after their respective civil wars are resolved.  They also don't monetize their own profits from this slow trickle of conflict antiquities, which transfuse the ancient art market with financial blood, years after the human bodies that once fought around them stop bleeding.

The dealer associations don't like to talk about the painful scars of plunder from earlier wars, like the museum-quality Khmer-era statues that came to market following the civil disturbances in Cambodia.  Some of the finest examples of Cambodian art produced during the Angkorian period (circa 800-1400 CE) were extracted from that country and readily snapped up by art institutions and private collectors, despite the fact that they were pillaged and illegally exported.

Looted from Cambodia’s ancient temples, during the Cambodian civil war, which raged from 1970 to 1998, conflict antiquities from that non-middle east war did not begin to flow back to their country of origin until 2014.  Likewise, antiquities dealers known to be involved in the trade, like Nancy Wiener and Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”, weren't charged until 2016 and 2019 respectively, almost twenty years after the war concluded.

In the US charging document for Latchford, correspondence evidence by the collector-dealer brazenly admits to his informed role.  Speaking by email to a colluding market colleague, discussing a recently plundered bronze head, Latchford writes:

“was recently found around the site of the Angkor Borei group in the N E of Cambodia, in the Preah Vihar area. They are looking for the body, no luck so far, all they have found last week were two land mines !! What price would you be interested in buying it at? let me know as I will have to bargain for it.”

Latchford also sent this same dealer another email that included a photograph of a standing Buddha still covered in dirt.  In this email he exclaimed:

“Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

Interestingly, source-country export licenses never accompanied any of these pieces, known to be in movement after the invention of email, and long after Cambodia's laws for the protection of their culture were implemented. 

The dealer groups also never seem to mention that OTHER civil war in the Middle East. You know, the multifaceted civil war in Lebanon, Al-Ḥarb al-Ahliyyah al-Libnāniyyah, which lasted from 1975 to 1990 that was also responsible for 120,000 deaths and created one million refugees.

The Lebanese civil war was one of the most devastating conflicts of the late 20th century.  During that war, and from the Temple of Eshmun alone, excavated in 1967 under the oversight of French archaeologist Maurice Dunand, numerous artefacts were stolen in 1981 when a storage depot the Jubayl/Byblos Citadel fell to armed members of al-Katd'ib (the Phalangist Party).  Of those only twelve have been painstakingly identified and restituted back to Lebanon from various collectors and dealers.

Those artifacts included:

 one male head and three male torsos identified in a 1991 catalogue for Numismatic & Ancient Art Gallery, managed by Azzedine El-Aaji and  Burton Yost Berry in Zurich; 

 one male torso and one sarcophagus fragment offered for sale by Sotheby's London in its 8 December 1994 auction; 

 a marble male torso located with the Dorotheum Auction House in Vienna in 2000; 

 a marble male head identified by Jean-David Cahn in Basel and self reported for return in 2006; 

 a marble male torso identified with Galerie Gunter Puhze in Freiberg, Germany in 2017; 

 a marble bull's head, a torso of an athlete, and a torso of a calf bearer identified with purchases by collectors, George Lufti, Michael Steinhardt, and Lynda and William Beierwaltes in 2017. 

That was all, until this year. 

Last week marked the latest action in an effort by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to seize looted antiquities discovered in New York City in order to return them to their countries of origin.

One of those seizures turns out to be an ancient object, once described as a 130 CE Roman Marble Life-Size Portrait Head of an Athlete, also previously excavated at the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon and also stolen in 1981. 


This marble head was seized at Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery that is operated by Jerome Eisenberg.  According to authorities, once Royal Athena became aware of the evidence, they completely cooperated with the Manhattan DA’s Office and consented to the head’s return to Lebanon.

In Royal-Athena Galleries - Art of the Ancient World, Volume XXVIII - 2017, featuring 176 Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Byzantine, Egyptian, & Near Eastern antiquities, Eisenberg had described the seized artefact as follows:

Roman Marble Life-Size Portrait Head of an Athlete, possibly a pankratist. His closely cropped beard and thin moustache are suggestive of the styles favored by the athletes of the period. Sensitively carved of marble from the area near Saliari on the Greek island of Thasos, his strong countenance has alert deepset eyes and a  determined expression upon his parted lips.  Ca. 130 AD H 10 in. (26.7 cm) Ex French collection; W.H. collection, Westport, Connecticut, acquired from Royal-Athena Galleries in 1988.  Published J. Eisenberg, Art of the Ancient World, vol XVI, 2005, no 12.  

Even if scientific analysis of the statue-grade block of marble used for this magnificent sculpture were to reveal that the slab came from the Saliari marble quarries on Thasos, the movement of raw materials between the Phoenicians of Lebanon and the Greeks was common in antiquity.  But while the stone used for this sculpture could confuse dealers and collectors to the country of origin, its accompanying paperwork should not have.

Who were the owners Eisenberg codified as the "Ex-French collection" and "W.H. collection, Westport, Connecticut" and what export documentation was provided, if any, to justify this sculpture's legitimacy in the ancient art market?  These finer case details have not yet been made public by the New York authorities, and like the previous twelve recovered antiquities from the Temple of Eshmun, may further clarify which other ancient art dealers handled objects stolen during the Lebanese civil war,  and with whom or where they purchased them.

This new seizure in New York illustrates the difficulty faced by source countries in identifying historic conflict antiquities simply by trolling through every catalog, for every auction ever created, by any dealer, in any language in any country around the world; especially when the material used to create the artefact traveled, and might intentionally or unintentionally result in the object being mislabeled as coming from another country altogether.

In closing, I would like to underscore something as it relates to the difficulty in identifying conflict antiquities, and the seemingly impossible task faced by scholars, law enforcement, and source country ministries in bridging the gap between locating their plundered artefacts after the fact, years after these antiquities have infiltrated the ancient art market. I would also like to comment on how determining all the culpable hands these objects have passed through on their way to fine gallery showrooms in New York and other cities is a slow and tedious process which is not always a straight line to a restitution victory.

As this single incidence of plunder illustrates, the Lebanese Republic could not have reported this 1981 civil war-era theft to the Art Loss Register because the ALR had not yet been founded.  Even in 1991, after the ALR came into existence and began the never-ending task of archiving stolen objects around the globe, the archival photos for this theft, useful in cross-matching the stolen Temple of Eshmun objects, were only in the hands of a single foreign scholar, and not the Lebanese authorities.  This left the Ministry of Culture in Lebanon at a marked disadvantage for being able to prove irrefutably what objects in circulation absolutely belonged to them, and were in fact stolen from the Byblos Citadel antiquities depot during their civil war.

It wasn't until Professor Rolf Stucky, the former Head of the Department of Classical Archaeology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, and a colleague of archaeologist Maurice Dunand, published two books in 2005 that the Lebanese authorities got a much-needed lead which helped in the recovering of their antiquities.  Stucky's books contained critical photos that he had taken while working in Lebanon between 1973 and 1974 which matched with written excavation records for objects known to have been excavated at the Temple of Eshmun.  With these photos, the Lebanese authorities could start to sort out which artifacts had been stolen from the Byblos Citadel antiquities depot and already recovered and which objects were now known to still be missing.

Even with identifiable photos as to what belonged to whom, there are simply not enough eyes monitoring the ancient art market and too many mediums by which antiquities are sold, often misidentified, for source countries to recover all of their losses before the statute of limitations in various market countries makes investigations futile. In 2017, in seeking the seizure of the Temple of Ishmun Bull's head, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos spoke to the cases he had worked on stating that his efforts had resulted in "multiple convictions, the seizures of thousands of antiquities totaling more than $150 million, and the repatriation of recovered antiquities to half-a-dozen countries".  And that's just the illicit antiquities in circulation that one State authority, with a dedicated prosecutor and a trained group of researchers, has managed to successfully detect.

What about the countries and cities where we don't have enough provenance eyes or a vigilant public prosecutor?  

So when the market responds that they satisfactorily self-monitor, or that the problem is with only a few bad eggs, or that the sector doesn't see a wide-spread problem with blood antiquities circulating which requires legislative oversight...

I beg to differ. 

By:  Lynda Albertson


June 23, 2020

The Cost of Trinkets: France detains five art market actors in relation to a network believed to be trafficking in conflict antiquities


Between Monday and Tuesday, law enforcement authorities in France have detained five individuals, bringing them in for questioning in relation to a network law enforcement believes to be involved in the trafficking in antiquities from conflict, and post-conflict, countries that have subsequently been laundered onto the French ancient art market.  These detentions come following a lengthy investigation which began in July 2018 and has been carried out by France's Central Office to Combat Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC) and the Central Office for the Suppression of Serious Financial Crime (OCRGDF).  Parts of the investigation were also coordinated with the Investigative Judge of the JUNALCO (National Jurisdiction Against Organised Crime) and the Paris prosecutor's office.  

Among those arrested are one director and one in-house art expert affiliated with Pierre Bergé & Associés, a French auction house that specialises in modern and contemporary art, design, photography, editions, and antiquities. The three remaining arrestees have been reported to be: a former curator, who once worked at the Musée du Louvre, a renowned left bank Parisian gallery owner,  and another art dealer.  

While none of the people taken into custody this week have been named, this is not the first time that Pierre Bergé' has come to the attention of illicit trafficking researchers.  Christophe Kunicki, who brokered the sale of the looted Mummiform Coffin inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh to the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been listed in Pierre Bergé's catalogs as their archaeology expert as far back as 28 March 2008.  Likewise, French archaeologists have identified that Pierre Bergé & Associés is one of three companies who have sold suspect deities and funeral portraits originating from Cyrene, the ancient Greek and later Roman city near present-day Shahhat in Libya.  These pieces came to maket via the three firms through Hôtel Drouot auction house in Paris between 2007 and 2015.  

The five detainees potentially face charges ranging from receipt of stolen goods, money laundering, forgery and fraud related to antiquities illegally removed from countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.  This case underscores once again that the art market and armed conflict are grimly connected through the art market's profit from the laundering and sale of conflict antiquities.  

And while these individuals may or may not go to jail, ancient art buyers are not getting the message that their purchase of such antiquities serves to incentivize those in the supply chain and enables war in countries of conflict.  By buying conflict antiquities without concern for the object's licit origin, they, as well as the looters, middlemen, and elegant auction houses, each play a role in perpetuating crime in un marché avec des fruits bien pourris (a market with rotten fruit).

By: Lynda Albertson

June 18, 2020

Survival selfie of Vincent Van Gogh's artnapped painting "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen."


Art loss detective Arthur Brand has provided two photos, of the front and verso, of the artnapped Vincent Van Gogh painting "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen."  One photo shows the front of the small painting sandwiched between a New York Times newspaper and a Dutch copy of the autobiography "The Master Thief" written by Octave Durham.  The addition of the book may have been a tongue-in-cheek gesture on the part of the photographer as the book's author "Okkie" is the infamous thief who stole two other priceless Vincent van Gogh paintings on the evening of Dec. 7, 2002 from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

At the time of this year's Van Gogh theft, "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen," painted in 1884, had been on loan from the Groninger Museum in the city of Groningen to the Singer Laren Museum for an exhibition.  Stolen in the early days of the coronavirus shutdown, a thief made his way into the shuttered Singer Laren museum by forcing his way through the glass front door of the museum's edifice before moving into the gallery to cherry-pick this singular work of art by Van Gogh. 

Verso of the painting appears to be authentic according to
Andreas Blühm, Director of the Groninger Museum
Brand informed those covering the case that he had received the photos of the painting a few days ago but for now is remaining pretty mum on providing too many details, aside from noting that the painting has a new scratch on the bottom.  The photo's inclusion of the newspaper serves as a proof of life that the painting was in that stated condition, minus its original frame, on or after 30 May 2020, when the newspaper was published.

Given that the version of the New York Times is the European edition, one can extrapolate that the artwork was likely still within Europe two months after the robbery.   Or at least it was eighteen days ago.  The newspaper also shows an article which ironically or not, mentions both Brand and the Van Gogh thief Octave Durham.

Brand had stated that he came by the photos after they turned up circulating in mafia circles.  It is unclear if the images were taken as a means of shopping the painting for a buyer, as the first steps in ransoming the painting, or simply as a nose-thumbing statement of confident arrogance on the part of the criminal showing he (or they) still hold the artwork. 

“Artnapping”—the stealing of art for ransom—is known to be a ploy used in the criminal world.   In 2015 thieves tried to blackmail the Vatican for the return of documents by Michelangelo stolen 20 years ago.  

Tragically, sometimes artworks are ransomed to generate funds to carry out other crimes or arm militias. This appears to have been the case during the art heist at the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, northwestern Holland in 2005. Ten years later,  representatives from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists militia entered the Dutch embassy in Kiev and demanded a ransom of €50 million for the safe return of the artworks.  Likewise, Khalid El Bakraoui, the suicide bomber who attacked the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels, had earlier attempted to obtain a payout for ten paintings stolen from the Museum Van Buuren valued at more than €1m. 

June 14, 2020

On the run high-flying art dealer Inigo Philbrick apprehended

Image Right: "Humidity", 1982 by Jean-Michel Basquiat
acrylic, oilstick, and Xerox collage
In a reality that seems like a scene snatched from the Spanish crime series La casa de Papel, the once-vanished, serial swindler Inigo Philbrick was arrested on Thursday on the Republic of Vanuatu, an archipelago of about 83 islands in the southwest Pacific. The high-wheeling art dealer once operated an HNW fine art business, which included a gallery in Mayfair London, and, beginning in 2018, one in Miami, Florida.
Rudolf Stingel Painting of Picasso, 2012
involved in Inigo Philbrick Lawsuit

According to the unsealed complaint issued by the Southern District of New York, from 2016 to 2019 Philbrick, a U.S. citizen, repeatedly sold multiple high-value artworks to different collectors and investors, sometimes using the same works of art as collateral for loans with financial lenders while intentionally hiding others’ ownership interests.

One of those artworks was a $10 million painting by the contemporary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Humidity” painted in 1982.  The Basquiat accusation came after Philbrick was already facing allegations that he had sold other artworks, by artists Yayoi Kusama and Rudolf Stingel, to multiple clients. 

By October 2019, Philbrick stopped returning concerned investors' phone calls, and by November 2019 the dealer had no-showed for a hearing in Florida and two scheduled London court appearances, one related to a hearing brought by Singapore-based LLG PTE Ltd., and others by German art investment partnership, Fine Art Partners (FAP GmbH).  Philbrick had been buying and selling paintings for FAP since 2015.

With both of his galleries shuttered and emptied, the Miami branch in such a rush that there was still food left in the refrigerator, the judge in the UK issued a temporary order freezing Philbrick's worldwide assets.  A short while later, Philbrick's own attorney, Robert Landon, filed a motion on November 12 seeking to withdraw from representing his client, but it was too late, the dealer had vanished. 

FAP was already involved in a civil lawsuit with Philbrick in Miami, Florida seeking to recover 14 million dollars worth of art from what has been deemed an elaborate transatlantic Ponzi scheme.  In that instance, the German firm had purchased, among other things, one of Kusama's "infinity mirror" rooms entitled “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” from Philbrick, only to later find out that the artwork had also been sold by the dealer, in 2019, to the Saudi Collection of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (MVCA).  

With his house of cards rapidly collapsing around him, it first seemed that the pump and dump dealer on the run had decided to lay low in Australia.  Later it was discovered that he had been living on the remote and tiny necklace of 80-odd islands between Australia and Fiji known as Vanuatu, possibly helped by funds he may have stashed in Vanuatu’s offshore banks. 

The Republic of Vanuatu, once known as the New Hebrides, gained its place as an offshore financial center in the early 1970s before the island-state achieved its political independence from Great Britain and France on July 30,1980.   In 2015 it gained unwanted notoriety as an offshore tax haven thanks to the leaked Panama Papers which unmasked many offshore corporate clients’ who hid their wealth via thousands of shell corporations set up in tax lenient locations around the world.

As a result of its AML/CFT deficiencies, Vanuatu has been listed on the FATF's grey list of countries, alongside countries like Syria and Yemen, as well as on the list of uncooperative tax havens that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) re-activated in July 2016 at the request of G20 nations.  Purportedly the country is now working on repairing its reputation as a financial pariah. 

Philbrick has been formally charged with Wire Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft.  Arrested by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on June 11th, the art broker has now been flown some 4000 kilometers from his hide-away to Guam.  Tomorrow evening he will make his virtual initial appearance in the Southern District of New York where it is expected he will plead not guilty.