April 3, 2020

“to avoid the heavy toll of litigation” vs. righting an apparent wrong


In a decision Washington's National Gallery claims was done “to avoid the heavy toll of litigation” the gallery has agreed to return Picasso's pastel drawing "Head of a Woman" to the heirs of German-Jewish banker, Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. 

The descendants of the banking Mendelssohns (a branch of the family of composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy) have long claimed that the artwork created by Picasso in 1903, belongs to them, believing that Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was pressured to sell the artwork as a result of the spread of Fascism and the Nazis coming into power in Germany in 1933.

Ousted from the Central Association of German Banks and Bankers in 1933, and then subsequently from the board of the Reich Insurance Office in 1934, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy sold the artwork “Head of a Woman” to dealer Justin K. Thannhauser in 1934.  He later died of heart failure on 10 May  1935.

Thannhauser, one of the most important dealers of modern European art, managed both the Munich gallery of his father, and a second gallery, Moderne Galerie in Berlin (1927–37) before relocating first to Paris in 1937, then after the outbreak of World War II, to Switzerland, and then to New York. 

The National Gallery listed the provenance of the artwork as follows:

PROVENANCE
Paul von Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Berlin, until 1937; Justin K. Thannhauser, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 21 May 1981, no. 533); (sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1988, no. 26); The Ian Woodner Family Collection, New York; (sale, Christie's, New York, 5 November 1991, no. 44, unsold); gift to NGA, 2001.

While there is no (direct) evidence that the American collector who donated the artwork to the Washington's National Gallery knew they were acquiring a forced sale Picasso, the combination of seemingly legitimate middlemen, and the zeal by which wealthy art collectors purchased renowned artists' artworks after World War II, alongside an unwillingness to ask probing questions of dealers and donors, had a predictable outcome. 

One has to ask though, with a 2001 donation date, why the one of Washington's most important museum institutions didn't look further into the pedigree of this creation, asking the tough questions they needed to ask, when accessioning this artwork into its collection. 

Revisiting the clues of a theft: the case of the theft at the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza


Sometimes it is good to go back and review old blog posts and provide updates as it is not always possible to track every case of theft when not widely publicised, and sometimes the clues left behind by one set of thieves can be useful in examining the methods of detecting criminal actors in other thefts.  Such is the case of the theft of a small panel painting "Crucifixion and Descent into Limbo" stolen from the Italian city of Faenza.

Vestibule, Maestro of Faenza Sec. XIII
"Crucifixion and descent into limbo"
35x28 cm.  + frame 15 cm., N. inv. 98
Image Credit: Pinacoteca Comunale
di Faenza
Two years ago, on Thursday morning, March 01, 2018, a small panel painting, dating back to the 1200s attributed to the Maestro of Faenza was reported stolen from the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza.  The oldest museum in the city, the museum's collection was established in 1797, when the municipality purchased the private collection of Giuseppe Zauli, much of which centered on paintings and sculptures from the 13th to the 18th century.

The stolen panel painting, attributed to the Maestro of Faenza, depicts two scenes, the crucifixion of Christ with the cross in the center on the top portion of the panel followed by Christ's descent into limbo with angels and saints on the bottom.  The framed panel, which dates back to the thirteenth century, had been on public display in the Pinacoteca's Hall of the Vestibule, where it was hung just to the left of the Crocefisso del Maestro Francescano in Gallery 6. 

According to a televised report given at the time by Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca, the theft was discovered during a morning walkthrough by personnel who discovered the empty frame and backboard mounting discarded in the gallery where the artwork had been hung.  Given the panel painting's small size, the artwork may have been hidden under the thief's winter clothing and snatched at some point during the museum's opening hours though the date of the theft itself and the potential methodology used by the criminal was not defined publicly at the time the city announced the theft.

Recovered Sant'Ambrogio
di Giusto de' Menabuoi
Sometimes in investigative work, silence is golden. 

Fast forward to just a few months later, and the Faenza artwork was recovered, found in the home of an individual in Bologna, hidden in a piece of furniture, along with two other recently stolen paintings: a Sant'Ambrogio di Giusto de' Menabuoi stolen from the Pinacoteca di Bologna just a few days after the Faenza theft and a 17th century Portrait of a Woman stolen in mid March from the Museo Civico di San Domenico in Imola.

Reconstructing the methodology of the thefts lead to the subject being identified. 

At the time of the thefts, police kept some of the clues regarding the thief's modus operandi to themselves.  The thief which targeted the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, where a work by the artist Giusto de 'Menabuoi had been removed, stole the artwork during the museum's opening hours.  Likewise, the timing of the thefts from the Museo Civico di San Domenico and the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza had strong similarities, details, investigators preferred not to disclose to protect their investigations.

During their investigations the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of Bologna, in collaboration with the Investigative Unit of the Provincial Command and with the Companies of Faenza and Imola spent time comparing and contrasting the security footage looking for clues and similarities and were subsequently able to identify a single individual in the footage with the same physiognomy, immortalised by CCTV security cameras in the museums and in the nearby civic spaces.

Shortly after the suspect's description was identified, an individual with the same distinct physical profile was identified visiting another museum in the city of  Bologna and acting suspiciously, perhaps either casing the museum for a future theft or with the intent of stealing another painting that very day.  Interrupted from his activity, law enforcement then followed the individual back through the streets of Bologna watching him until he returned to his place of residence.

With the house identified, and with the CCTV footage to back up their hunch, a search warrant was issued by the judicial authorities and the man's house was searched.  Inside, the officers recovered not only the three historic works of art, but most importantly, the incriminating clothing worn during one of the three heists.

All the artworks were returned to their respective institutions in just under two months. Not bad.  Let's hope the recent Van Gogh theft in the Netherlands at the Singer Laren Museum has an equally expedient, and happy, ending.




April 1, 2020

Stolen three years ago today. Have you seen a pair of Gottfried Lindauer Māori portraits?



On the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2017 it took just under 40 seconds to steal the pair of Gottfried Lindauer Māori portraits, valued at almost $1 million.  The smash and grab happened around 4:00 am on this day, exactly three years ago.

In a tree-lined upmarket street close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand, a stolen Ford Courier ute (utility vehicle), later recovered by police at the scene,  drove up Parnell Road between 3:30 and 4:00 am where it then turned and reversed into the plate glass window at the front of the International Art Centre - IAC in Parnell shattering the glass.

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
The two culprits, then ran into the gallery, removed the two paintings from their holdings and loaded the canvases into the back seat of a second vehicle, a Holden Commodore, before making their getaway.  

The two portraits taken during the raid were the intended centrepieces of an upcoming auction: two companion portraits, painted by Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, entitled Chieftainess Ngati-Raure and Chief Ngati-Raure.

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure was painted in 1884 and was then valued at $350,000 - $450,000 NZD.  It shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and she is wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring. 

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was also painted in 1884 and had the same estimated value.  This portrait shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. 

At the time of the theft, local art world figures expressed dismay at the thefts, as characterising Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.”  New Zealand-based art historian and art crime specialist Penelope Jackson, author of the important recent book, Art Thieves, Fakers and Forgers: The New Zealand Story (2016, Te Awa Press) noted to the Guardian:


Yet, despite the immediate and extensive publicity, and a false lead saying the paintings were for sale on the Dark Web, three years have past and the paintings have not been recovered. 

March 31, 2020

Digital Art Viewing and the Researcher


As COVID19 sweeps the globe, the art world is adapting to the unprecedented, widespread closures, cancellations, and postponements of cultural events. 

Two weeks ago, TEFAF closed early due to the growing concerns of the coronavirus after an exhibitor tested positive. Artnet News has created the ever-growing “Coronavirus Cancellation Watch: An Up-to-the-Minute Guide to How the Global Health Crisis is Rewriting the 2020 Art Calendar”. Many of us are taking to computers to peruse museum collections and exhibitions from the confines of our homes. Yet, in the face of a pandemic, the art world continues to move forward. 

Last week marked the launch of Art Basel Online Viewing Rooms (VIPs first and plebeians second), putting forth around 2,100 works of art, from 234 galleries, valued at a total of $270 million. While Art Basel operates predominately within the contemporary art market, the launching of online viewing rooms presents a number of questions: how will this influence ensuing art fairs for all eras of art? What effect will such remote viewing have on provenance-related research?

Think of all the wonders you can see and research from the comfort of your own couch! Granted, I believe the art-viewing experience is greatly diminished when it takes place through a screen rather than in person. However, these online viewing rooms will democratize the art fair circuit, allowing a greater number of people to “attend” fairs that they otherwise may never have the opportunity to see. 

More importantly, online viewing rooms will create a digital, provenance footprint for all works of art that are “displayed”. With a simple click of the mouse, a researcher will have a treasure trove of information at their fingertips: gallery/dealer, provenance (if listed, of course), high-resolution image(s), size, etc, all of which facilitates the provenance research process. Ultimately, an increased digital presence will bring augmented scrutiny. More concerns may be raised regarding questions of authenticity or provenance. 

As more information becomes easily searchable and saveable, we can hope vendors will augment transparency surrounding their art objects and collectors will demand provenance before purchase. While the art market will undoubtedly remain exclusive, online viewing presents a unique opportunity to reform art market practices. In the meantime, art collectors should follow ARCA’s recommendations or seek the advice of qualified researchers in order to mitigate or avoid the risks of buying art objects without clear title.

By:  Aubrey Catrone ARCA Alumna, 2015
Proper Provenance LLC

March 30, 2020

Van Gogh thefts by our count: 37 Van Gogh works of art have been stolen, 3 of them two times each, over the course of 15 separate art thefts.


When opportunity has knocked, art thieves have often had a preference for works of art attributed to Vincent Van Gogh.   But just how many artworks by Vincent van Gogh have been stolen? 

Van Gogh, who in his lifetime only sold one painting, has long commanded substantial figures in the contemporary art world. Eight of his masterpieces are ranked among the world's 50 most expensive works of art ever sold.    

Echoing that, the wave pattern of art theft often mirrors the whimsy of the art market. Then thieves follow the path of least protection or resistance and strike at objects known to be of value in places that allow for the opportunity.

Taking a look inside ARCA's database of art crimes involving the artist Vincent Van Gogh by our count, 37 Van Gogh works of art have been stolen, 3 of them two times each, over the course of 15 separate art thefts.

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Vincent van Gogh – Parish garden in Nuenen, Spring 1884. 25x57
167 years after his birth on March 30, 1853, one of his paintings, Parish garden in Nuenen, painted in the Spring of 1884 has been stolen, becoming the first museum theft, publicly announced which hints at the vulnerability of museums during the worldwide pandemic. 

On loan from the Groninger Museum in the city of Groningen, the painting was part of the Mirror of the Soul exhibition and was scheduled to hang at the Singer Laren Museum from 14 January until 10 May 2020.  

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Stolen in 1937 - The Lovers: The Poet's Garden IV, 1888 is only known to the art world through an 1888 letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo and a single black and white photograph.

This painting was seized by Reichsfeldmarschall Hermann Göring along with three other Van Gogh paintings from Berlin and Frankfurt between 1937 and 1938 from the National Galerie in Berlin - most probably because he wanted to monetize it, along with others.

This artwork, likely an oil on canvas was completed the same year the letter to Theo was sent and is all the more touching for the small sketch the artist sent to his brother along with his letter.  This work has been been missing since 1937/38 and has never been recovered. 

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February 17, 1975 – Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was one of 28 works of art stolen from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. The painting was recovered in an apartment registered to an alias in Milan on April 6, 1975.  It too was stolen a second time, just one month later. See the individual theft post here.

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May 15, 1975 - Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was stolen for a second time along with 37 other Impressionist and Post Impressionist works of art from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. This follow-up theft included many of same artworks previously taken during the February 17, 1975 theft. The Van Gogh was recovered on November 2, 1975 in what was then West Germany along with ten other stolen artworks taken during the second the Galleria d'Arte Moderna theft. See the individual theft post here.


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June 4, 1977 - Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen from Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum and later recovered only to then be stolen again in 2010. 

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May 20, 1988 - Three paintings Vase with Carnations (1886) by Vincent Van Gogh, La maison du maître Adam Billaud à Nevers (The House of Master Adam Billaud at Nevers) painted in 1874 by Johan Barthold Jongkind and Bouteilles et pêches (Bottles and peaches) painted in 1890 by Paul Cézanne were stolen from the Stedelijk Museum, next door to the Van Gogh Museum on the Museumplein in Amsterdam.  All three works of art were recovered undamaged.  See the individual theft post here.

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December 12, 1988 -  Three Van Goghs worth an estimated €113 million euros were stolen from the The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo about 60 miles east of Amsterdam. The stolen works of art included the second of three painted sketches titled De aardappeleters, (the potato eaters) completed in 1885, as well as two other works Four Cut Sunflowers, (also known as Overblown Sunflowers from August-September), 1887 and Loom with Weaver,1884.  All three paintings were recovered but had sustained damages.  See the individual theft post here.

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June 28, 1990 - Three early Van Gogh paintings, Digging farmer, 1885-87, Brabant Peasant, seated, 1884-1885, and Wheels of the Water Mill in Gennep were stolen from the Het Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The Digging Farmer was found in 1991 in a bank safe in Belgium. The other two paintings were returned in 1994 via negotiations with a tertiary party.  See the individual theft post here.

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April 14, 1991 - 20 paintings by Vincent van Gogh were stolen from the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. All 20 paintings were recovered within 24 hours. Three of the 20 paintings were severely damaged. Four perpetrators, including one museum guard and a former employee of the museum's security firm were arrested in July 1991.  See the entire list of artworks and the individual theft post here.

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May 19, 1998  -  The prestigious Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome was robbed by three armed with guns shortly before closing time. The criminals stole two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne, 1889 and Le Jardinier, October 1889 and Paul Cézanne's Cabanon de Jourdan, 1906.  On July 5, 1998 eight suspects were arrested and all three paintings were recovered.   See the individual theft post here.

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May 13-15, 1999 - the Vincent van Gogh painting, The Willow, was stolen from the headquarters of F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV in Den Bosch. The painting was recovered in 2006 following an undercover sting operation where two suspects were arrested. See the individual theft post here.

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December 7, 2002 - Two thieves using a ladder break in to the Van Gogh Museum making off with two paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884). Following an intensive international investigation, two Dutchmen, Octave Durham, A.K.A. "The Monkey" and Henk Bieslijn were arrested in 2004 for their respective roles in the burglary. Durham received a prison sentence of 4.5 years. Henk Bieslijn was sentenced to 4 years incarceration. Each of the culprits were ordered to pay the Van Gogh Museum €350,000 in damages and both denied responsibility.  The paintings remianed lost for 14 years only to resurface in late September 2016 in the Castellammare di Stabia area in the Bay of Naples. During a blitz by Italian law enforcement on members of an illicit cocaine trafficking ring operated by  a splinter group of the Naples Camorra, the paintings were recovered.  See individual theft post here. 

April 26, 2003 - Three paintings including Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape were taken from The Whitworth Art Gallery at The University of Manchester. The works of art were found the next day crammed into a tube behind a public toilet in Manchester's Whitworth Park. See the individual theft post here.

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February 10, 2008 - Four paintings were stolen at gunpoint from a private Zürich gallery run by the Foundation E.G. Bührle in Switzerland. The paintings were Blossoming Chestnut Branches by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat, Claude Monet's Poppies near Vétheuil and Edgar Degas' Count Lepic and His Daughters.  The Van Gogh and Monet were recovered on February 18, 2008.  The Degas was recovered in April 2012 and Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat was recovered April 12, 2012.  See the individual theft post here.

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August 21, 2010Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen for the second time from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo.  Its current whereabouts are still unknown. 

By Lynda Albertson

Not a Happy Birthday Vincent. Van Gogh stolen from the Singer Laren Museum on the day of the artist's birth.

Vincent van Gogh – Parish garden in Nuenen, Spring 1884. 25x57
Today is not a very happy birthday for Vincent Van Gogh.  167 years after his birth on March 30, 1853, one of his paintings, Parish garden in Nuenen, painted in the Spring of 1884 has been stolen, becoming the first museum theft, publicly announced which hints at the vulnerability of museums during the worldwide pandemic. 

On loan from the Groninger Museum in the city of Groningen, the painting was part of the Mirror of the Soul exhibition which highlighted more than 70 Dutch paintings.  Scheduled to hang in the Singer Laren Museum from 14 January until 10 May 2020, the event was held in cooperation with Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, also included works of art by Toorop and Mondrian, as well as others.  No other works were reported as having been stolen. 


Closed until March 31 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, police have indicated that the thief or thieves accessed the Singer Laren Museum by brazenly breaking in through the front door.



For now, the Dutch National Police and local authorities are asking any potential witnesses or individuals who have security cameras at their house or business near the museum, which may have captured images of the potential perpetrator(s) around 3:15 am, to please share the saved footage with the police. 

They can be contacted at: 0900-8844 or 0800-7000 (anonymously).
Van Gogh, who in his lifetime only sold one painting, has long commanded substantial figures in the contemporary art world. Eight of his masterpieces are ranked among the world's 50 most expensive works of art ever sold. 

Yet, when opportunity has knocked, art thieves often have a preference for works of art attributed to Vincent Van Gogh.  Taking a look inside ARCA's database of art crimes involving the artist, by our count, and including today's theft, 37 Van Gogh works of art have been stolen, 3 of them two times each, over the course of 15 separate art thefts.

By: Lynda Albertson

March 28, 2020

The Museum of The Bible's Chairman's letter leaves many unanswered questions


Issued on 26 March 2010 and uploaded quietly to the Museum of the Bible website here

Statement on Past Acquisitions Published: Mar 26, 2020 

Museum of the Bible’s Chairman of the Board, Steve Green, makes the following statement on past acquisitions: 

In 2009, when I began acquiring biblical manuscripts and artifacts for what would ultimately form the collection at Museum of the Bible, I knew little about the world of collecting. It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years. One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. 

When I purchased items in those early years, dealers would make representations about an item’s provenance, which the consultants I employed would say was sufficient. As I came to understand taking a dealer at his or her word was not good enough, I cut ties with those consultants. When I engaged with new advisors, I acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance and we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes. 

For the past several years, the many dedicated curators at Museum of the Bible have quietly and painstakingly researched the provenance of the many thousands of items in the collection. That work continues. 
While this research was proceeding, beginning in late 2017, we also engaged with officials in several countries, including Egypt and Iraq, to open a dialog regarding items that likely originated from those countries at some point, but for which there was insufficient reliable provenance information. Those discussions have been fruitful, and continue to this day. 

I long ago made the decision that when our research revealed another party had a better claim to an item, I would do the right thing and deliver such items to that party. We have already proactively made several such returns. 

Today, I am announcing that we have identified approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects with insufficient provenance that we are working to deliver to officials in Egypt and Iraq respectively. As discussions with officials in Egypt and Iraq continued, we also engaged with officials in the U.S. government to determine the best way procedurally and logistically to make the deliveries, and are appreciative of their assistance. We are working to finalize the deliveries in the near future. We also hope to finalize agreements with organizations in Egypt and Iraq that will allow for us to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property. 

These early mistakes resulted in Museum of the Bible receiving a great deal of criticism over the years. The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified. My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world. That goal has not changed, but after some early missteps, I made the decision many years ago that, moving forward, I would only acquire items with reliable, documented provenance. Furthermore, if I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items. 

I understand established museums, universities, and other institutions have evolved over the years and developed sound protocols for dealing with cultural property with insufficient provenance. I intend to continue to learn from the collective efforts and wisdom of those institutions, and support every person and organization possessing such items to continue their research into the provenance of their items. 

Steve Green Chairman of the Board Museum of the Bible

Takeaways:

This letter and these restitutions do not adequately address the negligence of the museum's management or the indiscretions of its philanthropists.  Nor do statements like these erase the indelible blemish on the museum's founding history.

Green claims to have unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers without appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items he purchased. Does he want us to believe that HAD he appreciated the importance of provenance he would have walked away from the many once-in-a-lifetime pieces dangled before him?

Green explains that the consultants he employed were overly trusting of dealers, which is why he made mistakes and why he "cut ties" with those consultants. Emphasis on the word cut ties.  Fired? Let go? Contract not renewed? Swept under the rug? Who and When? What does "cut ties" mean exactly?

When he relates only his own story of events, it seems more like he is trying to control the narrative than do anything to actually make amends.

If we look back in the history of this scandal, it took Green an exceedingly long time to "cut ties" and when he did, we didn't see a great deal of improvement in the museum's operational model, purchasing due diligence, or its transparency.

January 3-5, 2011 is when US Customs inspected Five Federal Express antiquities-filled packages shipped bearing air waybills:


  • No. 7286 2809 6729 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Mardel’s address.
  • No. 7286 2809 6751 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby’s principle address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7162 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Crafts, Etc!’s address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7173 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Mardel’s address. 
  • No. 7286 2809 7162 from the UAE Dealer to the “[President] or [Executive Assistant]” at Hobby Lobby's Crafts, Etc!’s address. 

But despite this embarrassing faux pas, by May 16, 2011 Hobby Lobby was still sticking to their guns that the plundered material was rightfully theirs.  To substantiate that claim, they had their attorney file an administrative petition with the CBP seeking the return of their seized property, which one can assume by all the lawyer fees that would have entailed, that at least on paper, Hobby Lobby still felt their claim to the ancient objects, was legit. 

As spring turned eventually to autumn, on September 7, 2011 Hobby Lobby was still defending its honor, submitting a supplemental petition to the CBP trying to satisfy the governments concerns about the payment methodology used in the purchase of the antiquities contained in these shipments.

The Supplemental Petition stated that the reason the payments for the order were made through “separate wire transfers was that various original owners were to be paid directly.” This explanation however proves inconsistent with the fact that Israeli Dealer #3’s provenance statement covered almost the entire order and Israeli Dealer #3 was not one of the payees. It was also inconsistent with representations made to Hobby Lobby about listing Israeli Dealer #3 in the purchase agreement “because the invoice is from [Israeli Dealer #3’s] family and the collection is the [Israeli Dealer #3] family collection.”

Two days after the Supplemental Petition on the problematic shipment, on September 9, 2011, still-consulting "Director" of the Green Collection, Scott Carroll, was out destroying mummy masks at Baylor University with washing up liquid.

Nine months after the problematic shipment, on October 15, 2011, still-consulting Carroll took the last flight out of Heathrow bound for Israel to retrieve still more "unknown, significant Hebrew biblical manuscripts", where upon arrival he poured over 1100+ scrolls spanning 700 years, and spent the day looking at someone's private collection of papyrus.



Such were the Green's buying power that on November 27, 2011, and despite an open investigation into their previous purchases, Carroll set off yet again on another international buying trip.  A voyage which would take him from West Africa, to Istanbul, and then on to London, where in addition to making purchases, he met with people in Oxford, in all probability, Dirk Obbink, regarding the Green Scholar Initiative.




Three and a half months later, on March 12, 2012, Carroll, still consulting for the MoTB, is quoted in the Toledo Blade saying:

“I tell the Greens that I trust them to know where to put a store, and they need to trust me to stock the shelves,”
Carroll goes on further to add:
“We’ve been extremely careful to vet everything acquired and are fully aware of the issues and problems,” declaring “I work closely with international and national agencies reporting suspicious items that come our way.” 

The Greens eventually cut ties with Carroll only in May 2012, yet the continued to put their trust in Dirk Obbink, whom they had purchased from since 2009.  Despite terminating their relationship with Carroll, by January 17, 2013 the Museum, had arranged to purchase four early gospel papyrus fragments from the Oxford-based scholar via a private sales agreement.  These turned out to be stolen from the EES Oxyrhynchus collection.  By November 2019, a total of 13 stolen fragments from the EES collection had been identified as having been purchased by the Museum of the Bible through various buying channels. 

Given all that, the fact that Green's press release statement yesterday, relays that they did not get around to speaking with the source countries of the looted material until 2017 is not surprising.  In an earlier Wall Street journal article, also by Crow, the Museum of the Bible's Vice Chairman of the board Robert E. Cooley indicated that the museum's board itself only learned about the government’s six-year smuggling investigation involving Hobby Lobby when the craft company was close to signing the settlement... so again, the year 2017.

Green purportedly did not tell the museum's board sooner because he considered it a Hobby Lobby matter which brings into question Green's statement yesterday about having "acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance... we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes."

So this more vigorous acquisitions policy applies to the problems in Green's private collection or to the objects from that collection he donated onward to the Museum?

That said, it was around 2017 that the Museum's board hired cultural-heritage lawyer, Thomas Kline, to vet the pieces remaining in the museum’s collection.  One question which remains is whether or not they hired anyone else besides one busy lawyer, who does not have manuscript provenance experience.  If not, then that might explain why it took an additional three years for this next, and I suspect not last, round of at a snail's pace restitutions.

The final interesting statement is Green's letter is his hope that Egypt and Iraq will allow the Museum of the Bible to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property.

Having (possibly) worn out their welcome with the EES, and having hooked their dreams on folks like Carroll, Obbink and company, Green now hopes that the very source nations their purchases robbed will see their better late than never restitutions and a single carefully-worded, reputation management letter from the Museum's principle donor as a sincere and real attempt at righting several wrongs.

For me it doesn't even start. 

It should not have taken this many years for Mr. Green to own up to his and his buyers indiscretions. He may have been blindsided by his consultants in the beginning, but throughout this process he has been the one to control the narrative.

If he truly wants to earn my trust, and really make meaningful amends, he could start by addressing the degrees of his own culpability, both for his actions (wantonly and  heedlessly purchasing objects without any due diligence consideration) and his inaction, (to get ahead of this, to his refusal to answer researchers questions about where and from and in what time frame he or his consultants purchased suspect material) from 2009 to present.

For now I remain skeptical and as unconvinced as my venting yesterday further explains.

Lynda Albertson

March 27, 2020

Steve Green to return another 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments, but let's not forget the past.


Journalist Kelly Crow, in a Wall Street Journal exclusive, reports that Hobby Lobby magnate Steve Green has agreed to return an additional 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments.  Consisting mostly of papyrus fragments and ancient clay objects, the collection pieces, originally destined for the philanthropist's museum project, are being relinquished to their source country because they all lack ownership histories.  

No a big surprise there.  It is something academics have been worriedly asking the collector and his museum about for years.

Seemingly apologetic, the billionaire behind the $800 million, eight-story Museum of the Bible, told the Wall Street Journal “One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased,” adding when he started collecting biblical-era antiquities in 2009 he  “knew little about the world of collecting.”

I'd like to remind ARCA's readership that by the time we published our first article on Green's buying antiquities like hotcakes, in October 2015, the Hobby Lobby craft store giant had already purchased an estimated 40,000 objects for their collection, in just six years.  These included Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri, rare biblical texts and manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.  

That's 6,666 objects per year or a whopping 18 objects purchased per day. 

Looking at that from a transactional basis, I would say that Mr. Green's excuse of knowing little about the world of collecting rings a bit hollow.  Green's purchasing power, and avarice, meant his collective team knew a lil more than the average joe when it comes to the world of ancient art dealers and collectors. It is not like they made one or two wrong newbie purchases.  

According to US law enforcement documents, by 2010, just one year after he had started collecting, Green, himself made a trip to the United Arab Emirates to eyeball some 5,548 artefacts reportedly worth millions. This same law enforcement complaint states that the objects “were displayed informally...” “spread on the floor, arranged in layers on a coffee table, and packed loosely in cardboard boxes, in many instances with little or no protective material between them.” 


For a man known to watch his financial line to the level Green does within his craft store empire, for me it is inconceivable to believe that an individual of this billionaire's stature would fork out millions, buying ancient objects without at least a tacit knowledge that he might need to ask questions of the dealers and suppliers he was buying material from. 

For years now I have been saying that if the Greens truly want to make amends, they should fill their future Museum of the Bible with acquisitions collected ethically. In addition they should also make the details of their past purchases open and searchable to external researchers and investigators not just relinquishing batches of suspect objects purchased without sufficient moral and ethical consideration. 

During the first handover of antiquities Green said “We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”  Unfortunately it took him another five whole years to muster up the gumption to admit that these additional 11,500 objects were also likely purchased in the same haphazard manner as the ones relinquished earlier.  

I don't know about most folks but if I had the capability of writing million checks dollar checks, and had already once had my feet held to the fire for purchasing antiquities that didn't pass muster, I think that I would likely remember all the other occasions when I wrote eye-popping checks for astronomical sums for equally suspect, not fully-thought out, purchases from individuals who were not completely transparent about where their merchandise was coming from. 

Why it took Green five years to do the right thing on this other set of objects is therefore not to be applauded.  The people in Egypt and Iraq who loot to feed the collecting appetites of Westerners spend years in jail when caught.  But big dollar collectors like Steve Green, who incentivise that very plunder, seem to think that showing remorse in a financial journal or a Hobby Lobby press release should suffice.   

For me it isn't.

Put your collection on line Mr. Green.

Then I will truly believe that you are sincerely sorry for what you have done.  Help researchers, who can connect dodgy dealers put a dent in the illicit supply chain.   Just giving back boxes and boxes of pretty baubles to the countries your dollar has plundered doesn't undo the damage you have done.   

Op/Ed: Lynda Albertson

March 24, 2020

Two massive earthquakes create havoc in Zagreb in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic

Image Credit: Muzej za umjetnost i obrt Museum of Arts and Crafts
Two massive earthquakes, registering 5.3 and 5.1 on the Richter scale of earthquake intensity have caused untold damage to Croatia's capital city Zagreb  in the midst of a nationwide lockdown for COVID-19. 

Image Credit: Muzej za umjetnost i obrt
Museum of Arts and Crafts

At present no fatalities have been reported however massive damage has occurred at Zagreb's Muzej za Umjetnost i Obrt, the country's Museum of Arts and Crafts housed in the Hermann Bollé-designed palace built in 1888.  While assessments are still in progress, Croatia's Cultural Minister Nina Obuljen Koržinek has confirmed damage to the building structure itself, to objects on the second and third floors of the museum, and to the museum's restoration laboratory, responsible for conservation works on metal, ceramics and glass, textiles, painting and polychrome sculpture.  

At the time of this natural disaster the MUO is said to have held some 100,000 objects from the 13th century to present. The MOU's Director, Miroslav Gašparović, hopes that with the help of the City, the Ministry of Culture, UNESCO and other international institutions, his team will be able to repair the damage to the museum's external structure and to secure and conserve the collection. 

Like the MOU, the quakes also heavily damaged the physical structure of the  Vranyczany-Dobrinović Palace where the Arheološki Muzej u Zagrebu (AMZ), the Archaeological Museum of Zagreb is housed just off Zrinski Square.  This museum houses important objects from  Prehistory, Egypt, Antiquity, and the Middle Ages.  

Image Credit: Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu - AMZ
Documenting the damages, the AMZ has posted some 65 photos depicting objects impacted by the quake, only some of which have been reproduced here. The images show cracks in gallery walls and plaster, display cases cracked or completely shattered, statues and sarcophagi toppled or tipped over, and hundreds of objects smashed or severely tossed about. 

Image Credit: Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu - AMZ
The Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses some 12,000 works of domestic and foreign artists also reported significant damage to its own structure as will as to the collection.  In this museum, the anti-fire mechanisms caused flooding in some exhibition rooms, and water damaged has been reported in both the ceiling and floors.


Some of the other cultural heritage sites affected include the Croatian Music Institute in Gunduliceva Street, a protected cultural monument, the 140-year-old building which houses the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Palmotic, the south tower of Zagreb Cathedral, which was under reconstruction,  and the famous 1905 Kolmar building on Ban Jelacic Square, where the Society of Croatian Writers is located.  Here the earthquake severely damaged one of its towers.  


Probably one of the most complicated heritage rescue missions to date, damage inspections and the securing of objects after this national disaster are being carried out during a world-wide pandemic, a situation which creates a perfect storm of events that makes salvaging collections and shoring up sites all the more complicated.  One of the strongest earthquakes to hit Zagreb in 140 years, there are more than 600 buildings impacted and in keeping with government rules, this means that the cultural ministry and city authorities will be utilising as few staff as possible, in accordance with the decisions of the Civil Protection Headquarters of the Republic of Croatia, with the aim of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

By:  Lynda Albertson



March 16, 2020

Museum Theft: Three Baroque paintings stolen from Christ Church, University of Oxford

Image Credit:  Thames Valley Police
Three Baroque Period paintings have been stolen from the Christ Church Picture Gallery, an art museum at Christ Church, a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England.  According to law enforcement reports the theft took place at around 11pm on Saturday, 14 March 2020. 

The three paintings are:

Oil on Canvas, circa 1616
H 91 x W 55 cm
Accession number: JBS 246

Oil on Canvas, circa 1640 
H 75.2 x W 61 cm
Accession number: JBS 222

Oil on Canvas, circa 1580
H 75.5 x W 64 cm
Accession number: JBS 180

All three paintings had been bequeathed to Christ Church: two of them centuries ago.

The museum is known for its impressive collection of Old Masters paintings and drawings, with an emphasis on Italian art from the 14th to the 18th century. Works in the museum also include paintings and drawings by Titian, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Dürer, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens and Tintoretto, many of which were donated by General John Guise (1682/1683–1765) in the eighteenth century and whose portrait is also to be seen in one of the museum's rooms. Guise is known to have donated some 200 artworks to the college in furtherance of its art education programming. 

Headed by Detective Chief Inspector Jon Capps, the Thames Valley Police are  appealing for witnesses who may have seen or heard anything suspicious in the immediate area or elsewhere on on St. Aldates or High Street.  They are also asking for assistance from area businesses who may have CCTV footage which could aid in their investigation.   Officers can be contacted by calling the non-emergency number 101, or making a report online using the reference 43200087031.  Individuals who wish to remain anonymous can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.