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December 26, 2010

December 24, 2010

Exclusive Update on the Madrid Picasso Theft

On 29 November 2010, thieves stole a truck which was carrying what sources claimed was 28 artworks by the likes of Picasso, Chillida, Tapies, and Botero, worth at least 5 million euros. Three hooded men stole the parked truck from a warehouse in an industrial zone in Getafe, outside Madrid. The works were en route back to six galleries in Madrid and Barcelona, after having been on loan for display in Germany. The truck was not armored. It was recovered, empty, by police on 30 November 2010.

But ARCA can report exclusively thanks to knowledgeable sources in Madrid a series of different details and new facts related to the case.

Police in Madrid confirmed that there were in fact 35 works stolen, not 28. 34 of them have been recovered. The last work was not discovered along with the others, and no information as to its whereabouts has risen. Initial reports from Spain, after the air cleared on over-enthusiastic reports as to the value of the stolen art (originally touted by the media at 5 million euros), claimed that the 28 stolen works were valued at 2.7 million. It turns out that the media reports were accurate, despite though through a lucky estimate. The new tally of 35 stolen works are now valued by Spanish police at 5 million euros.

The police are keeping their investigation to themselves, choosing not to inform the media as they are still hunting for the thieves.

There was some concern that the sculptures stolen, among them a work in iron and bronze by Eduardo Chillida, might have been destined for the scrapyard. A string of theft in 2005 of objects, from artworks to garden ornaments, were disappearing from across England. The theme was that the objects were made of bronze or copper, the prices for which had quadrupled in the preceding months due to a shortage emerging from mines, particularly in China. Henry Moore’s Reclining Nude, a ten-ton abstract bronze sculpture, was stolen by local gypsies from the Henry Moore Estate in Hertfordshire, England in 2005, and has never been recovered—it is feared that it was chopped into pieces, melted, and sold for scrap bronze, perhaps for as little as 2500 pounds, when as an artwork it was insured at 10 million. Thieves would not be distraught by having “lost out” on 10 million—it would of course be all but impossible to shop, transport, and cash in on a ten-ton sculpture. Thieves would rather consider that they had “worked” (as in, stolen) for about a half an hour, and came away with 2500 pounds. This rash of thefts continued, and in locations as remote as Slovenia bronze objects and sculptures were stolen, only to be found sliced into segments, destined for the smelter. This technique, grotesque as it is, benefits the criminals in that it destroys any traceable evidence of the stolen object, while still allowing them to cash in, for however small a fraction of the total value. When gold sculptures by Bill Reid were stolen from the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver in 2008, it was feared that the gold would be sold for scrap value—for this reason a reward was offered for the recovery of the sculptures, set at a higher value than the scrap metal, in an effort to delay the melting of the works. The ploy in that case worked out, as police captured a gang of jewelry thieves linked to international organized crime syndicates, and recovered the works.

Last month, 200 Spanish policemen raided a slum in southern Madrid, and arrested a slew of drug dealers and Romanian gypsies working for various criminal gangs. The target of the raid was several tons of copper, stolen from an AVE high-speed train.

The transport company responsible for the truck from which the art was stolen has never had an incident of this type in the last two decades, further suggesting a one-off inside contact aiding the thieves. Details of the recovery of the 34 stolen artworks have not been released, but the Madrid police said that they recovered the works when the Chillida sculpture was offered to a scrap metal merchant for 30 euros.

December 20, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010 - , No comments

ARCA extends deadline for Postgraduate Program 2011

ARCA is extending the official deadline for applications for the 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies to January 21, 2011. In certain circumstances ARCA will consider late applications. Please contact Mark Durney at if you wish to apply after January 21, 2011.

December 16, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010 - ,, No comments

Profile: Art historian Thomas Flynn

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

In our continued series on ARCA lecturers, the ARCA blog is profiling returning lecturer Tom Flynn who will teach a course this summer in Amelia titled “Art History and the Art World” from June 6 through June 17, 2011.

Tom Flynn is a London-based writer and art historian with interests in sculpture history, art and business, museology, cultural heritage, the art market, and art crime. Flynn has a Masters in Design History from the Royal College of Art and a doctorate in Art History from the University of Sussex. He teaches courses on the art market and the history of museums at Kingston University, London and is the author of a number of books on sculpture, painting and the decorative arts. As a journalist Tom has written for a broad range of publications, including The Art Newspaper, Art & Auction, ARTnews, Art Review, Art Quarterly, Apollo, The Spectator, Museums Journal, The Sculpture Journal, etc. Tom blogs regularly on art world matters at In 2009, he launched an art consultancy, The Sculpture Agency ( to promote contemporary sculpture. A list of his books can be found here: (

ARCA blog: What will be the scope of your course in Amelia?
Tom Flynn: The course aims to give students a thorough grounding in how the art market works and how its key institutions interact and relate to one another. The art market can often seem a somewhat mysterious and intimidating business environment with its own specific codes of communication and ways of conducting transactions and establishing price. The course sets out to dispel some of the myths and mysteries surrounding the rapidly globalizing market in an enjoyable way that will enrich and empower students in their future careers.
ARCA blog: Does your course focus on particular subjects?
Tom Flynn: Yes, the course works its way through the main public and private institutions that make up the modern art market, offering a historical perspective on the market’s evolution as well as plenty of contemporary analysis. Through a series of intensive but lively and interactive teaching sessions, we explore the history of collecting, the evolution of museums, the emergence of the auction houses and the art trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the development of the contemporary art market. We also investigate the impact of technology on the art trade and art investment, how the art media works, and the importance of art fairs in the global market. Finally, we also touch on topical themes such as deaccessioning by museums, the repatriation of cultural objects, and the impact of the Artist’s Re-Sale Rights Levy.
ARCA blog: How would you advise prospective students to prepare for your course?
Tom Flynn: A preliminary reading list is circulated in the weeks and months prior to the course and anything students can read from that list will be useful preparation for classroom discussion. I also urge students to try and visit at least one fine art auction sale before arriving in Italy and to stroll around the museums and art galleries in their home towns and cities, taking attentive note of how objects are exhibited and thinking critically about how business is conducted in those environments.
ARCA blog: Tom, you’ve taught twice in Amelia with the ARCA program, what kind of a student do you think benefits from this program and what do you think they would get out of your class?
Tom Flynn: Any student with a genuine desire to learn will benefit from this course. I don’t expect students to arrive with specific knowledge of the art world as my course is designed to offer a grounding in the key issues. However, students who already have some experience of art and its markets will benefit from an opportunity to think in fresh ways about familiar ideas and to challenge their own preconceptions. In my first two years of teaching the course I’ve also noticed how students benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience, exchanging ideas in a relaxing, friendly and stimulating environment.

I hope that answers your questions. And you’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned the excellent local wine!

December 15, 2010

Profile: Noah Charney Interviews Icon Conservator Riika Köngäs

ARCA Founder Noah Charney recently interviewed ARCA Alum Riikka Köngäs, one of Europe’s youngest conservators of icons. She also works for the largest art gallery (Retretti) in Finald as a courier and a conservation specialist. She is Secretary of the Icon-Network Association, an organization providing information about icons, icon collections, education and conservation. One of the objectives of the Icon-Network is to prevent trade of stolen icons by creating a database of stolen icons (

Riikka Köngäs graduated in 2003 with a BA (HONS) Conservation and Restoration of Art and Antiquities from Lincoln University, Great Britain. Specific work experience as an art conservator was acquired from Paliambela Archaeological Excavations in Greece and from the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece, as well as other museums in Finald. She completed the MA-program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in 2009. She published her dissertation, "Copy versus Forgery: The Difficulty in Determining Motive with Regards to Modern Iconography and Icon Collections" in the Spring 2010 Journal of Art Crime.

Noah Charney: What sort of conservation work do you do?
Riikka: I work as a head conservator in the Valamo Art Conservation Institute in Finland. We conserve paintings on wood and on canvas and are specialized on icon conservation. Our specialization is unique in Finland and in Scandinavia. We take commissions not only from the Orthodox church, but also other churches in Finland, from museums, insurance companies and works from private sources form perhaps half of our work load. Besides practical conservation, we do condition reporting to exhibitions and different art collections, give advice of preventing conservation and handling of art, and naturally give lectures about art conservation.
We are a small institute, but play a significant role in different European projects, from which the latest is a project called Icon Network. Within this project we set up an exhibition with theme “icons and war”, published a book supporting the theme and currently work partly with web pages to help people who are interested about icons.
Noah Charney: What is the process, when you receive a commission of an icon to restore?
Riikka: Each icon is unique, and there is no straightforward way to restore an icon. Firstly, when talking about icon, we usually think about painting on flat wooden support. But there are icons painted on canvas, as well as on metal, I have even seen one painted on dried fish skull!

Normally our work starts with documentation. We have full-time research photographer working for us, so he photographs the icon, and if necessary, he can take ultraviolet and infrared photos, even x-rays. Then follows written documentation, which we carry on through whole process, writing down every step we do. So called “normal” process includes cleaning, stabilization of paint layer and restoration (painting) only if necessary. Each case has to be considered separately. For example, if an icon is from the museum, we hardly do any restoration at all. But if an icon goes to a church, or at private home, we usually do restoration. It would be rather difficult to concentrate on praying in front of this icon if half of the face was missing!
Noah: You completed the ARCA postgraduate program in 2009. What did the program offer to you?
Riikka: It was terribly interesting, loaded with huge amount of information in short time, and it gave me a push to find out more about certain matters in illicit trade of art, and of icons. It assured me that the more we know about this dark side of art world and the more we educate ourselves, the more we can do to prevent these things happening. Finland is such a small country, but by no means a safe bird nest. The program gave me several ideas what to do next, and very importantly several good connections to turn to if I need advice.
Noah: Tell me about your work since completing the ARCA program.
Riikka: Full speed rollercoaster! I took over the head conservators role after returning to work immediately after the course, and have been settling into that. Besides managing the institute, marketing, finding new projects, traveling around Finland from church to church, giving lectures etc etc, I do practical conservation as much as I can, since that is the part I enjoy tremendously. In June 2010 an icon was stolen from a cathedral in Helsinki, and one icon was damaged badly. I did conservation on this particular icon, and started discussions about the need to secure churches. This continues and hopefully with good results. We set up an exhibition in our monastery and did the security plan for it (using ArtGuard) and now I am planning next exhibitions. The plan is to have an exhibition with fakes and forgeries, co-operating with some museums and police. The process has been started already, and it looks splendid.
Noah: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the conservation world?
Riikka: Worldwide, there are so many challenges and demands to protect cultural heritage…

If I think only about my area of conservation, I almost see red when I meet today’s artists and see their work. I give many lectures trying to make artists understand the importance of good technique; it’s the matter of quality, not quantity. Just take a painting (or even icon) 100 years old, and it still looks more or less top quality. Whereas we are getting more and more badly prepared canvases or panels only 10-20 years old and already damaged. Education, education, that is the word!
Noah: There has been a recent debate about how much cleaning should be done on Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. Would you like to comment?
Riikka: I am not very familiar with this case, but general rule I try to follow as much as I can is "less is more”, as I guess every conservator thinks. Making sure that piece of art will be there for next generations is the most important, not restoring it so that it looks like new. And this doesn’t mean treating the object only; it includes taking care of the surroundings as well. Cleaning is always a bit risky, especially when using detergents or solvents or new methods that haven’t been in use for long.

December 13, 2010

December 8, 2010

Profile: ARCA Founder Noah Charney

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Noah Charney, Founding Director of ARCA, will be teaching "Art Crime and Its History” in Amelia this summer for ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.

Mr. Charney is the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Art Crime. Recently a Visiting Lecturer at Yale University, he is currently Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Rome. He is the editor of ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009). In addition, Mr. Charney published a novel, The Art Thief (Atria, 2007), and a nonfiction book, Stealing The Mystic Lamb: The Incredible True History of the World’s Most Frequently Stolen Masterpiece (PublicAffairs, 2010).

ARCA blog: Welcome to the ARCA blog, Noah. How would you describe your course to the readers who are applying to this program?
Noah: Our program is unique, the first in the world to offer courses of study in the unusual topic of art crime and cultural heritage protection. It has received quite a bit of attention, even though it was only founded in 2009. That same year a New York Times feature article introduced the program to the world, and we’ve grown and solidified since then. What I love about our program is that it embraces the inherent interdisciplinary nature of the study of art crime, which involves art history, archaeology, law, criminology, police and security studies, even conservation. We bring in world-renowned professors in an unusual format—each comes for two weeks over the summer to teach an intensive, 25 hour course in their area of expertise. As a result you get 10 amazing professors, plus numerous guided field trips and guest speakers, plus our international Conference on the Study of Art Crime at the heart of the program. Our unusual format, fitting over 250 lecture hours (the equivalent in hours to a year-long European Masters Program) into the three summer months allows adult professionals to take the program, or students during the summer between full-time programs. As a result we’ve had post-graduate students and professionals, ages 22 to 65, ranging from students to conservators to curators to investigators to lawyers and so on—a diverse and international group. The program does a great job of offering both academic/historical courses, like mine, with practical professional courses, like the course on “Art Policing and Investigation.”
My course is a complete history of art crime, and an introduction to the field of study. It really paves the way for the rest of the program, and provides an anecdotal history—we examine around 60 case studies carefully chosen because they each illustrate a point or phenomenon related to art crime. The stories are great, too, vivid and fun, which makes the lessons easier to remember. My goal is for my students to remember the dynamic stories that I teach, and thereby remember the lessons vicariously—if I’m doing my job well, students should not have to study, but be sufficiently drawn in during class to absorb all of the lessons without feeling like they’re having to “work.”
ARCA blog: You’ve taught this course many times over the past few years, in New Haven and Amelia, how has it changed over the last few years? Do you find yourself having to overcome any common misconceptions students may bring with them to class on the first day?
Noah: I feel like I’m an actor performing a play that I’m really passionate about once a year—I think I always get better at teaching the material, and it comes more easily. A key for me is never reading a lesson from notes. I think that’s about the most boring thing a professor can do. I much prefer teaching with just the barest outlines, which gives classes a sense of energy and freshness. I’ve taught this course at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and I’ve honed my selection of case studies to 60 cases that really tell the entire history, and future, of art crime. I’m working on an academic book covering the subject, as we speak.
One thing I’m pleased with is that since ARCA was founded, students and journalists have been largely educated about art crime in a way that was not the case beforehand. That is not to say that this is ARCA’s doing, but we’ve helped bring issues and facts to the fore, so that journalists and students are versed in the correct facts and phenomena about art crime from the start. This is really a great improvement and shows that hard work and education outreach has paid off.
ARCA blog: You’ve taught this course over a semester and also compressed over two weeks. How would you advise your summer graduate students to prepare for this class?
Noah: The two-week “executive training” version of the course has largely the same presentation of case studies, but with a bit more story-telling and a bit less collective group discussion, simply for time constraints (a semester-long course is normally 40 hours, and a postgraduate level course in our program is 25). We also have less reading during the course. I’m a big fan of relatively little homework, provided my students are focused and participate in class. But we assign some books to be read in advance of the program, so that all of our students arrive with shared material which can be used as a point of departure. We assign ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime (Praeger 2009), The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (PublicAffairs 2004), a choice between The Lost Masters by Pittaway and Harclerode or The Rape of Europa by Nicholas, and my new book, Stealing the Mystic Lamb (PublicAffairs 2010). That may sound like a lot, but we have almost no assigned reading during the summer, so students can concentrate on enjoying and learning from the great lecturers we bring to them—and can relax with some wine and prosciutto as they spend their summer in Umbria.
ARCA blog: Will you be including the story of “Stealing the Mystic Lamb” in your course this year?
Noah: Well, I’m always shy about assigning my own books to students, but all teachers do it—and it helps to have this central point from which to depart. Since this book will be assigned to students ahead of time, we’ll discuss it and use it as the spine, or through-line of the course. Pretty much anything bad that can happen to a work of art has happened to The Ghent Altarpiece, as my book explores, so it’s an ideal lens through which to study the history of art crime, collecting, and the power of art that reaches far beyond the art world and into international politics, war, and faith.

Photo by Liisa van Vliet of Noah Charney recently speaking at The Courtauld Institute in London.

Budapest Firm Tondo Examines Paintings Scientifically

Zsófia Végvári, Tondo, Inc.'s Chief Executive Officer holding a painting attributed to Picasso

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

On her trip to Budapest earlier this month, ARCA’s Director of Public and Institutional Relations, Colette Loll Marvin, toured the facility of Tondo, Inc., a firm specializing in complex painting analysis that contributes to attributions and forgery research. Tondo’s Chief Executive Officer Zsófia Végvári led Marvin through a series of complex tests used to determine the authenticity of a suspected Picasso painting recently discovered by a buyer in the Middle East. The testing can tell the age of the inorganic components, which will be used, along with the judgements of art historians, to make a determination of the authenticity, Végvári told Marvin.

Végvári founded Tondo in 1998. For the past 10 years, Tondo has provided services to cultural institutions and art collectors with an arsenal of mobile, high-tech equipment for analyzing art works. The Complex Painting Analysis Method (CPAM) combined five techniques to help authenticate paintings.

“So far art historians have used only subjective methods to define oil paintings,” said Végvári in a follow-up email. “By using the CPAM methods we offer objective applications instead of these subjective methods. On the auction market, pictures by famous painters change owners for a high price. These highly valuable paintings have been investigated with objective technologies such as X-ray, XRF, and luminescence examinations in a few cases only. However, most of the results do not increase the credibility of the auction market, but facilitate the restoration phase. After investigating the hidden layer and the metal-content of the painting, we can tell whether or not it was repainted in the past. The CPAM offers so- called 'genetic fingerprint' conditions of paintings based on physical and chemical investigations.”

According to Tondo, the technologies used in the Complex Painting Analysis Method: multispectral photography; X-Ray; microscopy; X-ray Fluorescence - Spectroscopy (XRF) examination; and a 3D white light scanner.

With multispectral photography, Tondo uses a normal light at an angle to the painting to examine brush strokes, crackling, and the artist’s signature, Végvári explained. An infrared light can reveal the underdrawing in a painting, she said. “Some pigments, such as lead white or artificial ultramarine, become transparent on infrared shoot,” Végvári explained. "It is clearly seen where different pigments were used."

Ultraviolet light can detect later restorations that appear darker than the aged original varnish layers. “It’s possible to identify any retouchings on top of an aged varnish, since oil paint and newer varnish do not fluoresce under ultraviolet light,” Végvári explained.

“A low radiation x-ray is one of the most important part of our investigation methods,” Végvári said. “X-ray can give information about an artist’s painting techniques, pigments, and under-paintings. The x-ray technique primarily records the structural elements of a painting as it shows the pigment characterizations. An x-ray can also reveal a painting hidden underneath the visible painting.”

According to Végvári, microscopy can give an amazing amount of information about a painting’s structure, based on cross sectional analysis or pigment sampling. In an invasive technology, a sample is cut from the canvas of 1-2 millimeters to show the layers of paint colors and varnish. The cross sectional analysis presents information about the repainted areas and colors as the chronology of the artist’s working methods, including restoration work. Inside of the layers most of the grains of the pigments can be identified. The pigments sampling helps to identify the age of the paint layer based on the size, characterisation, and the components of the pigment grains.

An X-ray Fluorescence - Spectroscopy (XRF) examination can identify most of the pigments used in paint, Végvári explained, and can be compared to known materials and palettes used during certain historical periods and geographical areas. The XRF spectroscopy can date objects and can reveal forged works when the chemical compounds of the paints do not match the alleged date of the artwork. For example, Végvári said, titanium white would not be in a painting in 1912. Titanium white was not available as an artist's pigment until 1924.

"The combination of XRF and microscopy allows 'diagnosing' an artists’ palette," Végvári said. "It is extremely important to make special database about colors used by each artist."

The three-dimensional surface of the artworks can be recorded with the accuracy of microns with a 3D white light scanner manufactured by Breuckmann GMBH in Germany. With this investigation method, according to Végvári, the condition of the paintings, and the distortion of the support or the brushstrokes can be examined in 3D digital data. "This technology also offers a special 3D fingerprint of the artworks," Végvári said. "It is a special 'mark' for the painting while the status of the surface is captured. The 3D information cannot be forged; so the artwork can be identified over time."

December 7, 2010

Profile: ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins

ARCA is accepting applications for the 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies until January 3, 2011. ARCA's blog will be interviewing instructors in December and today spotlights a returning lecturer.

New Zealand Judge Arthur Tompkins’ relationship with ARCA began in 2009 when he travelled to Amelia for the first of a two-part presentation at the International Art Crime Conference to discuss the possible pathway to creating an International Art Crime Tribunal. Last summer, in addition to presenting the second part of his proposal for the Tribunal at ARCA’s annual conference, Judge Tompkins taught a course, Art in War, at ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies. He is returning to teach the same course again in Italy in July 2011.

Judge Tompkins has been a District Court Judge in New Zealand for nearly 14 years. His appointment as a Judge, in 1997, followed 10 years in private practice in Auckland as a commercial barrister. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in Law from Canterbury University, in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1983, and subsequently graduated Masters in Law, with First Class Honours, from Cambridge University, England, in 1984. He has taught the Law of Evidence, and presented at numerous conferences and workshops on a variety of topics, including expert evidence, the intersect between law and science in the Courtroom, and most extensively in relation to forensic DNA and forensic DNA Databanks, in New Zealand, China, England, Ireland, France and Mauritius. He is an Honorary Member of Interpol’s DNA Monitoring Expert Group.

ARCA blog: Judge Tompkins, welcome to ARCA’s blog. First, we’d like to start off with an easy question – what brings you away from your court in New Zealand to travel halfway around the world to teach Art in War to graduate students? It can’t all be about the pizza and gelato.
Judge Tompkins: The pizza and the gelato – and especially the latter – is certainly a part of it! How I came to be involved with ARCA is a serendipitous tale of chance meetings, leading to contact with Noah Charney in relation to the chapter that I wrote for the Art and Crime volume he edited. Then, when I visited Amelia in July 2009 for the Conference, Noah offered me the chance to return to Amelia to teach. I made a considered decision (it took me, I seem to recall, less than a second to decide!) to leap at the opportunity both to develop the course, and then to escape the New Zealand winter for the summer in Umbria amid the company of a wonderful group of enthusiastic staff and students.
But perhaps most importantly, the course I teach allows me to combine on a longstanding interest in history (from my distant youth I have three-quarters of a BA majoring in European History, which some day I might just get around to finishing) with the work I have done with Interpol and others concerning the cross-border operation of the criminal law, and my interest in the way, over the years, public international law has developed and matured. I am not an art historian, so I leave that side of things to others!

ARCA blog: Have there been any recent events in the past six months that have refined your concept of an International Art Crime Tribunal?

It is not so much something that has happened, as what has not happened. In my paper to the ARCA Conference in 2009, I talked about, in relation to confronting the many issues raised by art crime, there being islands of excellence amid a sea of indifference. And I think that is still accurate – there are many people in many different places doing great work, including of course ARCA. But realistically they are islands, and there are lots of bridges still to build between them. It is happening, slowly – the availability now on the internet of the Jeu de Paume records left behind by the ERR is one recent example – but I still believe that a single bright focus would bring numerous benefits, not least of which would be the continued development of the durable and lasting culture of interdisciplinary scholarship that ARCA has done so much to reinvigorate and foster.

ARCA blog: In your course, what are some of the areas that you focus on and what do you find the most challenging?

Part of the challenge for both me and the students is that, in the first two days of the course, we cover a little over 3000 years of history – starting with the taking of the Stele of Hammurabi following the sack of Babylon in 1160 BCE, right through to the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and Library in 2003. On the way we stop off at, among many other things, the Thirty Years’ War and, inevitably, both the Napoleonic era and the Second World War. Because I seek to examine, with the students, the various art crimes we look at in their historical context, it is often challenging to summarise major historical events in a very short time – World War I in two paragraphs, anyone? Inevitably, I have many favourite parts of the course, but a couple stand out as particularly interesting. The story of the carrying of a large part of the Palatine Library over the Alps in 1622, on the backs of 200 mules who each wore a silver collar inscribed in Latin is an evocative image. The Vatican Library was closed for renovations this year, but next year I will arrange a reader’s pass to visit and, I hope, inspect some of the volumes, most of which are still in Rome. The astounding heroism of Rose Valland, who worked at the Jeu de Paume on behalf of the French Resistance for four tumultuous years during World War II, recording and identifying the numerous looted art shipments to Germany, to ensure that the Resistance did not inadvertently blow the trains up is a remarkable tale of sustained courage. And, in the second half of the course, presenting the sometimes complex subject of the public international law of treaties and the like presents its own challenges! Using actual examples, like the shelling of Dubrovnik by the Yugoslavian forces and the prosecution and conviction of two senior officers in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, helps bring the international criminal law to life in a real and tangible way – especially as Dubrovnik is not all that far from Italy, just across the Adriatic Sea.

December 3, 2010

Renowned Art Conservator Julia Brennan discusses her adventures in conservation and the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime

Julia Brennan is a renowned art conservator specializing in textiles. In an interview with Noah Charney, Julia discusses her international adventures in conservation, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime, and the cleaning of The Ghent Altarpiece.
Read more at Suite101: Renowned Conservator Discusses Art, Art Crime, and Van Eyck

December 2, 2010

Summary of Erik Nemeth's Presentation at the 2010 ASC Conference

ARCA Trustee Erik Nemeth ( and has forwarded on a summary of his thoughtful panel presentation at the American Society of Criminology annual meeting. The presentation, "Cultural Intelligence: data sources on the motivation and means for trafficking" crystallizes I think the systemic nature of the illicit trade in antiquities, and the need for further rigorous examination of the trade across the relevant disciplines. His summary follows:

The annual multibillion-dollar illicit market in movable cultural property motivates looting in developing nations. As demonstrated from Latin America in the midst of the Cold War era to South-central Asia in the post-Cold War period, organized crime may take advantage of limited security in “source nations” by recruiting locals to loot. In African nations, the corruption extends into the public sector with bribes to customs officers and collusion with staff of cultural ministries. On a transnational level, the risk that revenues from trafficking may fund insurgencies and terrorist groups has alerted law enforcement agencies to the implications for international security. The degree of the security threat posed by looting ultimately depends on the market value of the artworks and the intersections with trafficking in weapons and narcotics. Quantitative analysis of the market value and mapping the trafficking networks illustrate the potential of specialized “art intelligence” to enable countermeasures to mitigate, and optimally forestall, threats to cultural identity.

The traditionally clandestine nature of the art market poses challenges to assessing looting and trafficking in developing nations. In the absence of direct information on transactions in ource nations,sales at auction provide a sense of the market value and trade volume of antiquities and primitive art. Auction houses openly publish results of auctions and enable access to sales archives through web sites. On-line access to sales archives creates a substantive pool of data on hammer prices from auctions around the world. Sales archives also contain detailed descriptions of the artworks. The description that accompanies an auction lot can identify the geographic origin of the artwork. Data mining of sales archives for hammer price and origin enables analysis of market value by source nation. The analysis assesses relative market value and, thereby, contributes to an assessment of relative risks of looting across developing nations.

Any threat of looting has serious implications for the cultural identity of local communities, but the market value that motivates looting has implications for the severity and extent of the threat. Large demand in market nations and high market value increases the scale of looting and the range of parties with vested interest. A large market for artworks from a particular source nation increases the likelihood that organized crime will invest in developing trafficking networks and in recruiting locals to loot. As the involvement of organized crime increases, the opportunities for corruption within government also increase. An assessment of the relative risk of looting informs policy on the protection of cultural patrimony. With an understanding of the magnitudes of risk facing different source nations, market nations can strategically focus resources to engage actors in the art market and local governments.

Thieves in Madrid Steal 28 Artworks, including Picassos

See the link above for a new article by ARCA president Noah Charney, on last week's theft of 28 artworks from a truck parked in a warehouse outside of Madrid. Works by Picasso, Chillida, Tapies, and Botero (pictured above) were stolen en route back from loan in Germany to six different galleries in Madrid and Barcelona.

November 30, 2010

ARCA Student Kim Alderman Presents "Honor Amongst Thieves"

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Kim Alderman, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a student in ARCA’s Class of 2010 postgraduate program in International Art Crime Studies, presented at the Antiquities Trafficking panel at the American Society of Criminologists Conference in San Francisco in mid-November.

Alderman, who studied art history and archaeology at the University of Maryland at College Park, provided an abstract of her presentation on her blog, Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog, and we followed up via email with some questions of our own.

ARCA Blog: Do you believe that organized crime has fueled the illicit antiquities trade since the early 1960s?

Alderman: “Whether organized crime is connected to the illicit antiquities trade depends on how you define “organized crime.” The broad definition of organized crime is three or more people, engaged in a pattern of illegal conduct, for the purpose of obtaining material gains. If you use this definition, then it is correct to say that organized crime is involved in the illicit antiquities trade. From subsistence looters to tombaroli to smugglers, there are always people working in concert to excavate and move illicit antiquities. If you are talking only about mobsters or the mafia, then there is less evidence to support the alleged connection. As to the claim that the involvement began in the 1960s, I suspect this originated with allegations of the mafia’s entry into art theft during that decade, and was later extended by imprecise language to the illicit antiquities trade. There has certainly been increasingly organized subversion in the illicit antiquities trade since then, although whether the 1960s served as a temporal starting point for such organization remains to be seen.”

ARCA Blog: Is the illicit antiquities trade linked to money laundering, extortion, the drug and arms trades, terrorism and even slavery?

Alderman: “Claims that the illicit antiquities trade is connected with money laundering, extortion, the drug and arms trades, terrorism, and slavery, should be taken individually. The purchasing of illicit art and antiquities has long been a way to take cash gained from criminal activities and convert it to the ownership of goods, thereby concealing the source of the funds. Extortion would be more an issue for stolen artwork, and I have not observed a link between it and antiquities. As to terrorism, there are discrete instances of terrorist groups unearthing and exporting antiquities in their local regions, but these instances serve as indicators of a potential connection – not hard evidence. Finally, as to the alleged connection between illicit antiquities and the drug and arms trades or slavery, Eastern European mafias have been accused of trafficking in “everything from antiquities to humans.”

ARCA Blog: Thank you, Kim.

Readers can follow Kim Alderman at

November 23, 2010

ARCA Panel at the 2010 American Society of Criminology

File:MalteseFalcon1930.jpgLast Thursday ARCA sponsored an antiquities panel held at the American Society of Criminology meeting in San Francisco. It was a lively panel, and I always enjoy getting a chance to discuss these issues in person, to an interested audience. San Francisco was a great setting for this kind of thing, and though the conference hotel was located near the Tenderloin, in the old stomping grounds of Dashiell hammett, I managed to restrain myself and avoid making any pained "Maltese Falcon" references, though I'm unable to resist here. What follows are a few of my thoughts which I jotted down during the panel.

Kimberly Alderman began the panel by examining the connections between art crime and organized crime and the drug trade. The connection matters, as it may be one way to help highlight the problem of the theft and looting of sites, as organized crime and illegal drug sales will draw the attention of law enforcement more readily. Yasmeen Hussain followed, and discussed the role of antiquities issues in international relations. I was really struck that there may be more room in the debate for political scientists to weigh in on these issues in a more direct way, perhaps offering frameworks for useful dialogues which can "build capacity" as Yasmeen argued. Erik Nemeth followed and really opened my ideas to the idea of "cultural intelligence" and the need to assess the "tactical and strategic significance of antiquities and cultural heritage sites". I ended the panel by looking in some detail at the Four Corners antiquities investigation, and argued that the criminal offenses at the Federal level are inconsistently applied and do not really do a very good job of regulating and changing the underlying nature of the market.

One interesting idea which emerged from the questions after the panel was Simon Mackenzie's question about whether the UN definition of organized crime could or should be applied to certain parts of the antiquities trade like auction houses. The definition states that organized criminal groups are "a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences. . .". Kim responded by noting that even if these groups are not actively and intentionally engaged in the crimes, they may be unwitting actors or play a part in an organized criminal network, referencing the work of Edgar Tijhuis.

Overall, it was a terrific weekend, another Cultural Property panel with Blythe Bowman Proulx, Matthew Pate, Duncan Chappell, and Simon Mackenzie was terrific as well. Thanks to all the panelists, and especially the volunteers who put together Thursday evening's reception at the Thirsty Bear.

ARCA's Colette Loll Marvin Lectures on "Curating Art Crime" in Budapest

By Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Last weekend ARCA's Director of Public and Institutional Relations, Colette Loll Marvin, lectured on "Curating Crime" to a group of students in the Arts Management program at the International Business School of Budapest.

Ms. Marvin spoke about several recent museum exhibitions dedicated to the subject of art crime, specifically forgery. Marvin has been conducting research for a documentary on the famed Hungarian forger Elmyr de Hory (1906-1976) who was arguably the most prolific forger of the twentieth century.

De Hory operated primarily in Europe and the United States for three decades and is alleged to have circulated hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of paintings into the art market, according to Marvin. Unable to find success in selling his own original works, Marvin said, De Hory turned his talents and Beaux Arts training towards the crafting of fake paintings in the style of Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, Dufy, Vlamink and other Impressionist and Modernist masters.

“Fakes and forgeries were once the dirty little secret of the art world,” Marvin said. “No gallery, museum or auction house is entirely free from the embarrassment of a costly error of misattribution or faulty provenance. Duped museums can feel slightly vindicated, however, as there is a growing public fascination in these costly mistakes, as witnessed by the record crowds visiting exhibits dedicated to fakes, mistakes and misattributions.”

The latest exhibit, "Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries" opened this weekend at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit and examines 58 artworks from paintings to decorative arts in the museum's collection whose artist attribution and authenticity have changed since being donated or purchased by the institution.

Professor Jeff Taylor, an American art historian currently completing the doctoral program at Central European University on the subject of the historical evolution of the Hungarian art market, invited Marvin to speak to the class after being asked to serve as a Humanities advisor to her film project.

"Colette's presentation served as the ideal exclamation point to this section of the semester which had been focusing on the problems of the art market, particularly fakes, plunder, and restitution,” Taylor said. “I think the students got a full appreciation for how much these issues are being widely discussed, both in the many recent exhibitions which were shown, but also in terms of Colette's documentary project on Elmyr de Hory, and that seemed to generate a lot of interest among them in the ARCA Postgraduate program."

The Arts Management program at the International Business School of Budapest is a recently added program and boasts a curriculum designed to produce students that are well versed in the business aspects of the art market.

Ms. Marvin also gave a presentation to the undergraduate class about ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate in International Art Crime Studies.

ARCA’s courses include “Art Crime and Its History” by Noah Charney, founding director of ARCA; “Art in War” by Judge Arthur Tompkins of New Zealand; “Art Policing and Investigation” by Richard Ellis, former director of Scotland Yard Arts and Antiques Unit; and “Museums, Security, and Art Protection” taught in 2010 by Anthony Amore, Security Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies has taken place in Italy in the medieval town of Amelia in Umbria from June through August for the past two years and is accepting applications through January 3 for the 2011 program.

In addition, ARCA’s third annual International Art Crime Conference is scheduled for July 9th and 10 next summer in Amelia. Papers for the conference will be accepted in the spring.

Art Crime in Hungary

On November 5 1983, thieves robbed the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest and stole paintings by Raphael (Esterhazy Madonna and Portrait of a Young Man); Giorgione (Self-portrait), Tintoretto (Portrait of a Gentleman and Portrait of a Gentlewoman), and Tiepolo (Madonna and the Saints and Rest on the Flight into Egypt). All of the works, including Raphael’s Esterhazy Madonna, also known as Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist, were recovered two months later by the Italian Carabinieri in an abandoned Greek Monastery near Aigio in northeast Greece. Operation Budapest was a joint investigation between the Italian Carabinieri, the Hungarian police, and the Greek Police.

The Old Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest has a collection of 3,000 Old Master Paintings from the 13th to the 18th centuries, with more than 700 acquired from the Esterhazy estate, a noble family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Inadequate physical maintenance may have made the museum vulnerable to thieves. A visitor to the Budapest museum in the 1980s described the 1906 building housing the collection as “in a sorry state” with “various roofs leaking and many of its masterpieces draped in sheets of polythene to protect them when rain fell.” The museum had been bombed in World War II and the construction of an underground railway may have damaged the building’s structure.

According to the Commission for Art Recovery, about 20 percent of all Western art in Europe was looted during the war. During World War II, the Hungarian government, a Nazi ally, confiscated art owned by Jews. The Hungarian government participated in the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets and agreed to work to identify Nazi-era looted art and opening museum archives for provenance research. However, the Jewish Claims Conference and World Jewish Restitution Organization claims that Hungary has disregarded the principles and not returned art looted from Holocaust victims.

The family of Baron Mar Lipot Herzog, a wealthy patron of the arts, who lived in Budapest and died in 1934, has sought restitution from Hungary with no success, according to a recent article by Judy Dempsey in the New York Times.

Hungary to Sell Communist Relics today published an article by Pablo Gorondi of the Associated Press about an upcoming auction in Budapest of the sale of 230 communist-era relics, including a life-size bust of former Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin.

November 22, 2010

ARCA Lecturer Richard Ellis weighs in on recovery of stolen paintings from Malmö Art Museum

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Swedish police recovered three paintings that had not been reported stolen from the Malmö Art Museum last month during an investigation into a case concerning credit fraud in the taxi sector. The case was covered here in The Local, Sweden’s News in English. Mark Durney’s Art Theft Central urged police investigators to reveal how and why the paintings were in possession of individuals with ties to a credit card case in an article on October 7 . The ARCA blog sought additional insight on this case from one of its instructors, Richard Ellis, former Director of Scotland Yard’s Arts & Antiquities Unit.

“In my experience, unlicensed taxi services (sometimes referred to as mini-cabs) have frequently been involved in criminal groups, committing such crimes as burglary, fraud and local drug distribution,” Mr. Ellis wrote in an email this month. “I suspect that this was an unlicensed taxi service and therefore it is not a surprise that they were involved in credit card frauds.

“Professional criminals often operate in more than one area of crime and a lot of art recovered by police is found whilst investigating other crimes,” he continued.

Mr. Ellis cited the robbery at the National Gallery in Stockholm in 2000 when three masked and armed robbers walked into Stockholm’s National Museum and took a small self-portrait on copper by Rembrandt and two paintings by Renoir (“A Young Parisienne” and “Conversation”) and escaped in a boat, diverting police by setting cars on fire in nearby streets. Renoir’s “Conversation” was recovered one year later when Swedish police raided the place of known drug traffickers. In 2005, the other two paintings were recovered when police infiltrated a U. S.-based crime syndicate: Renoir’s “A Young Parisienne” was recovered in Los Angeles and Rembrandt’s self-portrait was recouped in Copenhagen. “In this case, the stolen art was used to fund other criminal activities,” Mr. Ellis wrote.

“In the current case, the painting by Munch was stolen because they recognized that in theory it would attract a high cash value,” Mr. Ellis continued in his email response to the ARCA blog. “However, whether they had the knowledge required to capitalize on this is not clear and it is this ability in knowing how to dispose of stolen art that sets an art thief apart from other criminals."

The Munch painting is worth around 10 million kroner ($1.5 million) and was found with two paintings by Gustaf Rydberg and Pär Siegaard. Munch's 1913 “Two friends”, which portrays two dogs and is thought to have been done when the Norwegian painter was living in Germany, is the Malmö Art Museum’s only work by the artist.

Founded in 1841, the Malmö Art Museum collection contains 32,000 works from the 16th century to the present. The museum building from 1937 is in the Malmöhus castle complex, one of the oldest remaining renaissance castles in Scandinavia.

November 11, 2010

German Forgers May Have Used Catalogs of Jewish Art Dealer

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

German forgers may have used the records of a long-dead Jewish art dealer as provenance for as many as 35 second-tier French and German expressionist paintings sold through auction houses in Cologne and London which may have defrauded art collectors of more than 15 million Euros over the past two decades.

The alleged forgery activities of a German couple and their extended family and friends are detailed in a report in Der Spiegel with additional analysis by Mark Durney at Art Theft Central in October. Although only one painting has been confirmed as a fake, according to Der Spiegel, all of the paintings from two fictitious collections that claim to have been purchased through the same art dealer in Germany in the 1920 are now suspect. Many of the paintings are stamped with a fraudulent sticker trying to identify the artworks as from the Galerie Flechtheim.

Provenance of these suspected paintings may have been lifted from sales and exhibition catalogues from a Dusseldorf art gallery owned by the Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim who fled Nazi Germany when his business was confiscated in 1933. Der Spiegel reported that parts of his collection and documents from his business were lost. Flechtheim, who died in London in 1937, represented Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Paul Klee, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann and other painters in the 1920s who were later deemed by Nazi officials to have produced “degenerate art”. Galerie Alfred Flechtheim held exhibitions of works by André Durain, Juan Gris, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, and Paul Cézanne in 1929; and Edzard Dietz, August Renoir, Fernand Léger, Max Beckmann in 1928. A 1926 portrait of Alfred Flechtheim by Otto Dix hangs in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (see image above).

Flechtheim’s heirs have tired to recover about 100 paintings by artists such as Picasso, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Vincent van Gogh from German and American museums. In July 2010, the Fleichtheim heirs claimed a portrait of the actress Tilla Durieux by Oskar Kokoschka from the Museum Ludwig in Cologne (Zeit Online, translated, “He Was His Own Best Client Client,” July 8, 2010). Flechtheim’s gallery was taken over by the Nazis in 1933. Alex Vömel, the new ‘owner’, sold the Durieux portrait from Flechtheim’s private collection in 1934 for a price below the 1931 insurance value, according to the heirs’ lawyer, who also claim that there’s no record that Flechtheim received any proceeds from the sale.

In another litigation news, the heirs of George Grosz are pursuing the restitution of paintings they claim Grosz left on consignment with Flechtheim before Grosz also fled Germany in 1933.

November 10, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - , No comments

You're Invited to ARCA's Happy Hour: Thursday November 18 (San Francisco)

ThirstyBear Brown Bear Ale

Thursday, November 18
6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m
Thirsty Bear
661 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

ARCA warmly invites those in the Bay area to join us for some free drinks, nibbles, and lively discussion about art crime and cultural heritage protection. This is an excellent opportunity to meet ARCA staff, volunteers, and experts and professionals in the field of art crime. We look forward to seeing you there!

For further information email Joni Fincham, Managing Director

November 9, 2010

Freeze of BBC License Fee Continues Dream of Art Thief Who Stole Goya’s “Portrait of the Duke of Wellington” from the National Gallery in 1961

The only successful theft from London’s National Gallery took place on 21 August 1961, when a brazen thief stole Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Forty-nine years later, on 19 October of this year, the thief’s ransom demands were protected well into the future.

One of the most bizarre incidents in the history of art theft, the Goya heist baffled police. Someone had snuck into the National Gallery through an unlocked bathroom window, had evaded security guards, and made off with a painting which had just been saved from sale to an American tycoon by the British government. The sale of the Spanish painting, property of the Duke of Leeds, had been frozen in order for the British nation to match the sale price, thereby keeping the painting in England. £140,000 had been hastily raised (the equivalent of around £2 million today), and the 1812 portrait of the English war hero was saved. It went on display at the National Gallery in London on 3 August—less than three weeks later, it was gone.

The Press had a field day, and the theft infected the popular imagination. In the background of the first James Bond film, Dr No, which was filmed soon after the crime, one can see a copy of the missing Goya portrait decorating Dr No’s villainous hideout.

Then the London police received the first of many bizarre ransom notes. They promised the safe return of the painting in exchange for discounted television licenses for old age pensioners.

Surely this was a joke? But the ransomer was able to identify marks visible only on the back of the painting, proving that it was in his possession. The ransomer, whose notes were theatrical and flamboyantly written, thought it outrageous that the British government would spend such a sum on a painting when retired British citizens had to pay to watch television. The Goya would be returned, wrote the ransomer, if a charitable fund of equivalent value, £140,000, were established to pay for television licenses for old age pensioners. There seemed to be no personal motivation for the theft, only outrage at the government’s TV license scheme.

But the police would not negotiate. A second ransom letter arrived, which read:
Goya Com 3. The Duke is safe. His temperature cared for – his future uncertain. The painting is neither to be cloakroomed or kiosked, as such would defeat our purpose and leave us to ever open arrest. We want pardon or the right to leave the country – banishment? We ask that some nonconformist type of person with the fearless fortitude of a Montgomery start the fund for £140,000. No law can touch him. Propriety may frown – but God must smile.
Still the police would not respond. A third ransom letter turned cheeky:
Terms are same. . . . An amnesty in my case would not be out of order. The Yard are looking for a needle in a haystack, but they haven’t a clue where the haystack is. . . I am offering three-pennyworth of old Spanish firewood in exchange for 140,000 of human happiness. A real bargain compared to a near million for a scruffy piece of Italian cardboard.
But while the police would not budge, they were no closer to identifying the thief. In 1965, however, a note arrived at the offices of the Daily Mirror newspaper with a luggage check ticket for the Birmingham rail station. The ticket yielded a surprising package at the Birmingham—the stolen Goya. It had been deposited by someone identifying himself as a “Mister Bloxham,” likely a reference to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, in which an infant is found in a handbag at a rail station luggage check. The painting had been recovered, handed over as a sign of good will by the thief, who realized that his demands, which he felt were entirely reasonable and noble, would not be met. But who was the thief?

On 19 July 1965 a portly, 61-year old retired cab driver who bore a striking resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock walked into a police station to turn himself in. Kempton Bunton, a cuddly 252 pound grandfather, did not match the expectations of an ingenious, if eccentric, art thief. He had, perhaps unsurprisingly, been fined twice for refusing to pay his own TV license. The theft seemed to have been motivated solely by charity, although there are those who believe that he took the fall for someone else.

Bunton was not worried about being tried, he told the police, because he knew of an odd loophole in British law. In court, he was found not guilty of having stolen the painting, because the judge noted an antiquated clause which stated that if the jury believed that Bunton always intended to return the painting if his ransom negotiations failed (and he did return the painting) then they must acquit. Heeding the judge’s advice, the jury found Bunton not guilty of having stolen the Goya—but he was found guilty of having stolen the painting’s frame, which was never returned. He was given a slap on the wrist, three months in prison, and was gently scolded by the judge, who said: “motives, even if they are good, cannot justify theft, and creeping into public galleries in order to extract pictures of value so that you can use them for your own purposes has got to be discouraged.”

This comical theft would play a major role in shaping UK law. In 1968, as part of England’s new Theft Act, Parliament included a clause which made it illegal to “remove without authority any object displayed or kept for display to the public in a building to which the public have access,” thereby making Bunton’s “borrowing” of the Goya a criminal offense.

Television licenses were eventually revoked for old age pensioners, satisfying, long after the fact, the unusual ransom demands of Kempton Bunton. But in recent weeks the issue has once more been in question. Would a latter-day Bunton be prompted to make a similar, high-profile statement in protest to the licensing fee? The matter was finally resolved on 20 October of this year, when it was announced that free license fees for pensioners will be extended until at least 2017.

Kempton Bunton, floating on his cloud up in Heaven, must be looking down upon us with a satisfied smile.

We would like to thank Alan Hirsch for research assistance on this article.

November 8, 2010

Revisiting the Cultural Plunder Database

Biche more, Gustave Courbet, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Revisiting the “Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Richsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume”

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

The database of stolen art from Jewish French and Belgian collectors processed through the Jeu de Paume in Paris from 1940 to 1944 has received more than 11,000 visits from 97 countries since its public release three weeks ago.

The database, which can be accessed at, is a Joint Project of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with the cooperation of the Bundesarchiv (The German Federal Archives), France Diplomatie: Diplomatic Archive Center of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, and The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The website for the database also includes a photo gallery of the Nazi’s “Special Task Force”, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), processing art works through the center of Paris and another section of works of art considered objectionable (“Degenerate”) by the Nazis – works by artists such as Max Ernst, Salvardor Dalí, and Kees van Dongen.

Users can browse by art owners, by collection, or by artist. Information about the art includes measurements, a title in German, and the name of the owner and the collection and in many cases, whether or not the painting or artwork was restituted to its wartime owner.

An 1857 painting by Gustave Courbet (titled in German Totes Re him Walde or in French Biche morte) entered the Jeu de Paume between September and October of 1942. It was considered for a possible exchange, but was returned to France in 1949. In 1951, the French national museum collection placed it into into the Louvre until 1954 when it was sent to the Musée National Ahmed Zabana in Oran. The painting stayed in Algeria for 31 years until it was stolen in October of 1985.

A painting “considered for exchange” indicates that the ERR staff wanted to trade the painting with art dealers as “payment-in-kind” for works of art desired by Hermann Goering and other Nazi dignitaries for their collections or for the Reich.

Sixteen years later, a reproduction of the same painting, now under the new title of Chevreuil Mort/Dead Deer, appeared in an auction catalogue for a sale scheduled at the George V Hotel in Paris on December 19, 2001. Recognizing the stolen the painting, the French museums rquested that the painting be withdrawn from the sale. It was seized by the police, then transferred to the musée d’Orsay on October 29, 2002.

The ERR Collection Name was “MA-B” or “Möbel-Aktion Bilder”, a category of more than 1,300 matches. "Möbel Aktion" means that it was ‘Operation Furniture’ that the work was removed from a Jewish home. “Bilder” means it was a picture. However, the original owner was not identified by the Nazis and the painting has not been returned to that family.

Could the family who owned that painting make a claim for the return of their painting today? We asked this question to Marc Masurovsky, the project’s director and a consultant to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“If it is the same painting and was not recovered by a legitimate owner and there is someone who can attest to be the rightful owner of the work, that person can make a claim for the unrecovered object,” Masurovsky wrote in an email. “As you know, the database is a work in progress and much information still needs to be added, especially with respect to the postwar fate of many of the works and objects described in the database.”

November 5, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010 - No comments

Applications Wanted for the 2011 Postgraduate Program

ARCA (the Association for Research into Crimes against Art) is now accepting applications to its third Postgraduate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Both the application and prospectus are available here:

Applications are due in early January, and we try to keep enrollment to a small number, probably under 25.  This really is a special program, and a terrific opportunity for a wide variety of folks interested in careers which touch art and heritage crime.  We try to balance practical courses in security measures with theoretical grounding in law, policy, art history and criminology.

I am excited to have the opportunity to spend most of the summer in Amelia volunteering as the Academic Director. Frankly, I feel a bit guilty calling this a 'volunteer' position. I Teach writing to law students here at South Texas the rest of the year, but I really look forward to the opportunity the ARCA program provides each summer to teach and discuss my first love—art and heritage.  My wife Joni will be on site as well as the managing director of ARCA, and our President and Founder Noah Charney will be a regular presence.  The faculty are a terrific bunch from all over the world who bring a great deal of practical experience to the courses. 

A house in Amelia
As the prospectus aptly puts it, this program provides in-depth, Postgraduate level instruction in a wide variety of theoretical and practical elements of art and heritage crime:  its history, its nature, its impact, and what can be done to curb it.  Courses are taught by international experts, in the beautiful setting of Umbria, Italy.  Topics include the history of art crime, art and antiquities law and policy, criminology, the laws of armed conflict, the art trade, art insurance, art security and policing, risk management, criminal investigation, law and policy, vandalism and iconoclasm, and cultural heritage protection throughout history and around the world.  This interdisciplinary program offers substantive study for art police and security professionals, lawyers, insurers, curators, conservators, members of the art trade, and post-graduate students of criminology, law, security studies, sociology, art history, archaeology, and history.

I am more than happy to answer any questions (fincham "at" about the program, as is ARCA's Business and Admissions Director Mark Durney (ma "at"

November 3, 2010

ARCA Alum to speak at Sotheby's Institute of Art

Leila Amineddoleh, Class of 2010 in ARCA's postgraduate program, is presenting a 1-hour overview about art law on Thursday, November 4th, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Sotheby's Institute of Art (570 Lexington Ave.) The event is held by the New York State Bar Association's Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Section. Further information may be accessed at:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - ,,, No comments

ARCA students attend SAFE's Beacon Awards

SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone) honored four men with a combined total of more than 75 years of working for the U.S. government in recapturing and returning cultural heritage property at the sold-out 2010 Beacon Awards at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City on October 29.

A non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage worldwide, SAFE aims to raise public awareness about the irreversible damage that results from looting, smuggling and trading illicit antiquities.

The organization’s Beacon Awards ceremony commenced with introductory remarks by its president and founder, Cindy Ho, who thanked all of the event’s attendees for raising their voices against the destruction of antiquities. She urged all present to raise public awareness about this problem, asserting that it is humanity’s shared responsibility to protect our heritage. Ms. Ho thanked the Beacon Award winners for their tireless in efforts in protecting cultural heritage property then welcomed the moderator, Marion Forsyth Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners, LLC, who introduced the honored speakers.

The 2010 Beacon Awards honored four professionals in the law enforcement sector, Robert E. Goldman, David Hall, James E. McAndrew, and Robert K. Wittman. Goldman served as an Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal prosecutor and worked with the FBI to investigate museum and art theft. David Hall also served as an attorney for the government in his capacity as Special Prosecutor for the FBI’s Art Crime Team. James McAndrew acted as an expert on international art and antiquity investigations and on customs and international trade law with the U.S. Customs Service and then with the Department of Homeland Security. Robert Wittman led a successful career with the FBI for twenty years, and was instrumental in founding the FBI Art Crime Team.

Friday evening the four award winners participated in a panel about their experiences in protecting art. Each man spoke about his role in protecting antiquities and art, and shared personal anecdotes about his practice. Each honoree expressed the idea that the public shares a responsibility in guarding art and antiquities because these objects are the property of all humanity. After their presentations, the award winners responded to questions asked by the moderator and audience members.

The honorees were asked why they had devoted years of their lives to protecting art and cultural heritage property. The men agreed that they all felt immeasurable joy when they repatriated priceless art objects to their rightful owners. The gratitude expressed by the property recipients was compensation that could not be quantified.

Robert Goldman said that after each one of us perishes, antiquities and cultural heritage property objects endure and continue to represent man’s accomplishments and humanity’s shared history.

After the speeches and award ceremony ended, Beacon Award audience members enjoyed a food and drink reception where they had a chance to mingle with the award winners. Robert Wittman autographed copies of “Priceless”, his best-selling book about his experiences with the FBI Art Crime Team.

Included in the audience were students who had studied art crime in Amelia with the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.

Leila Amineddoleh, a 2010 student in ARCA's postgraduate origram, said, “The award winners were fantastic; their dedication to the protection of cultural heritage property and antiquities is moving, their professional experiences are fascinating, and it is inspiring to hear about law enforcement’s ability to protect humanity’s treasures.”

Further information about SAFE can be obtained at

Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - ,, No comments

ARCA Alum Julia Brennan speaks to ICOM committee

ARCA alum Julia Brennan recently spoke at a meeting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to members of the International Council of Museums about the role of conservators in preventing looting of antiquities in the field.

Brennan, a textile conservator, and Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage, presented a paper, “The Role of Conservators in the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trade: Responsibilities and Opportunities,” at the Interim Meeting for the Legal Issues in Conservation Working Group, International Council of Museums, Conservation Committee, (ICOM CC LIC) on October 18.

The Legal Issues in Conservation Working Group focuses on policies affecting conservation professions and wanted to listen to people who had been in the field describe to conservators what to look for when trying to spot a looted or stolen antiquity.

Ms. Brennan, a graduate of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime program in 2010, has worked in the field of textile conservation for more than 25 years. Her extensive field work in Asia and Africa has included establishing textile museums, national artifact databases, and training museum staff and monk body in the protection of cultural property. The presentation elaborated on Ms. Brennan’s thesis “Deterring the Illicit Art Trade and Preserving Cultural Heritage: Redefining the Preventative Conservation Mandate”. The talk was a call to action for the conservation community, illustrated through looting case studies, and practical solutions and changes in practice for conservators, as well as professional liability.

In the presentation, Ms. Brennan acknowledged that conservators are sometimes part of the laundering of illicit antiquities, cleaning away dirt before the objects make their way through the art market.

“The trial of Marion True was a wake up call for people in the field,” Brennan said. Coincidentally, her presentation occurred the same week that the legal case against the former curator of the Getty Museum terminated. “Here was a case that heralded a change in international attitudes about museum collecting and served as a wake-up call for encyclopedic museums to cease their cavalier and illegal practices of acquiring without sound provenance.”

According to Brennan, conservators should work to write reports on objects in line with Object ID guidelines, in case something happens to a piece later, and check with looted art databases and other organizations to determine if an object has been reported stolen.

If an object looks suspicious, conservators can contact UNESCO, INTERPOL, IFAR, customs officials, and the Art Loss Register, Brennan suggested.

“Art collectors are flocking to high-end galleries and auction houses around the world and buying billions of dollars worth of antiquities each year,” Brennan wrote. “And with the passion of the serious connoisseur, they proclaim themselves preservers of the past. This is far from the truth: most antiquities have been stolen from an archaeological site at some point in history.”

Brennan discussed the conservation codes of ethics as well as the importance of ICOM’s Red List, Object ID, the Getty’s MEGA project in Jordan, AAM’s new Standards of Acquisitions, teaching proper cataloguing, outreach, and self-education.

Ms. Brennan encouraged conservators to learn about the laws, conventions, illicit trade, auction house practices, and be pro active. “The profession most intimate with artifacts’ actual materials, whether it is paintings, ceramics, bronzes, or textiles, needs to be more forensically directed, and serve as hands-on watch dogs for the world’s cultural patrimony,” she said. “Collaborating with law enforcement, ICE, FBI, insurance companies and setting up a conservator call-list was one practical suggestion like a “conservation corps” that partners with museums and other cultural institutions.

She provided several models of cross disciplinary projects where protection of cultural property overlaps with health care, environmental protection and eco tourism.

Using the notorious 1989 Indiana based AUTOCEPHALOUS GREEK-ORTHODOX CHURCH OF CYPRUS and THE REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS, Plaintiffs, v. GOLDBERG & FELDMAN FINE ARTS, INC., and PEG GOLDBERG, Defendants, Ms. Brennan analyzed the case from the role of the conservator. In examining the motivations, she pointed out that the underlying theme was greed and financial gain. The destructive restoration of the mosaics (including flattening what were curved artifacts) was irreversible. She went on to discuss the expanded role of conservators in the chain of custody of antiquities and all artifacts, and the important physical material role they play in the protection of cultural heritage both in source and market countries, the field, as well as large international museums. She emphasized that conservators hold an important card in the final ethical treatment or ‘cleansing’ of illegally gained artifacts.

Washington DC-based Ms. Brennan frequently lectures to historical societies and collectors on the care and display of textiles. She currently teaches preventative conservation workshops in Thailand.