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July 30, 2014

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Ancient Egyptian mask likely to stay at St. Louis Art Museum after feds give up legal fight"

Journalist Robert Patrick reported for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 28:
The Department of Justice is giving up its fight to reclaim for Egypt a 3,200-year-old mummy mask that disappeared from that country decades ago and later found its way into the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum. “The Department of Justice will take no further legal action with respect to the mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer,” U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said in response to questions from the Post-Dispatch on Monday, the deadline for the Department of Justice if it wished to prolong the court battle. Museum officials couldn’t be reached immediately for comment. According to court filings, both sides are still discussing payment of the museum’s legal fees.
Here's the background as previously covered on the ARCA Blog in "The Legal Case of the Mummy Mask of Lady Ka Nefer-Nefer ...".

July 29, 2014

ARCA '14 Art Crime Conference: Jordan Arnold on "Hello Dalí: Anatomy of a Modern Day Art Theft Investigation"

Jordan Arnold, formerly with New York County
District Attorney's Office
AMELIA -- At ARCA's Art Crime Conference on June 29, Jordan Arnold, formerly head of the Financial Intelligence Unit with the New York County District Attorney’s Office, spoke about the recent art theft investigation which involved artwork by Salvatore Dalí.
In the middle of the afternoon on June 19, 2012, inside an art gallery near Central Park, a man removed a 1949 Salvador Dali watercolor from the wall, placed it in a shopping bag and disappeared into the streets of Manhattan. The ensuing international investigation—led by NYPD Major Case Squad detectives and a Manhattan DA prosecutor—provides an illustrative case study of modern investigative techniques joined with time-tested law enforcement methods to recover a stolen work of art and convict the thief. 
The lead prosecutor in The People v. Phivos Istavrioglou, Arnold presented a concise narrative of the investigation into the theft by Cartel des Don Juan Tenorio, including: determining initial investigative steps; ruling out an inside job; recovering the piece; identifying the thief (a foreign national); placing him in Manhattan that day; using social media to track him to Europe (right down to his favorite café); seizing damning digital evidence of his guilt; luring him back to New York (through an elaborate undercover sting), and; securing his confession, indictment and conviction. The presentation included an explanation of the tools, techniques and approaches utilized, and the attendant legal considerations.
Jordan Arnold is with the New York office of K2 Intelligence, an investigative and risk consulting firm. Jordan previously served as a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, where he created and headed its Financial Intelligence Unit. Prior to that, Jordan served on the homicide chart and as lead prosecutor for the NYPD Major Case Squad. Twitter @jordarnold.

July 28, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014 - ,,, No comments

Police officer with Greece's antiquities protection department arrested in smuggling ring

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

In "Million-euro Marble Statue Seized in Greece", Sotiria Nikolouli reported for the Associated Press on Jul 24, 2014 about the arrest of a police officer from Greece's antiquities protection department "accused of being part of a smuggling ring that was trying to sell an ancient marble statue worth an estimated 1 million euros ($1.35 million)":
Greek Police said on Thursday that the 49-year-old officer was arrested with eight other suspects, following raids and searches at 11 areas in greater Athens and two others in towns in central and northern Greece. The almost intact 1,900-year-old Greco-Roman era statue of a male figure measures 65 centimeters (25.5 inches) from head-to-knee, and is being kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Police did not say whether the statue had been stolen or illegally excavated but added that a “large number” of less valuable ancient artifacts had also been seized.
In "Greek policeman, 8 others charged with smuggling antiquities" (Tengri News relaying an AFP article) the 49-year-old police officer was arrested along with a 52-year-old Athens antique dealer:
A police statement said the more than 2,000-year-old statue, which measures 65 centimetres (two feet) was the work of renowned fourth-century BC sculptor Praxiteles. Six other suspects in the smuggling ring are still on the run.
This article in a Greek newspaper ( said the arrests were the result of a two-month investigation; five of the six people not in custody have been identified as allegedly taking part in the smuggling ring (one Albanian and 8 Greeks are involved, including the 49-year-old policeman; a 50-year-old middleman; a 52-year-old antiquities dealer with a gallery in the center of Athens, who is represented as the mastermind of the team; and a 70-year-old collector, the former owner of a famous hotel in Syntagma Square in Athens). According to the article, the police office identified is the head of the service that conducted the raids (the Internal Affairs service of the Greek police). The article claims that the statue is by Praxiteles but it may also be just a later Roman copy. The article says that police confiscated many antiquities from the dealer's shop, some from the house of the dealer's daughter, along with two metal detectors, photographic films and photographs depicting antiquities, a computer hard drive and USB stick, and a special machine or digger capable of excavating antiquities.

July 26, 2014

Lipinski Stradivarius Theft, Milwaukee: Man sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for participating in robbery (providing convicted felon with Taser used in attack)

Milwaukee Police arrested three suspects Feb. 3 for the theft on Jan. 27 of the $5 million dollar Lipinski Stradivarius violin recovered on Feb. 5 in a suitcase in an attic. At the end of May, Universal Allah, pleaded guilty to participating in the robbery. On July 24, Allah, described as a 36-year-old barber in Milwaukee and the father of two daughters, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. Megan Trimble of Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reported:
In addition to his prison term, Allah will remain under extended supervision for another 3 1/2 years, must avoid contact with the people involved in the attack and pay $4,014.57 in lost wages and ambulance fees to Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond....Allah's attorney and even the prosecutor had recommended only a suspended prison term and probation for three years. The crime's purported mastermind, Salah Salahadyn, 42, had been set to enter a guilty plea Thursday, but it was postponed. Allah, who had no prior criminal record, admitted providing Salahadyn, a felon, with the Taser used in the attack.

July 24, 2014

FORTE CESARE: lost, forgotten and hopefully found?

Forte Cesare, 2013 (Photo by C. Sezgin)
by Luca Antonini, ARCA graduate and resident of Amelia, Italy

Italy is famous all over the world for its rich and varied material heritage, some of it well-preserved as historical sites of interest or kept safe in rich museums located all over the country; other parts of it sadly neglected.

The abundance of historical, artistic and architectonic elements has always posed a problem of conservation, and there are additional issues such as limited resources and governance. At the municipal level, a lack of clear and enforceable guidelines often contributes to the problem, ambiguity leading to art crimes such as theft, vandalism or destruction brought about by natural events such as floods or earthquakes.

Forte Cesare had always been in private hands until the beginning of the 20th century, when it was added to the assets of the Municipality of Amelia. Recently, the Municipality sold Forte Cesare to a private company with plans to restore and use it.

Forte Cesare is the name given to a group of ancient buildings located on the top of a strategic hill dominating all the territories around it in the center of Umbria, the green heart of Italy. Administratively, the site belongs to the Municipality of Montecastrilli, province of Terni, which is 30 km east of Orvieto, 20 km south of Todi, 12 km north of Amelia and 85 km north of Rome.

Forte Cesare, 2013 (Photo by C. Sezgin)
The site was probably inhabited by the Romans, but the basements of the buildings we see today date back to the VI – VII century AD, when a fortified garrison was established along the path of the Via Amerina, the most important road of the Byzantine Corridor.

One century after the end of the Roman Empire, Ravenna became the capital of the Byzanthine Exarchate (a sort of province of Constantinople's Eastern Roman Empire) which included Rome.  The rest of Italy was invaded by different national groups coming from the north of Europe.

The only safe link between Rome and Ravenna was a little strip of land surrounded by territories occupied by the Lombards, with Tuscany to the west and Spoleto and Marche to the east; it was extended from Via Cassia, a few kilometers north of Rome, and reached Via Flaminia, a few kilometers south of Ravenna. Byzantine Corridor was the name given to the strip, and the road was called Via Amerina, touching the towns of Orte, Amelia, Todi and Perugia. At that time Forte Cesare was a fortified site with soldiers protecting people and goods traveling on both directions, but it was also a station to have a rest, change horses, and stop for the night.

Later on this area became part of Terre Arnolfe (lands under the control of the Archbishop of Spoleto, 10th – 11th century), but no official documents survive until the beginning of the 16th century, when it was sold by the Stefanucci family to the Atti family, a strong Guelph family ruling in Viterbo and originally from Todi.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, Forte Cesare was radically transformed from a military to a residential complex. Only the tower remained in its original dominant position, while all the other fortified parts were reunited in the new three-story villa.

Until that time, we find the toponym indicated as "Peroccolo", particularly on some maps made in the Vatican in the 19th century but stating the situation in the 13th century. The first time we find it named in relation to a “Cesare” in an official document is on a 1629 map; it probably comes from Cesare Borgia, a leader supporting the Roman Church in the wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines in the 15th century, who probably used the place during his military campaigns. This is one of the most credible hypotheses about the origin of the name we still use today.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Forte Cesare was donated by the Bishop Franceso Atti to Propaganda Fide, an organization created by the Pope to support the missionaries’ activities and some “related” ventures, including real estate management. Propaganda Fide immediately rented it out to the Verchiani family, and few years later (1808) sold it to Ciatti family. Angelo Ciatti was the last member of this family; at his death, in 1922, he decided to donate the whole estate to the Municipality of Amelia.

From the beginning, the ownership of the estate by the Municipality of Amelia was problematic.

Angelo Ciatti made provisions for the revenues from the estate to establish a permanent scholarship for poor families and to improve the Boccarini Boarding School in Amelia, and to support local education and charity in general. The college was run by the Franciscans and, since 1932, by the Salesian Fathers, and it was the most important school not only for Amelia, but for all the small villages and town in a range of several kilometers. According to Angelo Ciatti’s philanthropic wishes, Amelia was becoming an educational centre for the whole rural district; other towns with relevant school institutions were too far (Todi, Orvieto and Terni).

Two problems emerged following Ciatti’s wishes according his will: first of all, strong opposition from some distant relatives created some legal and administrative challenges after the estate became part of the Municipality of Amelia. Second, two different municipalities were involved in the same property, though in different roles and positions: Amelia was the legal and formal owner, but Forte Cesare is situated in the territory governed by Montecastrilli. Although this dualism seemed to exist without producing any problems in the first decades, it probably created the foundation for later situations of uncertainty, reciprocal discharge of responsibilities and apparent lack of initiative as to the property's care. After World War II, lands and buildings were rented to farmers, and later on to the Molino Cooperativo, a cooperative firm managing farming and milling activities, originally related to the cereal crops produced in the area.

Particularly after the earthquake of July 30, 1978, the condition of the abandoned buildings deteriorated heavily. Both lands and buildings fell into a slow but inexorable decline, due to theft and decay soon after. Before the end of the 20th century, the asset had turned into a burden for the mayor’s budget.

In 1986, the Municipality of Amelia requested a grant to develop the area through an initiative co-funded by the P.I.M. program and by the Regional Government of Umbria. Forte Cesare was included in three proposals: File A, 20 hectares of land assigned to an ungulate stock-breeding (fallow deer); File D, 120/150 hectares of land assigned to sheep farming; and File E, proposes to restore the villa and other close buildings to establish a training-college for students in agriculture, farming and rural hospitality; a restaurant and a show-store for local products were included in the project. Costs (E file only) amounted to 1.5 billion Lire

The P.I.M. projects were not funded, nor realized. This is the only documented project, made by the Municipality of Amelia, where a rough vision of an integrated solution is sketched, putting together “lands and buildings”. However, the proposed solutions contained a significant flaw: the cultural, historical and aesthetic value of the site was completely missing from the analysis, and consequently, twenty years after the P.I.M. draft project, a muddling through approach caused Forte Cesare – its condition further damaged and abandoned - to be sold to a private company.

When the estate was sold in 2005, no inventory was annexed to the contract. According to Angelo Ciatti’s holograph will, the holdings of Forte Cesare included:
1) The main villa, surrounded by 4 minor buildings, cisterns (this is important because the area is rich of water generally speaking, but not the hill where Forte Cesare was built), a big garden and vineyard surrounded by a wall; 2) the Chapel; 3) Water springs; 4) Croplands; 5) Grasslands; 6) Woods and copses; and 7) Orchards, including chestnut, wine, olive and more. 
a) Holy vessels, not better specified; b) Furniture, furnishing and fittings; c) Paintings (not specified in number, position, artist and age); d) Other “non social” rural tools (that probably means that, at that time, part of the implements for farming were collectively owned or used, whilst others were individually owned; customs from the Middle Ages still ruled the relationship between landlord and farmers); and e) Cattle and crops.
This list seems to be the only inventory ever made on Forte Cesare’s assets and real estates, a fact that makes its importance profound. The new owner has been working since the acquisition to on a project of restoration of the buildings and economic exploitation of the area. The project has not been approved by the Authorities yet. The Municipality of Montecastrilli, the Province of Terni, the Region of Umbria and Soprintendenza Beni Ambientali, Architettonici, Artistici e Storici of Perugia are involved.

The idea is to create a resort, turning the main building into a five star luxury hotel and restaurant; an 18-hole golf course and a spa will be created as part of the recreational facilities, sport and entertainment components of the resort concept. The project is ambitious and far-seeing, but far from the original heritage.

Luca Antonini originally wrote an academic paper under the same title for ARCA's Program in November 2012. Susan Douglas served as editor for adapting this piece  for the ARCA blog.

Luca Antonini graduated from ARCA program in 2012/3 and has a degree in economics from the University of Torino. Since the middle of the 90's, he has been working as project manager in local and sustainable development projects co-funded by the European Union. He specializes in managing non-government organizations (NGOs).

July 20, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014 - , No comments

Book Review: ARCA Lecturer Tom Flynn adds chapter to "Risk and Uncertainty in the Art World"

by Martin Terrazas, ARCA Alum '13

Risk and Uncertainty in the Art World (ISBN: 9781472902924) is a notable attempt at compiling into cohesive curricula research by scholars such as Marina Bianchi, Tom Christopherson, Neil De Marchi, Elroy Dimson, Tom Flynn, Daiva Jurevičieně, Arjo Klamer, Roman Kräussl, Javier Lumbreras, Fleur Maijs, Benjamin Mandel, Clare McAndrew, Jianping Mei, Michael Moses, Laurent Noel, Anders Peterson, Rachel Pownall, Olivia Ralevski, Steve Satchell, Jaketrina Savičenko, Aylin Seçkin, Kyle Sommer, Christophe Spaenjers, Nandini Srivastava, Hans Van Miegroet, Thorstein Veblen, Olav Velthuis, and Luca Zan.

Published by Bloomsbury, it is edited by Anne Dempster (Sotheby’s Institute of Art). Contributors include Tom Christopherson (Sotheby’s Europe), Anders Petterson (ArtTactic), Olav Velthuis (University of Amsterdam), Hans J. Van Miegroet and Neil DeMarchi (Duke University), Marina Bianchi (University of Cassino), Rachel Pownall (University of Tilburg/University of Maastricht), Elroy Dimson (London Business School), Steve Satchell and Nandini Srivastava (Cambridge University), Christophe Spaenjers (HEC Paris), Laurent Noel (Audencia Nantes School of Management), and Arjo Klamer (Erasmus University). 

The book takes a multidisciplinary approach, through alternative investments, art history, behavioral economics, cross-cultural studies, due diligence, macro- and microeconomics, Modern Portfolio Theory, emerging markets, provenance research and many other topics. It is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the international art market.

Petterson’s discussion of how the Internet has changed the art market was robust. His description of the art market ecosystem and how it is adapting in light of online galleries, artist portals, social media, blogs, online auction/art fairs, online inventory management, price databases, indices, investors, art funds and wealth management, showed that there both a new audience and desire for transparency. In creating a more educated consumer, both traditional and upcoming entities have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Petterson’s article is a treatise against all those that desire not to adapt to provenance standards in the market.

Flynn’s discussion of the role of government and private corporations in art commissioning showed that more needs to be done in regards to authentication of art in the public space. What was striking about the article was that it showed a dissonance between corporate views on art and the industry, itself. A clear conclusion was that, in desiring to imagine itself as an ‘exception’ to business, the art world has only done itself more harm. As both a lecturer with the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and also in hosting a blog titled ArtKnows, Flynn, continues to be frontier of these discussions.

Satchell and Srivastava’s derivations about wealth and utility, adding upon Pownall’s essay, showed that there is still much more to connect between mathematical models, financial markets, and the art world. Integration of Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, the price and wealth effects, Marshallian demand, attempts at indexation – whether through the Financial Times All Shares (FTAS) and the London All Art price index or the Mei-Moses index – the Miller-Modigliani theorem, and the aesthetic dividend, make the reader wonder if the time is here for further data integration with the Standard & Poor’s and Thomson Reuters of the financial world.

The most disappointing was Christopherson’s essay that showed some dissonance against “testosterone-fuelled bond traders” (Risk and Uncertainty 65). The main discussion on legal title, authenticity, issues of attribution comparisons, condition, and valuation was vague. In discussing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Artists Resale Rights, and Bribery Act, Christopherson described a desire to return to an imaginary past. The ultimate lesson learned appeared that he merely seems unsatisfied with changing business models in the art market.

July 19, 2014

In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?

Toby Bull in Amelia (Photo by Paula Carretero)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Toby Bull, Senior Inspector of Police, in Hong Kong returned to Amelia  in June to present "In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?" at the Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference.

“I was present at a public talk about  month ago in Hong Kong by one of the chairman from one of the big three auction houses and he actually used the ‘f- word’ in public,” Inspector Bull said. “And the ‘f-word’ in this case stands for fakes which shows that this hitherto unspoken word is now at least getting some recognition from the art trade in Hong Kong.”

Toby Bull discussed how modern scientific authentication methods have gradually helping shift the onus of detecting fakes pieces from the art historian and connoisseur to the laboratory scientist. Bull looked at the authorship of art – encompassing the thorny issue of attribution and authenticity, looking at the range of processes and methodologies needed to authenticate art in paintings, ceramics and metals. Bull differentiated scientific examination (where it can deliver information that cannot be determined otherwise, revealing many unexpected cases of forgery) from connoisseurship (the ability to make reasoned assessments about artistic authorship, distinguishing between originals and copies and thus identifying forgeries). "Whilst appearing to be at the far and opposing ends of the authentication spectrum, the subjective connoisseurship research methods of the art historian and the forensic testing procedures of the scientist are not only complimentary but also very vital facets for the art authenticator to have in his arsenal in the war against fakes and forgeries," Bull said.

Toby J.A. Bull was born in England and educated at the famous Rugby School. He holds three academic degrees, including a BA (Hons) in ‘Fine Arts Valuation’ and a MSc in ‘Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management’. He continued his studies in the arts by becoming a qualified art authenticator, studying at the Centre for Cultural Material Conservation and graduating from the University of Melbourne, Australia. His thesis was on the levels of fakes and forgeries of Chinese ceramics in Hong Kong and the problems of smuggled illicit antiquities emanating out of China and has subsequently had his work on this subject published. Since 1993, he has worked for the Hong Kong Police Force. He has lectured extensively on topics surrounding ‘Art Crime’ to the likes of Sotheby’s Institute of Art and The World Congress of Forensics, as well as to ARCA’s ‘Art Crime Conference’ in Amelia, 2013. Seeing the disparity between public and private involvement in the field of art crime and its associated spin-offs, Toby founded TrackArt in 2011– Hong Kong’s first Art Risk Consultancy.

July 18, 2014

ARCA '14 Art Crime Conference: James Moore on "The Fall of the House of Knoedler: Fakes, Deception and Naiveté"

James C. Moore presenting at ARCA conference in Amelia
(Photo by Paula Carretero)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Retired trial lawyer James C. Moore presented "The Fall of the House of Knoedler: Fakes, Deception and Naiveté" in the first presentation of ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference in Amelia on June 28.

Moore discussed how the Manhattan gallery, which had sold art since 1856 only to fall upon hard times in the middle of the 20th century, had drifted away from selling Old Masters and Cubist art to modern works where the competition was intense to gain access to the art.

Facing bankruptcy by the end of the 1960s, the gallery was sold to Armand Hammer in 1971 for $2.5 million. Under Hammer's leadership, Ann Freedman was hired a salesperson, but when ownership passed to Armand’s grandson Michael, he appointed Freedman director of the gallery with a focus on contemporary and abstract artists such as Rothko, de kooning, Diebenkorn, Motherwell, and Pollack.

In the early 1990s, Glafira Rosales appeared at the art gallery and showed Freedman an unknown Rothko sketch she claimed had been owned by a “Mr. X”, a closeted gay Filipino or Swiss man who had begun collecting abstract expressionist works which he had stored in Mexico – or Switzerland -- with the assistance of a New York art dealer, David Herbert. Rosales told Freeman that Mr. X had died and that his son -- identified only as "Mr. X, Jr." -- had decided to liquidate his father’s collection. And to do so, the paintings would be consigned, one at a time, to the Knoedler Gallery. Beginning in 1994, Rosales bought paintings every 3-6 months for a total of 40 works and agreed to sell them to the Knoedler Gallery for a fixed amount. Freeman would offer paintings for sale at higher prices – hanging the works in other shows by the artists, preparing write-ups, claiming that her experts had viewed the works although they had not authenticated them. In total, the Knoedler Gallery received $64 million for 40 paintings of which Rosales received $20 million.

In early 2000s, a Knoedler Gallery client bought a work ‘by Jackson Pollack’ for $2 million but after the painting failed authentication, the painting was returned and the purchase price refunded. Other similar events followed -- Sotheby’s would not sell a ‘Pollack’ in 2011, and when the owner asked for a $17 million refund, the gallery closed its doors.

The Knoedler Gallery has been named in eight lawsuits, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun an investigation of Ann Freedman, Glafira Rosales, and Rosales’ long-time companion Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who worked in a restaurant in New York City and sold art in the Chelsea district, along with Diaz's brother. According to Rosales, all of the paintings she sold to the Knoedler were fakes and were allegedly created by a 75-year-old artist, Pei-shen Qian, who was asked to create art in the style of abstract expressionist artists for people who could not afford originals. 

Before Rosales was arrested, Diaz went back to Spain and Qian went to China. Rosales pled guilty for collecting money and paying no income taxes (she sent the money to Spain). Rosales now faces sentencing up to 20 years. She is cooperating with federal authorities possibly in the hope of receiving a lesser sentence. Spain has been asked to send Diaz back to the U.S. to face charges.

Moore posed the question of accountability: 
Was Freedman actively or passively involved in the forgery scheme? No one but the buyers suing her has accused her of a crime. In fact, she sued a dealer for defamation who accused her of lack of care. Negligence (lack of care in verifying a paintings provenance) claims against dealers and galleries cannot be maintained when the parties have a contract relationship. The wording of the agreement between the parties, therefore, will be critical to the success or failure of the buyer's claim.

Moore also discussed the relative responsibilities of the gallery, the dealer, the expert authenticators and the buyer in fake painting claims.  Ultimately, Moore noted that as of this time, Rosales is free on bail, Freedman is running another gallery and is named as a defendant in eight lawsuits, the Diaz brothers are hoping not to leave Spain, and Qian is conducting art shows in Beijing.

Moore, an accomplished trial lawyer and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, is also a student of art history.

Friday, July 18, 2014 - No comments

The Knoedler Art Gallery and Controversy: Further Reading
Gallery established in 1848

M. Knoedler & Company
Gallery opened in 1848
Knoedler bought out French owners in 1857
Knoedler & Company
Diebenkorn family expresses doubts about authenticity of two works in 1993
Three lawsuits claim paintings sold by Knoedler & Company
Anne Freedman -- complicit in fraud?
Michael Hammer -- cooperative or elusive?

July 17, 2014

Father Zerafa's recommended reading on Caravaggio's Stolen Palermo Nativity -- and his memory of visiting the painting in the S Lorenzo Chapel

Father Zerafa receiving an award in
the S Lorenzo chapel in Palermo
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

After downloading Daniel Silva's recent mystery which involves a fictional attempt to recover Caravaggio's Palermo Nativity, I emailed Father Marius Zerafa to ask him if he'd be reading Silva's thriller. With his permission, I am reprinting his response:
Unfortunately, I have not read the book you mentioned. A good book I would suggest is Peter Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy. This is not fiction. It is the story of a serious journalist who tries to contact the Mafia about the Palermo Caravaggio. At one time he is even told the Mafia had 'another Caravaggio in mind' which could easily have been our 'St Jerome'. 
While looking for the Palermo Caravaggio he discovers a number of paintings, stolen and exported illegally. A very interesting book. 'A must' for anyone interested in art thefts. 
As regards my personal interest in the Palermo Caravaggio, I can say that I had seen the original 'Nativity'. This was about 50 years ago and I had gone to Palermo just to see it. The S Lorenzo chapel was not safe at all. I remember knocking at a house next to the chapel and an old lady came and opened the chapel. I remember I was very impressed by the style of the painting (rather different from the other Sicilian works) and also by the strong contrast between the white Serpotta stuccoes and the dark Caravaggio painting. 
Father Zerafa and the S Lorenzo association
Since then I've been to Palermo practically every year. There is an Association, run by a very dedicated young man. They run the S Lorenzo chapel and they organize lectures, etc., associated with The Nativity. They even encourage artists to paint their own versions of the Nativity. I have been asked a number of times to lecture there, they have even awarded me their medal. 
I am sending you a couple of photos you may find of some interest. 
I did find the photos interesting and have included them here, then I ordered Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy from an independent bookstore (it's also available in many public libraries). And here is the December 2013 article published by BBC written by Alastair Cooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph on the Palermo Nativity. And here's a 2005 article by Peter Robb in The Telegraph, "Will we ever see it again?" which offers a compelling narrative on the Palermo Nativity theft.

And for Gabriel Allon fans, here's a link to Daniel Silva promoting his book on The Today Show.

Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Theft: Paying for The Heist

Picasso's 1971 Harlequin
by Liza Weber, ARCA '14 Student

Lawyers of convicted art thieves of the Kunsthal Rotterdam Heist appeal court’s ruling on grounds that the “responsibility for the theft rested solely with the museum”.

Rapsinews reported that the defense for Radu Dogaru, his mother Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop are appealing the Romanian courts ruling of €18.1 million to be paid to the paintings’ insurers, since the museum had not taken “proper security measures”. The thieves’ lawyers consider “no night guards on the premises” and security “monitored offsite by a private company” as supposedly improper measures.

Dick Drent, Corporate Security Manager for the Van Gogh Museum, contends “to have guards on site is a risk” however. Recalling the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist, where thieves posing as Boston police officers duped the guard on duty, Drent explicated that security personnel “can be used for blackmail, or even taken hostage”.

When I questioned Drent whether the lawyers appeal is as though a last reserve to get their ‘crooks off the hook’, he responded: “It is very easy to lay the problem on the other party—the security was not ok, the paintings were not originals—but we are still dealing with a theft…if the paintings are not real, why were they stolen?”

And why did the thieves go to such tale-spinning lengths to account for their disappearance? The seven still missing paintings suffered an “ignominious” fate; smuggled to Romania in pillowcases, the story goes that the mother of the alleged heist ringleader, Olga, claimed she to have buried the artworks in Caracliu’s village cemetery only to unearth them so as to cook them in her oven, as if “burning a pair of slippers,” art critic Pavel Susara told the Guardian.

It’s a twisted tale with possible substance, however. In July 2013, the director of Romania's National History Museum, Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, told the Associated Press that fragments of paint, painting primer, canvas, and copper nails—some of which pre-dated the 20th century—were recovered from Olga’s oven by museum forensic specialists.

When I related the story of the paintings’ destruction to Drent, he intercepted, “no, I don’t believe that story”. He rather predicts, as is the case for the “two missing Van Gogh paintings of the 2002 robbery,” that they will “resurface in due time”. 

But resurfacing where we might question? Identifiable artworks, once stolen, are near impossible to sell on the open market at anything like their auction value. Making an example of Van Gogh’s 1889 Sunflowers “estimated at unthinkable millions,” Drent rhetorically questioned: “Since it will never be on the market, why do we ever try to affix a price?”

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is priceless. As is Picasso’s 1971 Harlequin Head and Monet’s 1901 Waterloo Bridge, to name but two of the masterpieces stolen from the Kunsthal Rotterdam in 2012 whilst temporarily on display. Which is not to say that nobody is responsible for reimbursement of the damage done to the paintings…

Rather, where the thieves’ lawyers appeal is for Dick Drent but “a diversion,” and subsequently “a non-issue,” Radu Dogaru, mother Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop will surely pay the price.

Ms. Weber is a freelance journalist.

July 16, 2014

Talking Looted Antiquities and Becchina archive over espresso with Christos Tsirogiannis, ARCA's 2014 Writer-in-Residence, at Amelia's Bar Leonardi

The patio of Bar Leonardi in Amelia
By Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

One of the benefits of holding the ARCA postgraduate program each summer in the Umbrian town of Amelia is Bar Leonardi, an establishment that offers drinks on a patio fit for either sun or shade, with a great view of the Porta Romana and a view of everyone entering or leaving town. It has comfortable tables where ARCA's 2014 Writer-in-Residence Christos Tsirogiannis and I parked ourselves one morning after this year's Amelia Conference to discuss the the context and scope of the work he does in identifying suspected looted antiquities that have re-surfaced in galleries, sales catalogues, and museum exhibits after 1970 (This post is an edited summary of our discussion).

Christos is the Greek forensic archaeologist that investigative reporter Nikolas Zirganos mentions in the 2007 version of The Medici Conspiracy (Peter Watson & Cecilia Todeschini); he accompanied Greek police on the raids of the home of Marion True on the island of Paros in March 2006 and the estate of Michaelides - Papadimitriou on the island of Schinousa in April 2006 (“Operation Eclipse”).

There Greek police found Polaroid photos, professional photographs and documents that have led investigators in Greece and Italy to recover numerous objects from American museums and auction houses. This was achieved by tracing the objects from the inventory of dealers suspected of selling ancient objects illegally dug out of Etruscan, Greek and Roman tombs and archaeological sites, as defined by UNESCO’s 1970 convention, signed by almost 200 countries agreeing that such activity should not be condoned by legitimate art dealers or museums.

The Becchina archive was confiscated by the Italian and Swiss authorities in Basel in 2000 and 2002, Although you do not have a digital copy of the archives, you are given access to them by those who have the digital copies, whenever you want to search. Why have you not published these images so that anyone in the world with access to the database can join in the recovery efforts to return looted antiquities?

Christos Tsirogiannis: One thing that is important to understand is that these three archives (Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides) containing Polaroids, photographs and receipts, were obtained by the Greek and Italian states. Therefore, this material belongs to those countries and aids them in prosecuting these cases and in recovering objects from museums and auction houses. They are not my property and, thus, it is not my right to publish them.

Secondly, it is possible that if these archives (Medici, Becchina, Symes) were published online, then those people who have the objects – either in their homes or in the basements of museums – may want to avoid being accused of purchasing stolen antiquities and would either sell those items to collectors who do not care about their collecting history – or possibly destroy those objects to avoid confiscation or arrests.

The photographic evidence shows dirty or broken objects dug out of the ground. We do not know where most of these objects are. I have matched, so far, about 850 objects depicted in about 1,800 images, of objects thought to have been illegally sold, and thousands more have yet to be located. These photographs are the starting point of the research. When the objects show up in an exhibition or a sale, we can collect any information published with that object and try to describe how these networks of illicit antiquities operated on the market. But if the people who have the objects today realize that their objects have been identified as stolen, they may hide those objects and we will have no further information.

The most important objective is to tell the story of how these pieces were looted and entered into private collections and museums who must have known or suspected they were looted, smuggled or stolen.

How did people become aware that even after UNESCO’s 1970 Convention for the protection of cultural property, antiquities continued to be illicitly sold?

CT: Chippindale and Gill wrote in 1993 an important paper that pointed out that 90% of the known Cycladic figures in collections around the world had no recorded history prior to 1970 and thus one could infer that they had been freshly dug out of the ground or were fakes. Then in 2000, Chippindale and Gill demonstrated that most ancient objects in the most well-known private collections had no collecting history prior to 1970. A few years later, Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini published The Medici Conspiracy, which told how Italian and Greek police had uncovered a criminal network involved in digging up ancient objects from Italy and Greece, laundering them in Switzerland and through auction houses, mainly in London, and then selling them to collectors and museums throughout the world. The Medici Conspiracy was followed by Sharon Waxman’s Loot, Vernon Silver’s The Lost Chalice, and Felch and Frammolino’s Chasing Aphrodite, which showed a pattern of purchasing ancient objects that had weak or nonexistent collecting histories – a cover up for looted antiquities.

Despite the publication of these books, is it common knowledge that criminals extract ancient objects from tombs and archaeological sites and then sell those same objects through the art market to collectors and museums? Three decades ago the Getty Villa displayed Greek and Roman objects without explaining how such objects got to Malibu, California. And today many museums display objects that have appeared in their collections after 1970 or are on loan anonymously in the last year or two but provide no other information as to how these objects made it to the museums in Pasadena or Chicago or New York. Is this part of your work, to create a consciousness in viewers to ask such questions while they are admiring the pottery of the Greeks or the bronze figurines of the Etruscans?

CT: It is everyone’s responsibility to inform the people about the wrongdoings that are still on-going in the antiquities market and, subsequently in the antiquities collections of the most well-known private and state museums. Then, an informed visitor will have the ability to understand why an institution fails to provide basic information on the collecting history of the antiquities on exhibition.

Christos, what has happened in the pursuit of criminal charges against antiquities dealers Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici?

CT: Medici has been convicted of conspiring to sell looted antiquities and ordered to pay a 10 million- Euro fine – although he was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment, according to the Italian law he will serve no time in jail in Italy because he is over 70 years old.

As for Robin Symes, the Greek government has issued an international warrant for his arrest, but the British authorities have not been able to locate Symes. The Italian government is also preparing a case against Symes.

July 15, 2014

ARCA '14 Art Crime Conference: Tanya Starrett on "What’s wrong with this picture? Standards and issues of connoisseurship"

Tanya Pia Starrett (left) presenting on panel chaired by
ARCA founder Noah Charney (right)
Tanya Pia Starrett, a Solicitor from Glasgow living in Umbria, presented on "What's wrong with this picture" Standards and Issues of Connoisseurship" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference in Amelia on June 29. Ms. Starrett holds masters degrees in archaeology and history and is a freelance translator.

Ms. Starrett discussed issues surrounding authentication in art, restitution of cultural property, and the standards and issues on art connoisseurship (excerpts follow):
The debate is thus: The law can, to a certain extent, determine who owns a work of art but it is the art connoisseurs and scientists who will determine what you actually own. 
Within this fascinating field of study a key issue is the perception of a widening gulf in the area of authentication research between advancing scientific methods and connoisseurs who still tend to defer to the trained eye as final arbiter.... 
These tensions continue today as noted by Milko den Leeuw, painting conservator who founded the Atelier for Restoration & Research of Paintings (ARRS) in 1991 and Dr. Jane Sharp, Associated Professor of Art History at Rutgers University in their post on the AiA ( site dated 26/09/13 where they state that this tension ‘is mainly the result of a clash between the conservative opinion-based art industry and the latest offspring of the academic fields of forensic methodology and protocols. The confrontation…has been magnified in several lawsuits in Europe and America. This is a moment of extraordinary challenge in the history of authentication research’. While science and scientific methods have indeed become valuable tools within art, there is still an ongoing debate surrounding its application and validity. These debates often flair up when high profile cases grab the attention of the media. They, in turn, raise valid issues and generate debates that often shape discussions surrounding standards and issues of connoisseurship. The following case studies serve to introduce some of these tensions and debates. 
In the case of the Monet oil painting 'Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil' , the Art Access and Research (AA&R) Centre was asked to undertake technical imaging and paint analysis. These tests showed technical details consistent with Monet’s authorship, including an extensive palette and use of a charcoal under drawing. The process was the subject of a BBC TV programme (Fake and Fortune 2011) which heightened interest in the case. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, regarded as the court of final appeal for Monet, concluded it was a fake. And at time of writing, the painting is currently in the French courts. 
In the art world, Monet means money. However, in order to make millions, paintings thought to be by Monet must have been accepted into the official register; the catalogue raisonné – a publication which lists every acknowledged Monet in existence. The catalogue is published by the Wildenstein family of art collectors and art dealers....   established by Nathan Wildenstein in the 1870’s, a tailor who became an art dealer and it continues today. On their own website they state that their aim and mission is ‘promoting knowledge in and of French art’. It could be argued that as they work with an array of French artists, not just Monet, perhaps their knowledge is just a bit too general to have a definitive expertise on one, particular artist. The Wildenstein publishers of the catalogue raisonné, and therefore the arbiters of authentication in the Monet case, have so far refused to admit the work for reasons best known to themselves, despite the agreement of other scholars that this painting is genuine. Based on this example some leading UK art experts have called for a committee of scholars to replace the high-handed authoritarianism of the Wildenstein Institute. The absolute crux of this debate, is by what authority, legitimacy or indeed legal capacity do these art committees work from? Moreover, in a wider context, why as a society do we accept this? What’s the point of having ever advanced science and effective technology, that we are forever impressed by, if the evidence it produces is not taken as legitimate or indeed, worse, simply ignored. Who has the authority over the other? And who decides that? Who is in the eyes of the law is the definitive expert? 
SCIENCE YES, CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ YES Degas – Blue Dancer This was the case of a Degas painting entitled the ‘Blue Dancer’. This had been declared a fake in the 1950s by a leading Degas expert. The turmoil of World War II served as the perfect distraction for creating art forgeries, and doubts regarding the authenticity of “Blue Dancer” came from the lack of detail in the dancer’s face, the informality of her pose, and the brushwork on the heads of the double bass that rise up in the foreground in front of the dancer. Later still Professor Theodore Reff, an expert on Degas from Columbia University in New York, had twice been asked by Christie’s, the auctioneer, to examine the piece and twice decided it was not genuine. The painting, owned by Patrick Rice, was sent to an art forensics lab to examine the pigments. Titanium in the white could have indicated a forgery, as the metal was only used in paint after Degas’s death. Favourably, however, the main elements were found to be lead. A ballerina also recreated the painted dancer’s pose, resulting in an almost exact replica of her raised first position arms. Through these findings, the “Blue Dancer” regained Degas status and was accepted into the Degas raisonné, not the Wildenstein Institute I hasten to add who do not include Degas in their repertoire, but the one by Brame, Philippe, Reiff, et all raising its value from a diminished couple of hundred pounds to about £500,000 ($813,000). Again, why do some custodians of certain catalogue raisonnés appear more open to scientific evidence than others?
MARC CHAGALL – SPOT THE DIFFERENCE? The previous examples help to illustrate how science and connoisseurship can arrive at different conclusions over authenticity while also highlighting how scientific evidence is received and acted upon. It is interesting to note, however, that equally heated debates can still be aroused when science and connoisseurship appear to reach similar conclusions over authenticity. And this was the case with a disputed painting of a nude purportedly painted by Marc Chagall in 1909/10. 
SCIENCE AND CONNOISSEURSHIP IN HARMONY However, after in depth research on the painting’s provenance and scientific testing, The Reclining Nude 1909-1910 was found to be fake. Although painted in gouache, which Chagall frequently used, the pigments of the paint were dated to be a lot later than 1909 or 1910 and its first owner, the dancer ‘Kavarska’, could not be traced either. This picture was then sent to the Chagall Committee in Paris, led by the artist’s granddaughters, who confirmed the painting was not genuine. They stated it was purely an imitation of the authentic Reclining Nude (1911) by Chagall. As a result they demanded, under French law, that it be seized and destroyed, an extremely rare occurrence in the art world. And to date at time of writing and to the best of my knowledge the painting has yet to be destroyed. 
In the case of the Chagall painting Professor Robin Clark, from UCL, (University College London) has pointed out that this Ramon Microscopy technique, used to determine it was a fake, had been known to Sotheby’s Auction House since 1992 so the painting could, in theory, have been exposed as a fake any time in the last 20 years. In the event, the confirmation that it was a fake took place in his lab in July 2013 in the presence of its owners. This showed that at least two of the key pigments used were dated to the late 1930s long after the supposed date of 1909-10. 
The publicity that this case generated prompted Robin Clark to write in a leading UK national newspaper, The Telegraph, questioning the relationship between art and science and expressing particular concern over the art world’s failures to heed the testimony of available scientific techniques. He also suggested that art historians should be encouraged to read science journals so they are informed about “significant developments in science as applied to arts”. 
In part, his pleas could be seen as reasonable. Auctioneers can only submit works for technical analysis with the owner’s permission. With the possibility that these tests could then disqualify the painting as genuine it is not surprising that many owners will not give this permission. Another key issue concerns art dealers. When dealers buy at auction and then restore or analyse a work, they are not required by law, when selling works, to disclose which, if any tests, had been carried out. That said some have begun to question how these scientific methods are being used and applied. 
Writing on the artwatch UK blog in March 2014, for instance, Michael Daley acknowledged that while Raman microscopy could certainly disprove the claimed date of the fake Chagall, it seriously misleads the public when used to present speculative and digitally manipulated reconstructions supposedly showing art in its original condition. He cites, for instance, the example of a project to restore a set of faded paintings by Mark Rothko, that were painted for the dining room of the Holyoke Centre, built by Harvard University in 1966. After just 15 years, however, they had faded so badly that they were consigned to a darkened basement for their own protection. Worse still the photos that were taken of them when new had also faded. As these photos are largely the basis for the restoration project, Daley concludes that, ‘however well intentioned the project and its scientific methodology is, it will only ever produce a varying yet, ultimately false, version of the original. There are just so many variables. 
When researching these case studies for this paper I was struck by the differences and issues each one brought to the fore. The role of connoisseurs’, competing interests within the art market, the trained eye supporting or disagreeing with science, lack of regulation etc. It’s not surprising then that Nicholas Eastaugh, a leading independent scientist (of Art Access and Research Centre), described the present climate as being both without standards and “totally unregulated. It’s a Wild West.”... 
LESSONS FROM THE CASE STUDIES Some of these high profile cases have helped to expose the absurdity of the art market, where paintings, ostensibly by famous artists, are traded almost always as speculative investments. It is not the aesthetic value of a painting which decides whether it is worth millions, but the question of whether it was produced by a known and fashionable artist. Like any free market, the art market, is based on confidence or arguably over confidence. How confident people are about a certain painting or art institute and the people who write the raisonnnés, to some extent is very similar to that of the financial market. Science, it could be suggested, has more of a foothold in the lesser valuable works of art where there are perhaps no ‘go to’ art committees or art experts. Its obviously easier for an auction house or owner if there’s a ‘go to’ art institute for one particular artist, it is more convenient and arguably cheaper if scientific tests are not seen as appropriate. There is some optimism however, that we are seeing a bridging of the gap. One good example of this is The Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association which was founded in 1994. It serves the interests of scholars and others engaged in the catalogue raisonné process. Members typically research a single artist’s body of work to establish a reliable list of authentic works, their chronology, and history (usually including provenance, bibliographic, and exhibition histories). Members include patrons, collectors, art dealers, attorneys, and software designers. Increasingly they are publishing Catalogue Raisonnés online to make accessing them easier and more widely available. This then encourages greater debate and perhaps transparency in the area of authentication.

Kunsthal Rotterdam: Romanian court instructs convicted art thieves to repay insurers $26 million for paintings

Lucian Freud's "Woman with
Eyes Closed" (2002)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The AFP reported in "Art thieves ordered to pay millions over missing Picasso, Monet, Gauguin and Freud masterpieces" that the four convicted thieves who robbed the Kunsthal Rotterdam in October 2012 must pay 18 million euros ($26 million) to the paintings' insurers (unnamed):
Seven paintings that were temporarily on display at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam were stolen in 2012 in a raid that lasted only three minutes, in what the Dutch media called "the theft of the century". A court in the Romanian capital ordered the heist's mastermind, Radu Dogaru, his mother Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop to reimburse the paintings' insurers. Prosecutors put the total value of the haul at over 18 million euros, while art experts at the time of the heist had claimed the paintings were worth up to 100 million euros. Olga Dogaru had previously told investigators that she burned the paintings in her stove in the village of Carcaliu in eastern Romania in a bid to protect her son when he could not sell them. She later retracted the statement, but a separate investigation is under way to determine if the masterpieces did end up in ashes.
In September 2013, Andrew Higgins for The New York Times reported that the Triton Foundation received $24 million from the underwriter (Lloyd's of London) that insured the stolen paintings in exchange for relinquishing title to the artworks.

Paul Gaugin, "La Fiancée"
Here's a look at the paintings stolen from the Triton Foundation.

The Kunsthal Rotterdam reopened Feb. 1, 2014 after an extensive renovation.

Art theft 'ringleader' convicted in November 2013 and given 6 1/2 year prison sentence; ringleader claims inside help. Three defendants pled guilty in October 2013.

Earlier, in August 2013, a defendants' lawyer claimed that five paintings could be returned if the trial was moved from Romania to The Netherlands.

In July 2013 Andrew Higgins for The New York Times wrote about Facebook's role during the sting operation and how the content from the social media site was used to identify suspects involved in the art theft. The New Yorker blogs that mother of suspect burned paintings. Said mother denies destruction of art; Budapest trial announced; and journalists try to figure out if paintings were actually incinerated.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - , No comments

Laguna Beach's Festival of Arts Picks "The Art Detective" as theme for 2014 Pageant of the Masters

"The Last Supper", The Festival of the Arts, Laguna Beach
"The Art Detective" is the theme for this year's Pageant of the Masters, the summer festival in Laguna Beach, California, which has shown the recreation of artistic masterpieces for more than eight decades. The 2014 program (showing through August 30) includes Vermeer's 1664 painting "The Concert" (stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990) and Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" (nearly destroyed in the bombing of Milan in World War II (here's a link to the rest of the program).

Richard Chang for the Orange Coast Register published an interview on July 2 with the pageant's director:
Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy came up with the motif about three years ago, but hadn’t been able to implement it until now. “This art detective theme has been on the back burner for several years,” said Davy, who is directing her 19th consecutive Pageant of the Masters this summer. “It is really quite coincidental that there’s so much in the news these days about World War II art, and lost and stolen art. So our show will open with scenes of art that disappeared, and art that went into hiding during World War II.” Davy says her initial inspiration came from TV shows like “The History Detectives” and “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS and the BBC “Connections” documentary series created by science historian James Burke. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes also served a key influence.

July 13, 2014

Newsweek reports on Art Crime Symposium held in New York in June

In the Newsweek article, "Outgunned in the Search for Stolen Art", Kris Hollington reports on the June symposium organized by Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery International, at New York University. Hollington discusses restitution of Nazi-looted art and fakes and forgeries.

Mr. Marinello spoke on the Gurlitt case in Amelia last month.

The NYU symposium was also Tweeted.

July 12, 2014

Who bought Northampton's Sekhemka at Christie's in London this week? Will researchers or Egyptians ever see this piece of cultural property again in public?

Sekhemka, front (Christie's)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

BBC News reported July 10 about the controversy surrounding the £15.76m sale at Christie's Auction house in London of The Northampton Sekhemka, a 4,000 year old sandstone statue of an Egyptian scribe, sold to raise funds to expand the regional museum:
Northampton Borough Council auctioned the Sekhemka limestone statue to help fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. However, Arts Council England had warned the council its museum could lose its accreditation status. The Egyptian ambassador to Britain said the council should have handed the statue back if it did not want it.
Mirror Online described reaction to the sale as "fury":
Sue Edwards, from the Save Sekhemka Action Group, who travelled from Northampton to the auction, said: "This is the darkest cultural day in the town's history. The local authority has made a huge mistake but we will continue our fight to save Sekhemka."
Sekhemka, side (Christie's)
Here's a link to a 1963 academic paper by T. J. H. James published in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, "The Northhampton Statue of Sekhemka", describing the statue as having entered a museum collection in England about 1870.

Christie's sales catalogue described the Northampton Sekhemka as "AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA, OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C." The statue sold for almost three times the catalogue estimate. In Christie's notes on the statue, the piece is described as belonging to the tomb of the deceased; the scroll lists 'offerings that Sekhemka needs to subsist comfortably in the afterlife.' As for the portrait of Sekhemka's wife Sitmerit:
Here, the position of Sitmerit’s body, as well as her composed expression are perhaps what gives peacefulness and harmony to this family portrait. It shows the close link between husband and wife, and their attachment to their family. The smaller scale should not be interpreted as a symbol of womens' place in society; rather, it is an artistic choice, for women had an equal status with men. She provides the love and support that her family needs. She prompts desire, gives life, and watches over her loved ones. She has a protective role and is the grounding force for the family.
Sekhemka, detail of wife (Christie's)
Christie's writes that a similar statue resides at the Brooklyn Museum:
Only one other statue is attributed to Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes, now in the Brooklyn Museum. The kneeling figure is made of diorite, the base is in limestone, painted to imitate diorite and is decorated as an offering table. It is suggested that Sekhemka may have had a discarded royal sculpture repaired and a base added to it. The similar quality of the carving between this and the present lot certainly serves to link the two pieces. Moreover, both statues were brought out of Egypt at around the same time; Dr. Henry Abbott, the original owner of the Brooklyn Sekhemka, returned with his collection in 1851.
The group interested in preventing Sekhemka's sale at Christie's created a Facebook page, "Save Sekhemka Action Group community", and a blog by Ruth Thomas, Chair of Northamptonshire Ancient Egyptian Society, who wrote in late 2012:
Sekhemka, the scroll (Christie's)
Northampton is one of the largest towns in the UK and has a diverse and cosmopolitan population. We are proud of this diversity and keen to celebrate it. In fact, even when the town itself shied away from promoting ethnic groups other than its own host population Northampton Museum collected widely from across the world and was at the forefront in providing expression to this multi-ethnicity. Our collections have been drawn from the four corners of the earth, whether it be the superb Chinese pottery horse of the Tang dynasty, the Hindu sculpture of Devi or the Italian renaissance paintings. For over a century the museum has not been small-minded and parochial in its collecting policy but aware of its role in promoting Northampton’s multi-cultural approach in a multi-cultural town. And this is why the sale of the ancient Egyptian scribe Sekhemka is such a retrograde step. 
Sekhemka, back (Christie's)
Sekhemka stands alone in its quality, antiquity and craftsmanship. It is part of a civilisation which existed on the continent of Africa for over two thousand years. For children of African and African Caribbean heritage this is unique opportunity to reconnect with their own roots and to understand that Northampton Museum has something which represents not only British history but encompasses the achievements of people from across the world. It also gives the message that Northampton Museum is aware of its role in educating and inspiring all the people of the town – as one school pupil said to me as he admired Sekhemka on a group trip for the National Curriculum “Oh I didn’t know you did Egypt”. Well, we should do Egypt and a whole lot more. The removal of Sekhemka from the museum is a dramatic and signal move away from a world view of our history to a small-minded and elitist approach which will inevitably alienate our visitors and supporters in the years to come.