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November 29, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018 - ,,, No comments

3 Men and a Painting: Savvy accomplices make off with "Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Image Credit:  Screen Capture ARCA 28 November 2018
Entering Vienna's oldest auction house, the Dorotheum, just after sunset, three well-dressed men in jackets and coats, working in tandem are believed to have made off with a landscape painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir titled Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes (English: Gulf, Sea, Green Cliffs) just ahead of its Wednesday sale.  

Lot 102 in the "Modern Art" auction, the oil on canvas painting was executed by the French impressionist artist in 1895 and was estimated to be worth between €120,000 and €160,000 at the time of its consignment.  It was also to be listed in the forthcoming Pierre-Auguste Renoir Digital Catalogue Raisonné being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, one of two rivaling authenticating bodies believed to have the last word when it comes to Renoir.

Image Credit:  Vienna Police
One of the world's oldest auction houses, established in 1707, the Dorotheum has not yet issued a statement on the theft, but law enforcement authorities in Vienna have released CCTV stills of the three people wanted for questioning. 

November 28, 2018

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - ,,,, No comments

Recovered: "Portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti" stolen 32 years ago from Palazzo Chigi

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
The team of the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) in Palermo, under the command of Magg. Luigi Mancuso, has proven once again that patience makes perfect when it comes to the recovery of stolen art.  While the squad has not yet recovered the Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence, the Caravaggio masterpiece stolen in 1969, they have recovered a painting from the 1600s stolen thirty-two years ago.  

The painting, an oil on canvas, is a portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti (1649-1718), wife of marchese Cesare Baldinotti, and was taken from Palazzo Chigi, a historic building in the historic center of Ariccia, in the province of Rome. The artwork was identified during a series of investigations as well as a crosscheck of records within the Carabinieri Leonardo Stolen Art database and was found to be part of the inventory of an antiques dealer in Palermo. 

Questioned by law enforcement, the antiquarian gave an implausible answer as to how and where he had acquired the works and when pressed for proof of ownership was unable to substantiate legitimate his ownership or how how he came to be in possession of the oil painting.  

During their investigations the Carabinieri squad in Sicily also identified a second individual, from Marsala, who along with the antiquarian has been referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Palermo for receiving stolen goods.

While the press release from the Carabinieri have not listed the name of the artist who painted the portrait the oil painting appears strikingly similar to another portrait of the Marchioness Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet, a Flemish portrait painter from the Baroque period who is known for his portraits. He had an international career, which brought him to Italy and France where he made portraits for an elite.

Image Credit:
Screen Capture Sotheby's website
29 Nov 2018
After training in Paris, he spent much time in Rome, then Florence and Turin, before returning, first to Antwerp in 1684 and later in 1686, to Paris as a painter of the French court. The Marchioness was the daughter of Felice Angelo Ghezzi, the Duke of Carpignano and Baron Zullino. On April 17, 1667, she married the Marquis Cesare Baldinotti di Pistoia (1636-1728) who was the Duke of Pescorocchiano.

That version, which once belonged to architect, interior decorator and garden designer Giles Newby Vincent, was purchased by the architect in Paris in 2006 for €26,400, who then put the artwork up for auction in London at Bonham's in 2014 for between £20,000 and £30,000 but the painting went unsold. In 2016, it sold at auction in Paris at Sotheby's for €20,000.

Image Credit: Screen Capture Bonham's website 28 Nov 2018
As a painter Voet was highly sought after and had numerous followers and imitators, many who copied his style of portraiture of well bred ladies, those that made up the so-called galleria delle belle or cabinets des dames, which was  leitmotiv in the furnishing of noble residences during the seventeenth century when the artist was still alive.

November 20, 2018

How long does it take to achieve restitution of a looted antiquity? In some cases 25 years or more.

29 February 1992          292.AA.10                  Statue of Zeus Enthroned

On October 27, 2018 a first century BCE, marble statue of Zeus, seated on his throne, finally moved to its permanent home, the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegrean Fields in the Castello Aragonese di Baia.  

Like its own lost version of Atlantis, the Campi Flegrei, as the area is known to Italians, is a large, highly active volcanic region, nestled in the northern portion of the Gulf of Naples.  Declared a regional park in 2003, and lying mostly underwater, the archaeological site of Baia, named aptly for its thermal waters, guards treasures from Rome's ancient past, some of which have been transferred to the Archaeological Museum for land lovers to see and appreciate.

A site of profound and priceless beauty, the submerged archaeological park preserves an astounding collection of Roman statues, frozen in liquid time. along with ancient villas, public baths, private grottos and even entire city streets. All of which serve as testimony to the charm of the now submerged city where many of Rome's elite and influential patricians once spent their time relaxing. 

But back to the statue of Zeus and its purchase

Guided by its then antiquities curator, Dr. Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles purchased the 75-cm-high "Zeus Enthroned" from Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman in 1992.  The Fleischman's in turn had purchased the statue of the Greek god five years earlier in 1987 from British antiquities dealer Robin Symes

Prominent philanthropists of the Metropolitan and other noteworthy American museums, True met the Fleischmans in the late eighties.  At the time, the couple were actively being courted by museums who hoped to purchase all or parts of their substantial personal collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.  As wealthy collectors, they couple had purchased antiquities from both Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici, art dealers readers of this blog should be familiar with.

But the Fleischman's relationship with True mixed business with pleasure and the Getty curator was known to have visited the couple in their East Side New York duplex, which was filled with classical art purchased through these now-disgraced antiquities dealers.  By 1996, True's relationship with the philanthropists was such that Lawrence Fleischman provided a loan towards True's vacation home on the Greek island of Paros.  Conveniently, the loan was arranged days after the Fleischmans finalized their acquisition agreement with the Getty Museum.  In total the museum purchased more than three hundred objects from the couple's collection.  Valued at sixty million dollars, the Getty paid the Fleischmans twenty million and the philanthropists made a tax-deductible donation worth another 40 million, to conclude the deal.

In 2005, Italian Public Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri brought formal criminal charges against True. The gist of the Italian claims were that the curator  “conspired with Hecht and Medici to supply the Getty with artifacts that had been illegally unearthed and exported from Italy, and that she used the Fleischmans’ collection to ‘launder’ antiquities, giving them a clean bill of provenience before bringing them to the museum”. As the Italian court case got into full swing, True resigned over the Paros home loan and shortly after, in 2006, Barbara Fleischman resigned as a trustee of the Getty Trust.

Over the years numerous Fleischman antiquities, tied to illlicit trafficking have been returned to Italy and coupled with the fact that the enthroned Zeus statue had no documentation of licit export, it became the work of the Italian authorities to prove where the object had come from and to tie the object's origins to Italian territory in order to make a viable claim for its restitution. 

According to a recently published book by Stefano Alessandrini, "Italian cultural diplomacy for the return of assets in exile," the statue's return to Italy in the summer of 2017 was thanks to a combined effort; the joint work of historic researchers, illicit trafficking investigators, judicial magistrates and cultural diplomacy advisors with Italy's cultural ministry.  

Alessandrini states that the request for restitution of a cultural property illicitly removed from the patrimony of a State doesn't constitute a hostile act towards the State to which the work is requested. In fact, Italy seeks to enforce not just the law concerning property, but the right of culture, regulated by numerous international conventions.

Zeus and his relationship with the Phlegrean Fields

Image Credit:
The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal
Volume 21, 1993
Italian researchers believed that the marble Zeus was once part of a collection of cult statues, likely displayed in a lararium, a sacred space designed to hold the images of guardian deities, believed in ancient times, to be the protectors of a villa and the family residing in it. 

From its overall condition, scholars were able to deduce that the object had likely spent a large portion of its lifetime, partially submerged on the seabed, laying on its side, as only half of the object seemed to have been marred by marine encrustations.

But to prove to the J. Paul Getty Museum that their Zeus came from Baia took a bit of random luck.

In December 2012 Italy's Guardia di Finanza stumbled upon a mable fragment from a clandestine excavation during an investigation in Bacoli (Naples).  In examining the piece, hoping to determine its original context, the Italians began to consider whether or not the piece of marble might have once been attached to the corner of the arm of the throne upon which Zeus was resting his laurels. Using open source photos, from the Getty Museum's own website, researchers were able to superimpose their looter fragment onto the edge of the photographed chair.

The result proved to be a compatible match. 

To solidify their visual hypothesis, scientific verification tests were performed in California on 6 March 2014 which determined that the marine encrustations present on the Italian fragment matched those also adhering to the Getty's statue in California. 

Image Credit:
ARCA Screenshot 
Getty Website
accessed 20 November 2018. 
From that point, it took another three years of cultural diplomacy before an agreement for restitution could be solidified between the Italian state and the US museum.  On June 13, 2017 Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying:

"The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had...It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there."

As a result of museum to State negotiations, the J. Paul Getty Museum formally turned over the Zeus statue to the Italian Consul General for Los Angeles, Antonio Verde, on 14 June 2017 in a restitution ceremony at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

25 years and sometimes longer

Not long ago, the world's museum directors spent their days and careers primarily focused on the custodianship of their institution's art objects.  But to truly attone for the sins of the father, todays directors need to become more proactive global citizens and accept their global (and ethical) responsibilities for the errors of their predecessors.  

While museum and museum associations are becoming more aware of the importance of object provenance, to step up to the plate, their management must become more politically engaged, globally connected and skilled in the arts of arbitration and mediation as it applies to suspect objects like this one. Equally importantly, they must also stop the foot dragging when it comes to acknowledging and correcting the errors of past acquisition judgement, as an entrenched means of delaying the inevitable.

Image Credit: ANSA
Given the known problems with the numerous objects in the Getty collection which were accessioned through the Fleischman acquisition, the tug and pull for ownership of the Zeus statue, eventually settled through mutual (and lengthy) negotiation, should not have taken years to hammer out.

But if you want to see Zeus the next time you are in the Bay of Naples area, to celebrate this one success, he'll be waiting for you, on display at the castle, as part of the exhibition "The visible, the invisible and the sea".   His trip home was a long and complicated one, but at least he is not hurling lightening bolts for how long it took.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 18, 2018

Recovered? Anonymous tip may have lead to Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin" stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam in 2012.

On October 16, 2012 Dutch police confirmed that seven paintings had been stolen, shortly after 3 a.m. local time, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.  The paintings which were taken, Pablo Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin, Henri Matisse's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune and Waterloo Bridge, London,  Claude Monet's Charing Cross, London, Paul Gauguin's Femme Devant une Fenêtre Ouverte, dite La Fiancée, Jacob Meyer de Haan's Autoportrait, and Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed were estimated to be worth millions.  

The stolen art works were part of the museum's Avant Guard Exhibition, which highlighted material on loan from the private Triton Foundation collection. Built over twenty years, by Rotterdam oil and shipping magnate Willem Cordia and his wife Marijke van der Laan, the exhibition, was set to run from 7 October 2012 until 20 January 2013, and was the first time any artwork from the Triton Collection had been exhibited publicly. 

The Triton body of artworks is made up of approximately 250 paintings, drawings and pieces of sculpture belonging to art movements from 1870 through 1970.  The collection includes works by many by the most influential 19th and 20th century artists in the tradition of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Analytical Cubism.  At the time of the theft, the collection was reputed to be one of the 200 most important private collections in the world.  

Shortly after the theft, and as the law enforcement investigation progressed, formal charges were brought against a group of suspects of Romanian origin.   Charges against Radu Dogaru, the ringleader who was found to have orchestrated the heist, his mother, Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop were all eventually brought.  Around the globe, their trials were closely watched in the hopes that the defendants might shed some light during their testimony on whether or not the seven paintings and drawings remained safe.  Early in the investigation Mr. Dogaru’s mother claimed to have torched the artworks, in order to dispose of the evidence which could be used against her son.

Despite recanting her statement later, experts from Romania's Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României (National History Museum of Romania - MNIR) provided testimony that seemingly validated Olga Dogaru's grim confession.  Ash and remains analyzed from a stove in her home in the village of Carcaliu in eastern Romania included nails from frames used before the end of the 19th century.  Yet, as pointed out by Maria Vasii, one of the attorney's for the defendants, the only painting with canvas tacks was the one by Lucian Freud.  As that artwork was completed in the year 2000, the nails would not have been made of copper and could not possibly have come from a 19th or 20th century production. Vasii also pointed out that the other paintings which were stolen were canvas glued onto cardboard and had no nails whatsoever. 

Despite the questions remaining as to what had actually become of the stolen artworks, Radu Dogaru and Eugen Darie, pled guilty for their roles in the theft on October 22, 2013. As a result of their confessions, the Third District Court of Romania sentenced Dogaru to 6 years and Eugen Darie to 5 years and 4 months (following sentencing appeals) for their involvement in the crime and for membership in a criminal organisation. 

Alexandru Mihai Bitu also received a sentence - two years for handling stolen goods. Adrian Procop, arrested in Manchester, England and extradited to Bucharest, was sentenced to prison for four years and 10 months for the formation of an organized criminal group and to four years and eight months for theft. Some of his prison time was reduced as the punishments were slated to run concurrently.  

Petre Condrat, involved in trying to find a buyer for the Matisse and the Gauguin, was fined 45,000 Romanian lei, the equivalent of approximately €9642. Dogaru's mother, Olga, was sentenced to two years in prison, convicted of aiding criminal behavior.

Interestingly, during Radu Dogaru's trial he gave a deposition that contradicted his mother's earlier confession to burning the paintings and told the court that his mother made false statements about incinerating the art works under pressure by interrogators. It was believed at the time that Radu may have been motivated by the hope that, along with her recanted testimony, his testimony might help his mother avoid a prison sentence.  

Now, six years later, an anonymous letter has been received by a Dutch writer of Romanian origin, Mira Feticu, the contents of which reportedly stated where one of the seven stolen works of art might be found.

But has the stolen Picasso really been spared the fiery furnace? 

Painted the year before the artist's death, Picasso's Head of a Harlequin (1971) is an art work done in pen and brush in black ink, colored pencil and pastel on thick brown wove paper.  It measures 38 x 29 cm and is "signed and dated in the lower right corner "Picasso/12.1./71". It was purchased by the Triton Foundation in 2009.

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
Mira Feticu has told reporters that the letter was sent to her at her Hague address because she wrote a book in 2015 about the Kunsthal theft which was also translated into Romanian.  Following the indications spelled out in a few short sentences of Romanian, Feticu and Frank Westerman have stated that they used the letter to guide them to Tulcea County, Romania.  There, they report they were able to identify the spot underneath a tree where the writer of the letter had indicated the missing Picasso could be found. 

Clearing away snow and leaves, the pair told law enforcement that they found the fragile artwork wrapped in plastic.   Photographing it in the car, they then turned the artwork over to the Dutch Embassy in Bucharest. Westerman has since posted video footage of law enforcement authorities examining the work of art on his Facebook page. 

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
For now, a team of DIICOT prosecutors and police officers of the Criminal Investigation Directorate - IGPR will conduct a follow up investigation.  To determine if the drawing is authentic, or part of an elaborate hoax, it has been sent to the National Museum of Art of Romania located in the Royal Palace Bucharest.  There art historians will work to assist in determining or negating the artwork's authenticity.  

Insured against losses, in September 2013 the Triton Foundation received a $24 million payout for the theft of their seven artworks from their insurance underwriter, Lloyd's of London.  In doing so, the foundation has relinquished the titles to each of the seven stolen works of art, should any of them ever be recovered.  This means, if this "Picasso" is authenticated, (and that's a pretty big if), the insurance firm would be the rightful owner.

Me, I have my doubts.  

Straightening the image presented by Feticu taken in the car, and then comparing it side by side with the original stolen artwork I see numerous points of difference in addition to many color variations. A few of these I have redlined.  I am not an authenticator, nor am I an expert on Picasso's work, or the degradation of paper drawings over time, but to me, it doesn't seem to be the original, as much as it would make me happy if it were.


Theater makers Yves Degryse and Bart Baele have admitted that the found "Picasso" in Romania is a hoax, part of a publicity stunt for their performance True Copy, which premiered last week. 

By:  Lynda Albertson