Showing posts with label Judge Arthur Tompkins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judge Arthur Tompkins. Show all posts

November 19, 2020

"Provenance Research Today" book release to debut at the International Catalogue Raisonné Association conference

On December 3rd a new book called Provenance Research Today: Principles, Practice, Problems is being released by Lund Humphries, an independent imprint which publishes books on art, architecture, and design.  The book is divided into five sections with articles written by 20 contributors including book editor Judge Arthur Tompkins.  Judge Tompkins is a District Court Judge based in Wellington, New Zealand.  This is the third book he has worked on with Lund Humphries, the first being Art Crime and Its Prevention: A Handbook for Collectors which he also edited, and his own book, Plundering Beauty all of which deal with the subjects of art, crime, and plunder.  

Judge Tompkins was nice enough to talk with us about this upcoming book, giving us some further insight into the topic of provenance research.  We first asked what brought about the desire to develop a book on the topic of provenance; he stated that the idea first began during the process of writing his book Plundering Beauty saying that his research “triggered a realisation that the 'social life' of an artwork - where it had been, who had had it, how it got to where it now is, and all the twists and turns along the way - is always an unavoidably intrinsic part of a work of art, and cannot properly be ignored or overlooked when looking at or discussing or researching a work.”  

The first two sections of the book will delve into the ‘History, Purpose, and Challenges of Provenance Research’ and ‘Best Practices in Provenance Research’.  One of the challenges of provenance research today is that in the past it was often unnecessary, or even undesired, to ask for provenance details in the art world, and as such large institutions and collectors have many pieces with no known history.  

Building a provenance from nothing is a daunting prospect and the advice Judge Tompkins gives to institutions wishing to fill in the blanks in their collections is simply to “do the work!  Go down into the basements and the storage rooms and the off-site warehouses and blow the dust off and open the files, open the cupboards, pull out the drawers to see what's there, and then sit down and work out how it got there ... But I understand entirely that limited and stretched budgets, and limited time, conspire to make that difficult. Good provenance work is careful, detailed, painstaking, and time-consuming, and diverts resources of all kinds from other compelling demands on those same scarce resources.”  The difficulties of solving the mystery behind long-held pieces of art often fall secondary to the more pressing concerns of new acquisitions.   

The third section of the book discusses ‘Provenance Research, Museums, and the Art Market’.  The topic of proper provenance research and the art market is still a controversial issue.  Many auction houses do not require provenance history for their pieces.  We asked Judge Tompkins what he felt could be done to encourage better practice from institutions in this field.  His advice was directed towards buyers and collectors as he asks them to “ignore pieces offered for sale without a full and proper provenance.  If such offerings are publicly highlighted and appropriately criticized, and then remain unsold (if not pulled from sale before being offered), then gradually vendors will be compelled both to research their own holdings and to make provenances public.”  At the end of the day, the disapproval of the academic community will not mean as much to them as the loss of income from suspect pieces with no previous collection history, that buyers walk away from. 

The final two sections deal with two of the areas which are most complex to deal with in the world of provenance research today: ‘Nazi-era Provenance Research’ and ‘Provenance Research and the Illicit Antiquities Trade’.  We asked Judge Tompkins to elaborate on the issues faced with provenance research in these areas.  He explained that “with respect to Nazi-era issues, the relentless march of times inevitably obscures or conceals a lot of evidence, and institutional inertia (or an unwillingness substantively to confront and acknowledge a tragic past, although that is slowly changing) often compounds the problems.”  

The issues faced with the illicit antiquities trade are very different, he explained that “with respect to antiquities, any form of provenance is often completely missing, especially for plundered and smuggled antiquities deriving from looted archaeological sites, including graves, in war zones or areas of conflict.”  The end goal of provenance research in these two scenarios is often the restitution of the items to their proper owners, heirs, or country of origin.  

Because of Judge Tompkins’ legal expertise, we asked him what he felt was the biggest legal gap needed to overcome with regards to restitution.  He responded that “the irreconcilable inconsistency between how (to adopt a very broad generalisation) the common law and civil law worlds treat prior ownership and/or possession of a stolen work.  The common law world (including the USA, the UK, and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) generally rule that a thief cannot convey good title, no matter what happens after the theft, whereas the civil law world (most of Europe and other Napoleonic Code countries) say that a genuine and honest subsequent buyer can get good title, despite an original theft.  Given that most legal issues involving an artwork have to be resolved in the national courts of the place where that artwork ends up, that can often be an insurmountable legal hurdle for a claimant to overcome - even if they know an artwork has ended up there, in the first place, which is often down to sheer luck.”  The process of restitution of artworks is long and complicated and continues to be an important topic of discussion in the art world.  

This book release coincides with the International Catalogue Raisonné Association’s annual conference on the 3rd of December which will feature a series of lectures on the topic of Provenance and the Catalogue Raisonné.  Given the current pandemic, the conference will be held virtually this year and includes presentations from twenty-one leading scholars and experts from around the world.  

The program will run from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM CET with sessions on various topics including: A How-to Guide to Research Techniques, Restitution: Research Questions and Perspectives, the Legal, Moral and Ethical Implications of Provenance Research, Provenance in Museums, Artists’ Estates and their Approach to Provenance, and the Future of Provenance and the Catalogue Raisonné.  Tickets for the event are available through Eventbrite for £100, this fee is waived for ICRA members, students, and the unemployed.

Link to purchase book: Provenance Research Today.

Link to the book's Table of Contents.

Link to the ICRA Event info for: Provenance and the Catalogue Raisonné.

By: Lynette Turnblom

October 13, 2016

Conference: Artcrime 2016 - The New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust

Yayoi Kusama public artwork, “Dots for Love and Peace” 2009,
City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand 2009
Sponsored by: The New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust

Date: Saturday 15 October 2016

Location: City Gallery, Wellington

Times: 10:00 am - 7 pm

10.00am - Welcome; Formal Opening
Arthur Tompkins and Elizabeth Caldwell

10.20am - Introduction
Louisa Gommans

10.25am - Art Crime as a discipline: progress since 2008
Noah Charney

10.55am - Anatomy of an international statue trafficking network.
Simon Mackenzie

11.25am - Q & A

11.30am - Morning tea

12.00pm - Introduction
Ngarino Ellis

12.05pm - Repatriation in a museum context: no one size fits all
Puāwai Cairns

12.35pm - Stolen Art in Paradise? Stories of Illicit trafficking of Cultural Property in the Pacific: Case Studies from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea
Tarisi Vunidilo

1.05pm - Q & A
1.10pm - Lunch

2.00pm - Introduction
Penelope Jackson

2.05pm - Copying for the colonies: W. S. Hatton and the forging of national histories
Rebecca Rice

2.35pm - Re-Use and Misuse of images of Museum collection items
Victoria Leachman

3.05pm - Q & A

3.10pm - Afternoon tea

3.40pm - Panel discussion: Security in the Galleries Catherine Gardner
New Zealand Police
Erika McClintock – City Gallery, Wellington
Courtney Johnston – The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt
Reuben Friend – Pātaka, Porirua

4.40pm - Art Thieves, Fraudsters and Fakers: The New Zealand Story by Penelope Jackson (Awa Press 2016) Mary Varnham; Elizabeth Caldwell interviewing Penelope Jackson

Following the formal programme, attendees are invited to stay on for an informal cocktail and networking function at the Gallery from 5.00 pm to 7.00pm.  This will include the launch of Art Thieves, Fraudsters and Fakers: The New Zealand Story by Penelope Jackson (Published by Awa Press 2016).

September 28, 2015

New Zealand Hosts its First Art Crime Symposium

The inaugural Art Crime Symposium, held at City Gallery in Wellington on 19 September 2015, brought together leading academics and researchers for an innovative and ground-breaking one-day symposium, covering many aspects of art crime, both in New Zealand and beyond.  Organised by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, this one-day event was the first of its kind in New Zealand. The founding trustees of the newly formed trust are Judge Arthur Tompkins, Penelope Jackson, Ngarino Ellis and Louisa Gommans. 

The organisers of the event were inspired after attending the annual conference held by the Association for Research into Crime against Art (ARCA) in Amelia, Italy, to recreate something similar much closer to home.  The Trust’s secretary, Louisa Gommans, says “We thought it likely that people in New Zealand would be interested in the topic of art crime, but we have been absolutely blown away by the number of people who attended and their enthusiasm for the subject!”  The auditorium at City Gallery was nearly at full capacity, with over 70 people in attendance, and the range of backgrounds and professions of those who attended captures the multi-disciplinary background of those interested in art crime.  

The Symposium began with a cocktail function in the foyer of City Gallery on Friday 18 September, which was a great opportunity for attendees and speakers to mix and mingle.  The Symposium commenced at 10 am on Saturday 19 September with a welcome from the Hon. Chris Finlayson Q.C., Attorney General.  This welcome focussed particularly on the Motunui Panels, recently returned home to New Zealand and soon to be unveiled at Puke Ariki Museum and Library in New Plymouth.   

Then followed a fascinating line up of lectures throughout the day.  Many who had registered for the Symposium thought New Zealand probably did not have an art crime problem, but were soon put straight on that score:

Penelope Jackson, an Art Historian with a special interest in NZ art crime, gave an overview of the art crime scene in New Zealand;
Garth Galloway, Partner at Chapman Tripp, discussed immunity from seizure legislation and the fact that New Zealand has not implemented any such legislation to date;
Catherine Gardner, Manager of Case Management for New Zealand Police, talked about the difficulties of recording crimes relating to art and some of the interesting cases the Police have dealt with;
Ngarino Ellis, Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Auckland, illustrated art crime in a Maori context, particularly in post-colonial times;
Roger Blackley, Associate Professor in the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University, gave a captivating example of connoisseurship in action while discussing two apparently similar paintings, only one of which is thought to be an authentic work by Gottfried Lindauer;
Judge Arthur Tompkins, a Judge in the District Court, delved into the saga surrounding Cornelius Gurlitt and the challenges of dealing with Nazi-looted art works;
Louisa Gommans, a Lawyer with a special interest in art law, discussed the repatriation of Maori and Moriori ancestral remains home to New Zealand.

The Symposium concluded with a highly topical panel discussion, chaired by Kim Hill, featuring Geoffrey Batchen (a teacher, writer and curator, focusing on the history of photography), Jim Barr (art commentator) and Sarah Farrar (Senior Curator of Art at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand).  The panel considered the issue of selfies in galleries, including the merits – or not – of allowing visitors to take photographs for personal use while viewing art works.  While the panel did not reach a consensus about whether or not selfie-taking was good or bad thing, it did conclude that people are unlikely to stop taking selfies anytime soon. 

The organisers hope to make the Symposium an annual event, and have already confirmed Saturday 15 October 2016 at City Gallery, Wellington for next year’s event.  

For more information please contact the secretary of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, Louisa Gommans, at or follow “New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust: The Symposium” on Facebook.  

July 7, 2015

The Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily: Where a stolen Caravaggio Nativity once hung above the altar

Street entrance to the Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

This post continues last week's post "Sicily, Palermo, Cicero, and a missing Caravaggio".

I found it.

Not, sadly, Caravaggio's Nativity. But the stunning Oratorio where it should hang.

The Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, is at Via Immacolatella, 3, next door to a larger church dedicated to Saint Francis, which overlooks a quiet piazza. It's a little tricky to find, a few streets back on the south side of Via Vittorio Emanuele, on the seaward side of both the main north-south roads, Via Marqueda and Via Roma, in the Old Town.

Just in case you're interested, the easiest route is to turn off Via Vittorio Emanuele into Via Alessandro Paternostro, then walk down this gently curving street until it opens into the small piazza. The Chiesa San Francesco is on your left, across the piazza, and the entrance to Via Immacolatella is in the far left corner: it heads back towards Via Vittorio Emanuele. You'll most likely need to keep your map close at hand as you untangle the labyrinth to find the front entrance.

Leafy courtyard of the Oratorio of San Lorenzo
Inside the entrance and up a few steps is a small leafy courtyard. You pay the modest entrance fee on the left (hang on to your ticket - it will get you free or reduced entrance to a list of other places, including the sombre and austere 12th century church of San Cataldo, with its distinctive three cupolas, just behind Piazza Pretoria) and then the door to the Oratorio is diagonally across the courtyard, in the far corner nearest the street.

Inside a vibrant rococo feast of Giacomo Serpotta baroque stucco work greets you, showing various scenes from the life of St Lawrence, culminating in his martyrdom atop a fiery brazier on the rear wall.

The copy of the stolen Caravaggio painting of the Nativity
But opposite that, in pride of place above the altar, hangs a full size replica of the stolen painting. Even as a copy, it dominates the rectangular room, the only break in the profusion of white and gilded stucco-work.

It remains a silent witness to a now decades-old theft, with little or no hope for the recovery of an original most likely now gone for ever.

Sources for further reading on the theft of Palermo's Caravaggio Nativity can be found here.

May 9, 2015

Art Restitution: Van Dyck’s Triple Portrait of King Charles I stolen from Castle Kronberg during World War II by American servicemen to be returned to Frankfurt

From The New York Times: Brandon Thibodeaux's photo of
King Charles I in Three Positions
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The New York Times’ Tom Mashberg is reporting the return of five artworks, originally brought by US servicemen back to the United States after World War II, to the Anhaltische Gemäldegaleriem, in Dessau. Included in the five works is one described as “an unattributed copy of a triple portrait of King Charles I of England, originally painted by Anthony van Dyck in 1636 to help Bernini create a sculpture of the king”. Mashberg reports that this work was stolen from Castle Kronberg outside Frankfurt, and was being returned by:
“Michael R. Holland, a retired house builder from Montana, who said he found them in the safe deposit box of his aunt, Margaret I. Reeb, after her death. A note in the box from Mrs. Reeb, a member of the Women’s Army Corps who had served in Germany, said she bought them there just after the war. Family lore, Mr. Holland said, has it that Mrs. Reeb, who died in 2005 and was a wartime acquaintance of Eleanor Roosevelt, bought the works from American soldiers who approached her in a Nuremberg hotel for some quick cash.”
The story caught my eye because the original painting, which is now in the UK’s Royal Collection  has a fascinating story all of its own:

Sir Athony van Dyck (1599-1641) - Charles I (1600-1649)
The Royal Art Collection, oil on canvas
Queen's Drawing Room, Windsor Castle
In the early 1630s, King Charles I was busy cementing his place as omnipotent English monarch. He had been crowned King of England in a sumptuous ceremony, and in June 1633 he was likewise crowned King of Scotland. His queen -- a quiet but persistently devout Catholic -- Henrietta Maria, so memorably portrayed by Van Dyck in such overtly political family portraits as The Great Place and in intimately affectionate portraits such as his Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was carefully trying to strengthen ties between England and Rome, and to prepare the ground for the arrival in London of the first Papal envoy since Henry VIII’s time.

As so often happened during Charles’s reign, the delicate diplomatic dance was executed, in part, by artistic means. In mid 1635, Charles and his queen commissioned Van Eyck, now firmly ensconced as Charles’ favourite painter, to prepare a portrait that they would send to Pope Urban VIII in Rome. Thus would then able the Pope to commission his own favourite sculptor, Gianlorenzo Bernini (memorably labelled by Robert Hughes as the “marble megaphone of the Renaissance”), to carve a life-size bust of Charles, which the Pope would then give as a gift to Queen Henrietta Maria, symbolizing (so the Pontiff hoped) closer ties and perhaps heralding the ultimate submission of the English Crown to the throne of St Peters.

Drawing inspiration from Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Man in Three Positions, then in the Royal Collection (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Van Eyck executed the sublime triple portrait of King Charles, both embodying his character and pensive but unshakeable hope for the future, and giving Bernini everything he needed to create his marble bust.

The Portrait was sent to Rome. Bernini wove his sculptural magic. The result arrived back in England in the summer of 1637, but not without significant travails and perils: the bust was packed into a wooden case, and one Thomas Chambers spent three remarkable months bringing it across Europe on boats, horses and mules, besting pirates, robbers and corrupt border guards en route.

It received a rapturous welcome when it was unpacked, and drew a promise from Queen Henrietta Maria that a fabulous diamond ring would immediately be sent to the Pope’s nephew, and which would end up being given to Bernini himself. Suspicious and opportunistic Puritans encouraged a forlorn and probably spurious rumor that the bust was stained, and would only become pure when Charles converted to Catholicism. Much later, an opportunistic broker who had profited as Charles acquired his magnificent collection, but who was then keen to rewrite history and curry favour with the Puritans, invented a fantastical prediction of the coming execution, by the bust being stained with miraculous blood:
“ … his own statue graved in Marble, which was newly brought from Rome … being set forth three drops of blood fell on the face of it … though the stains of the same could never be gotten off since.”
In the meantime, and despite any such divine imperfections or portents, Charles was delighted with the bust, especially given that it was created by the Pope’s favoured sculptor, who would otherwise have been inaccessible to the increasingly artistically astute and sophisticated but still resolutely Protestant, Charles.

And then it all came crashing down.

On a chilly January morning in 1649, and wearing two shirts so that any shivers brought on by the cold would not be mistaken for fearful trembling, Charles was executed, under authority of a Death warrant signed by the 59 men who would become known to history as the Regicides. It is unclear whether the irony of the execution taking place outside The Banqueting House in London, whose ceiling was (and is) adorned by magnificent, and politically powerful, paintings by Rubens commissioned by Charles over a decade earlier, was noted at the time.

Following his death, the Commonwealth set about valuing and selling off “the Late King’s goods” to raise funds for a severely cash-strapped Treasury. And amongst the art works sold during a chaotic, corrupt and ultimately largely unsuccessful asset sale process, was Bernini’s bust. By 1651 it was in a slightly down-at-the-heel and crowded impromptu dealership owned by one Emmanuel de Critz, one of many that sprung up all over London as the King’s art flooded onto the newly created, and never before seen, open art market. “The King’s head in white marble done by Bernino at Rome” was on display in a cramped house in Austin Friars, with a price tag of £400.

That asking price must have been too high. In May 1660, following the unforeseeable (in 1651) lurch of history that saw Charles II restored to the English Throne following years spent wandering Europe in beggarly exile after his defeat in battle by Oliver Cromwell in September 1651, Charles II set about swiftly and ruthlessly reclaiming his father’s art. In a staggeringly audacious lie, de Critz petitioned the new King for back pay of £4000 and, amazingly, £1200 for costs incurred in acquiring and looking after the late King’s art, including the Bernini bust. History does not record what response this petition triggered. De Critz himself died of the plague in 1665.

On 5 January 1698, the novelist and diarist John Evelyn noted in his diary: “Whitehall burnt! Nothing but walls and ruins left.”

That day the bulk of what had been the largest palace in Europe, exceeding both Versailles and the Vatican in size, and at its zenith, comprising 1500 rooms, was destroyed. Only the Banqueting Hall remains more or less intact, but Bernini’s Bust of Charles 1 disappeared.

As for the portrait? Bernini kept hold of it, but eventually it ended up back in the Royal Collection, returning to the fold in 1822. The Royal collection’s Provenance Statement records:
Painted for Bernini about 1637 from which he was to execute a bust and sent to Rome. Collections: Bernini family; Mr Irvine: Walsh Porter; Mr Wells. Purchased by George IV in 1822 from Mr Wells for 1000 guineas. 
Judge Arthur Tompkins of New Zealand will return to Amelia this summer to teach "Art in War" for ARCA's 2015 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

April 25, 2015

Stolen Treasures Mysteriously and Anonymously Returned

By: Judge Arthur Tompkins

Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum, Wellington, New Zealand
A week ago, 14 Maori taonga [treasures], dating from the 1800s and which were in the care of a local resident in their home, were stolen during a house burglary of a rural property near to the Hawke's Bay town of Hastings, in the eastern part of the North Island of New Zealand.

Included in the haul were a number of items registered with New Zealand's Natonal Musuem, Te Papa Tongarewa, and thus protected from export under New Zealand law.

The stolen pieces included a number of greenstone (the New Zealand indigenous jade, also known as pounamu) ceremonial mere, including the two shown here, a closely-related patu [club] made from whalebone, and a ceremonial adze with a pounamu blade.

Ceremonial Greenstone Mere I

Ceremonial Greenstone Mere II

"The thieves will be aware of both of these things.  We appeal to the people who took these items to return them immediately so they can be cared for by their proper guardians and remain in their turangawaewae [resting place]."
Yesterday, Friday NZ time, all the items taken were handed anonymously back to Te Papa Tongarewa.  No other details of the return have been released, apart from the fact that the items were seemingly undamaged both during their theft and during their transport down to Wellington, the nation's capital.

Police are continuing their investigation.

December 3, 2014

Judge Arthur Tompkins to present historical survey section of his "Art in War" course at Victoria University in Spring 2015 in Wellington

Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA trustee and faculty member, is presenting the historical survey section of his "Art in War" course as a Continuing Education Short Course at Victoria University in April/May 2015, in Wellington, New Zealand.  Taught over 5 two-hour evening sessions, on five sequential Wednesdays - April 8th, 15th, 22, and 29 April, and 6th May, 2015 - the course will examine the history of art crime during armed conflict, ranging from Classical Antiquity, through the Fourth Crusade, the Thirty Years' War, the Napoleonic era, the first and second World Wars, and finally Iraq and Afghansitan.

A link to the course details, including a more detailed course outline, is

November 20, 2014

Judge Arthur Tompkins writes on "The Pope's personal library" in Britain's Guardian

ARCA lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins recently published in the Guardian a lengthy contribution about his 2011 visit to the Vatican Library (the Guardian piece is an edited version of a couple of posts previously published on the ARCA blog: here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three).

Judge Tompkins describes the Pope's personal library, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, and his search for two manuscripts: Pal. Lat. 50, the Codex Aureus of Losch and MS Pal. Lat. 1071 for "De Art Venandi Com Avibus" literally "The Hunting of Birds", a Latin treatise on ornithology and falconry.

August 16, 2014

Listen to 'Art Crime with Arthur Tompkins: Portrait of Wally' on Radio New Zealand

Judge Tompkins
ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins, a New Zealand District Court Judge and member of Interpol's DNA Monitoring Expert Group, discusses the theft of Portrait of Wally, the 1912 oil painting by Austrian painter Egon Schiele.

Andrew Shea's documentary film "Portrait of Wally" was reviewed in the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. More information on this film can be found here, here, and here.

Last month, Judge Tompkins spoke to Kim Hill about the theft of the 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted by Gustav Klimt on Radio New Zealand.

June 9, 2014

Art Crime with Judge Arthur Tompkins on New Zealand's National Radio: The 1961 Theft of Francisco de Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington

Francisco de Goya, The Duke of Wellington, 1812-1814
oil on mahogany, 64.3 x 52.4 cm
Judge Arthur Tompkins, who teaches "Art in War" for ARCA's certificate program, appears monthly with Kim Hill on New Zealand's National public radio. This month, he discusses the 1961 theft from the National Gallery of London of Francisco de Goya's Duke of Ellington. Previous shows covered the Four Horses of San Marcos and the Ghent Altarpiece.

Judge Tompkins talks about the myth of the theft, the suspected "real" thief, and the legislation that followed.

Here's a link to the painting at the National Gallery of London where you can find it on display in Room 39.

And here's a direct link to the broadcast.

May 13, 2014

Listen to 'Art Crime with Arthur Tompkins: Four Horses of San Marco' on Radio New Zealand

Judge Arthur Tompkins
District Court Judge Arthur Tompkins, a member of 'Interpols DNA Monitoring Expert Group, has a special interest in crimes involving artistic masterpieces. He discusses the ancient sculpture The Four Horses of San Marco. Listen now on Radio New Zealand.

Judge Tompkins teaches a course, "Art in War", at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Last month, Judge Tompkins discussed The Ghent Altarpiece on Radio New Zealand.

Dan Brown used Judge Tompkins' research on this subject in the fictional book Inferno (2011).

February 9, 2014

Judge Arthur Tompkins returns to teach "Art in War" for ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

In 2014 Judge Arthur Tompkins will be teaching his Art in War course for the 5th consecutive year. Judge Tompkins began his work with ARCA back in 2009 when he traveled to Amelia for the first of a two-part presentation at the International Art Crime Conference to discuss a possible pathway to creating an International Art Crime Tribunal. In 2010, as well as presenting the second part of his proposal to the conference Judge Tompkins first taught his Art in War course. This year his course will run from June 30-July 2 and July 7-July 9

Judge Tompkins has been a District Court Judge in New Zealand for 17 years. 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. Over the years 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. This year he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Pitcairn Island.

What makes your course relevant in the study of art crime?

Art has always suffered in times of war – right down through all the many centuries from the first recorded instance of plundering of art during wartime – the taking of the Stele of Hammurabi by the Elamites from Babylon to Susa in the 12th century BCE - to the disastrous shelling of the Crac des Chevaliers in the ongoing Syrian conflict. And the crimes against art committed during wartime span the full spectrum from the vast, organised and systematic plundering of art by Napoleon and the Nazis, to the opportunistic ‘souveniring’ of art by individual soldiers amid the chaos of the battlefield, and everything in between. How societies have sought to prevent to lessen such crimes, and to provide some degree of redress, in the past provides valuable insight and guidance as to what might be done in the future.

What will be the focus in your course?

The first half of the course covers a historical survey of art crimes during war. We start with Classical Antiquity, including the sack of Corinth by the Romans, then jump forward to the Fourth Crusade and the pillaging of Constantinople. From there we move forward a few centuries again, to the Thirty Years’ War, and from there to Napoleonic France.

On Day Two, we start with the First World War, move through the Second World War, and end with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, (and this sounds much more daunting than it actually is when we do it) we cover over 2000 years in two days …!

The half day that ends the first part of the course is devoted to Libraries – including the libraries at Alexandria, the Library of the Palatinate, the Bosnian National Library, and the US’s Library of Congress. I am hopeful that this year there will also be a guest presentation by one of ARCA’s alumni on another fascinating library’s history.

The second half of the course concentrates on the legal response to what has happened over the centuries. We look at a variety of public international and private legal responses, including the Laws of War, the various Conventions aimed at protecting art and cultural heritage, non-binding international agreements and the like, and then issues arising from private claims to recover looted or stolen art. We end the course with a look at other forms of possible redress, and some selected student presentations to the class.

Do you have a recommended reading list that students can read before the course?

I recommend that students read the classic work of scholarship in this area, Lynn Nicholas’ The Rape of Europa, and also either or both of Robert Edsel’s books on the Monuments’ Men. And this year in particular, I would also suggest they go see the George Clooney/Cate Blanchett movie, ‘The Monuments Men’. How Cate Blanchett portrays one of my personal heroes of the fight against art crime in war, Rose Valland, I will be fascinated to see!

I would also recommend, as a way of reading themselves into the historical ambience of a couple of parts of the course, Geraldine Brook’s People of the Book, and Sara Houghteling’s Pictures at an Exhibition, are both fictionalised accounts of events we cover in the course.

Finally, and these are three personal favourites relating to various aspects of the course, I would point folk to Baez’s A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, Freeman’s The Horses of St Marks: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice, and O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

January 8, 2014

Wednesday, January 08, 2014 - No comments

Postcard from Cambridge: Judge Arthur Tompkins revisits Cambridge and its ancient history

This post is the last in a four-part series of Judge Arthur Tompkin's trip last November to Europe -- museums and retail in Paris, presenting at INTERPOL on DNA, and finally revisiting to Cambridge.

by Judge Tompkins

This morning, before dawn, I walked (fortified, it must be said, by a Starbucks coffee from the Market Square … Trust an American multi-national to be up and doing early!) from our room in Caius College through the sleeping and cold town, and up to the top of Castle Hill.  As the name suggests, this is a small, steep-sided hill. It lies just to the west of the Cam, along past Magdelen College. Given its dominating height in an otherwise relentlessly flat landscape, and its position overlooking the uppermost navigable limit of the Cam River, it has been the site of more or less continuous settlement in the local area since the Iron Age. 

Tough Iron-agers built a fort on the hilltop, and surrounded it with small circular stone cottages.  Later on, the Romans came and, as was their wont, crafted a stone-built town surrounded by a wall, to keep the weird-looking local Celts at bay. They hung around, as was also their wont, for a few centuries, but when the legions withdrew back to Rome (only to fall about in seemingly endless and self-destructive civil wars … but that’s a whole other story), the remaining Celts, first without and then with the triumphant Angles and the Saxons, fortified the town further. I’m not sure if the Vikings ever got to Cambridge, but in light of their habit of sailing up the rivers in search of prey, they probably did.

The settlement, along with much of Roman-built Britain, was abandoned in the 6th century, in advance of the long dark years of the Dark Ages.  But then William, passing by after his Conquest in 1066, spotted the strategic importance of the place and built first a wooden keep and motte castle, and later a stone one.  There it stood, brooding in all its Norman staunchness, overlooking the river for a few centuries. Various Tudor kings started to strip some of the stone for use in the building of King’s College Chapel, a process that accelerated under later monarchs. Henry VIII, taking time out from his soap-opera-like matrimonial-centric lifestyle, took more stone to add to his Trinity College, and then his daughter Elizabeth I, the Gloriana, completed the destruction of the Norman castle by selling off the remaining stone (probably to fund her ongoing wars with the Catholic anti-Christ, Phillip of Spain) to various Colleges, who were busily building down in the town, along the riverside. 

But then Cromwell, fresh from relieving Charles I of the troublesome burden of his head, based his Eastern forces at Castle Hill during the Commonwealth, and built a massive, cannon-proof castle atop and around the hill.  By then the centre of the town was very definitely down on the river flats, and after the Restoration, the castle gradually fell into ruin.

So it was to the top of a now bare but still steep grassy knoll that I arrived just as the sun was rising. Stone steps led to the small and bare hilltop. The view was fine, the sky was clear, and a slight frost crackled ever so crunchily underfoot. It was magnificent.

Cambridge was, and remains, a surreal place.  Since I first came here over 30 yeas ago, in substance little has changed.  There have been alterations around the margins – wi-fi in College, no cars in the centre of the city (a Very Good Thing), many more cafes and upmarket boutiques - but step through the porter’s lodge of pretty much any college, and it really has not changed a bit.  There is still the very odd tripartite and tense dynamic of the students (young and feckless), the college staff and fellows (older and less feckless, and the former probably serially unimpressed by, and I would guess sometimes understandably resentful of, the antics of the students) and the townsfolk (living a parallel life alongside to, but very definitely not part of, the Colleges).  

And through it all pass multitudes of tourists, looking and photographing the public face of the colleges, and searching in vain for “the University”. For the most part, they won’t find it. The University, apart from a couple of ceremonial-type buildings right in the very heart of the city – the Senate House and the Old Schools, and even then you have to know what you are looking at – remains relentlessly hidden. Its role is to confer degrees, and to provide formal teaching and laboratories etc. The Colleges, meanwhile, provide accommodation for students and fellows, pastoral care, and informal teaching – the famed Cambridge small-group tutorials known here as supervisions.  

Because of this odd arrangement – found pretty much nowhere else in the world except at Oxford – and their very long and often royal histories, the Colleges, or at least some of them, have become very rich indeed, whilst the University tends to be largely dependent on the whims of central government for its funding.  So it is the colleges who have built the great buildings, King’s Chapel, the Great Court and the Wren Library at Trinity, and the like, whilst the University itself remains an ethereal and elusive non-presence.

So, I bid another farewell to Cambridge and head to London and then, on Friday, back to New Zealand, secure in the knowledge that when I next return, Cambridge will still be here, and it will still be the same…

January 7, 2014

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 - , No comments

Postcard from Paris: ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins visits INTERPOL and swabs for DNA analysis

by Judge Arthur Tompkins

INTERPOL is, in popular culture, a near-mythical organisation, one that tends to conjure up an aura of omnipotence and omnipresence, exercising extensive powers and influence, not to mention deploying an army of emblazoned officers to patrol the world’s trouble spots. Every now and then a shadowy black-ops Interpol force supposedly swings into well-oiled action, to keep the world safe from nefarious villains bent on world domination, and then fades back into the shadows from whence it came.

For example, a few years back, in the Hollywood blockbuster, ‘The International’, Clive Owen played an intrepid Interpol officer who single-handedly pursued and destroyed a vast international criminal bank across an ever-changing backdrop of a variety of exotic international locations, enduring but never succumbing to repeated and seemingly never-ending hailstorms of bullets.

The reality is a little more prosaic. INTERPOL’s core business is as an information clearing house, global communications network, database repository, and point of contact between national police forces. It has a staff of about 700, split between permanent and contracted staff, and police officers and other personnel seconded to INTERPOL from member states’ national police forces.  INTERPOL does not itself arrest criminals, nor does it operate any incarceration facilities, - those activities it leaves up to ordinary run of the mill police forces.  It does provide specialist teams to assist in the event of things like mass disasters, very high-profile security assistance, and situations requiring very specialist skill-sets, like dealing with Somali pirates off the coast of West Africa.  It is these folk who you might see wearing and carrying the INTERPOL branding.

It is to the glass and marble headquarters building on the banks of the Rhone River in Lyon, France, that I return every couple of years or so for a regular Forensic DNA Users conference.   Approaching the building, as I usually do atop my Velib bike along a long path lined by tall Plane trees running parallel to the Rhone River, the security arrangements are immediately obvious – a high and spiky-topped green steel fence surrounds the whole building, topped by several parallel strands of what look like (and doubtless are) high voltage wires.  The only way in is through a stylishly designed gatehouse, where one’s passport is scrutinised and checked against a list of names of those expected to pay a visit that day. Bags are X-rayed, bodies are scanned in airlock type thingies with curved glass sliding doors, and then you emerge on the other side to cross a paved open courtyard (this week, usually swept by persistent rain …) to the main front entrance of the building itself. 

Inside things are quite striking. The central core of the building is an airy and light-filled hexagonal central atrium that rises five floors to the glass roof. The floor of the atrium has a large, tiled mosaic of the Interpol crest centred around a world map.  Arrayed around this atrium are several floors of offices, served by glass-sided elevators running up and down the corners of the atrium.   On the ground floor are a large auditorium, where the conference is held, meeting rooms, a substantial dining room and, importantly, a large bar/café presided over by the smoothly balletic Christian – he has been presiding over the Interpol bar for all of the ten years I have been coming here, and he does so with a mesmerisingly smooth grace and economy of movement – never flustered, always elegant and measured and efficient.  An artiste of a barista …

The other notable, and perhaps unexpected, feature is the INTERPOL gift shop. There one can select from a wide range of INTERPOL-crested items, including silk ties and scarves, vases, letter openers, mousepads, children’s wear and other attire.  It also stocks a range of wine – this is France, after all.  Given its location, this shop probably has the lowest rate of stock losses to light-fingered larcenists of any boutique, anywhere.

The other highlight of this year’s conference has been that I now have had done my very own forensic DNA profile. During the conference a number of companies have been displaying the very latest in high-speed DNA analytical engines.  What once took weeks in a specialised lab, using an array of delicate scientific instruments and robotically controlled analytical wizardry operated by a series of highly trained scientists and analysts, can now be done in about 90 minutes in a box roughly the size of a large photocopier (Should you wish to buy one, it will however set you back about US $250,000,000).  I duly scrapped the inside of my cheek with a cotton bud, popped it into the required receptacle, and 90 minutes later my DNA profile popped out. What immediately lept off the page describing my genetic make-up is a glaringly obvious, genetically-based but regionally-variable, vulnerability to sweet treats. In Italy this manifests itself in an irresistible attraction to gelato; here in France it is a similar weakness for  Fauchon-style macaroons. Also discernible is my repetitive tendency to indolence…

I’m thinking of having this printed onto a convenient wallet-sized plastic card. Teamed up with my Vatican library card, the matching pair would provide unique ID cover for both ends of the spectrum – in the spiritual realm with the Vatican card, and in the Darwinian world, my DNA ID …

Au revoir, Lyon.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 - , No comments

Postcard from Paris: Judge Arthur Tompkins writes on 'two extremes of Parisian retail history' and creating art

Painting of Shakespeare & Company, Paris
From the collection of Judge Arthur Tompkins
This post is the second of a four-part series written last autumn during New Zealander's Judge Tompkins sojourn to present papers at an Interpol DNA conference in Lyon. Consider it a warm-up to the ARCA blog traveling to Paris next week.

By Judge Arthur Tompkins

Today [November 2, 2013] I experienced two extremes of Parisian retail history.

First up, Fauchon. Since 1886, from two neighbouring bright pink stores opposite the north-western corner of the Madeleine, Fauchon has catered for the luxury end of the Paris gourmet, gastronome and epicurean market, with a bewildering and hugely tempting array of comestibles – caviar, coffees and teas, and a mouth-watering array of chocolates and biscuits, among very much else – and also served the occasional antipodean interloper.   I ventured in today after a selection of gifts for the family back home, as well as a coffee – having opened the first 'salon de thé' in Paris in 1898, Fauchon’s teas are famous, but coffee is more my legally addictive stimulant of choice.

Having (considerably) lightened my wallet and consumed a fine, although not necessarily fantastic coffee, I bundled my carefully gift-wrapped purchases into the front basket of a Velib bike, and bumped my way across Paris to Shakespeare & Co.

For all sorts of reasons this venerable bookstore across the river is at the other end of the retail spectrum from Fauchon. Ramshackle, crowded, dishevelled, the haunt of aspiring and penurious writers and lovers of literature, and on very many people’s guidebook list of “things-to-see-and-photograph-on-your-iPhone-when-in-Paris”, it sits in a small square with fine views of the front of Notre Dame. Attentive readers may remember that in 2011 I visited the store, with an interesting pictorial result. Here’s my email from that visit:
Dear All,
I spent yesterday, for a couple of hours in the early evening, being photographed by literally dozens of people, and painted by a young woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As you do.
As is my wont when in Paris, I visited the Shakespeare & Co bookshop, after a nostalgic visit to the Bibliotheque Mazarin.  After buying a book, the sun was shining, Notre-Dame was gleaming in the afternoon light, the trees were shady, and all was good in the world.  So I took advantage of Shakespeare & Co's hospitality, and sat myself down in a chair by the front door to read.  It turned out that my position was such that every second person who happened along, and who took a picture of the famous storefront, necessarily included me in the picture.  After a while I began to assume a proprietary air, hoping that when they showed their Paris pics to friends and family back home, then would indulge in a little poetic license and describe me as the owner of the legendary bookshop. I lost count after about 35 or so people had taken my picture...
Then a young woman set up an easel right in front of the store, and began to paint.  I stayed in situ long enough to ensure that she painted me in, and had a couple of chats with her as she did so.  She hailed from Tulsa Oklahoma, and was spending the last three weeks of (I think) a summer college vacation in Paris, and wanted to be a painter.  She has promised to email me a photograph of the finished picture.
In fact, I ended up buying the picture from her, and a copy of it is shown above. The original hangs in my library at home – from which it has not, to the best of my knowledge, been stolen by a passing art crime enthusiast. (Although if that  happened, and the felon in question was prepared to swap it for a purloined Vermeer, I saw a nice one in the Louvre yesterday …).

I pursued a similar pastime - sitting and reading  for an hour or so yesterday out the front of the store.  Sadly no itinerant artist happened along to paint my picture. But I am happy to report that I will again appear in a large number of Paris holiday pictures taken by lots of people of a wide variety of digital devices, including several iPads – which do look faintly ridiculous when held up and used as a camera.

George Whitman, the eccentric founder of the store, died at age 98, in his apartment above the store two years ago, as it happens three months after I visited the store in September 2011. Although I don’t think the two events are connected. Here’s his New York Times obituary:

Off to Lyon, and Interpol, tomorrow…

December 6, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: The Economist publishes letter from Judge Tompkins on "Hildebrand Gurlitt's secret"

Here's a Letter published in The Economist (December 7, 2013; from the print edition):
Dealing with stolen art
* SIR – The discovery of a treasure trove of so-called “degenerate” art in a Munich flat triggers many challenges for Germany, not the least of which is, what to do with all these unique art works (“Hildebrand Gurlitt’s secret”, November 9th)? If many of the works were stolen from their original owners around 70 or so years ago then they should be returned to the heirs of those same dispossessed owners.
Getting close to doing that is the great challenge. Undoing the harm of the theft of any work of art, even more so when the theft was part of the evil of the Nazi regime, is a uniquely international problem. It demands both an international but also a creative answer. What is needed is, in short, an adhoc International Art Crime Tribunal. Such a tribunal would be assisted by art historians, provenance researchers, advocates to assist the commission and, crucially, claimant advocates and advisers to work with claimants so that they can properly and effectively present their claims. By this means the tribunal could create the kind of independent, neutral ground necessary for the lasting resolution of the disputes that will inevitably arise concerning the stolen art.
The tribunal should be entrusted with the task of resolving the fate of each work of art, not only by deciding the historical and legal claims to it, but also by explicitly evaluating, and giving equal weight to, the moral claim of the claimant. This is crucial. In the past claims to art looted in wartime have been undermined or destroyed by insufficient legal evidence to establish prior ownership, even though the moral claim for return of looted art is clear.
None of this is new. Precedents for all these aspects of the proposed tribunal exist, and have in a variety of settings and circumstances been used during recent decades. The challenges presented by these pictures provide a rare chance to bring together many of the valuable lessons learned over the long years of hard-won, accumulated experience gained in trying to undo the art crimes of the Nazis.
Trustee and faculty member of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art
Hamilton, New Zealand

November 5, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection OpEd: An ad-hoc International Art Crime Tribunal for the Munich Gurlitt pictures?

by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The finding of a treasure trove of so-called ‘degenerate’ art in a Munich flat will trigger many challenges, not the least of which is, what to do with all these unique and, inevitably, storied art works? Having, almost certainly, been stolen from their original owners around 70 or so years ago now, they should, each and every one of them, be returned to the heirs of those same dispossessed owners, wherever and whoever they might be.

Doing that, or getting close to doing that, is the great challenge now faced by, initially, the Bavarian and the German federal authorities, but in the end it should not be a challenge faced, nor indeed resolved, by them alone.

Undoing the great harm of the theft of any work of art, and all the more so when, as here, the thefts were all part of the greater evil of the Nazi regime, and perpetrated amid the chaos and uncertainty of gathering and then actual war, is a uniquely international problem. It demands both an international but also a creative answer. Leaving the fate of these precious works of art, and the hopes of the many and various claimants, handicapped as they will by the burdens of lost memories, lost or destroyed evidence, departed or disappeared witnesses, and all the ragged turmoil of the passing of the years, to the vagaries and the lottery of an administrative or judicial process within a domestic legal system is an inadequate response.

What is needed is, in short, an ad-hoc International Art Crime Tribunal.  Such a Tribunal would be assisted by art historians, provenance researchers, advocates to assist the commission and, crucially, claimant advocates and advisers  who will work with claimants so that they can properly and effectively present their claims. By this means the Tribunal could create the kind of neutral ground necessary for the lasting resolution of the disputes that will inevitably arise concerning the art.

The Tribunal should be entrusted with the task of resolving the fate of each work of art, not only by deciding the historical and legal claim or claims to it, but also by explicitly evaluating, and giving equal weight to, the moral claim of the claimant.  This is crucial – in the past claims to art looted in wartime have been undermined or destroyed by an insufficiency of legal evidence to establish prior ownership, where the moral claim for return of looted art is clear.

The Tribunal should have the ability to, and the processes to, adjudicate and determine claims by a binding judgment.  But throughout the claim process, a spectrum of alternative dispute resolution tools should be employed to resolve claims by agreement, and, if appropriate, to resolve claims by agreed solutions, which may enable unresolvable factual or legal issues simply to be left unresolved.

In addition, the Tribunal should seek not only to return the paintings found in the Munich flat, but should also proactively pursue those sold over the years by Herr Gurlitt. Media reports record that he was, from time to time, seemingly in the habit of selling individual works, to defray living expenses and the like. It would be unlikely that any gallery handling the sale of works such as these could claim to be ignorant of the vast history of the Nazi campaign against degenerate art, nor indeed would many collectors be similarly unaware. That paintings such as these would suddenly appear, unannounced and unaccompanied by any real provenance, inevitably places an immediate obligation to seek out such provenance and, in its absence, at the very least to refusing to handle the sale.  The fate of those sold stolen art works should not be ignored.

None of this is new. Precedents for all these aspects of the proposed Tribunal exist, and have in a variety of settings and circumstances been used during the many decades following Hitler’s defeat. The challenges presented by these pictures provide a rare chance, that should not be missed, to bring together many of the valuable lessons learnt over the long years of hard-won, accumulated experience gained in trying to undo the art crimes of the Nazis

There are great challenges here, but also great opportunities. Answering the difficult question, what now to do with these art works, must not, in the answering, create a whole new set of tragedies and a legacy of bitterness and regret. There is enough of that already bound up in this story. 

Judge Arthur Tompkins is a trustee and faculty member of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), and teaches Art Crime in War during ARCA’s annual Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Heritage Protection Studies program in Umbria, Italy. He can be contacted on