Philadelphia’s Export Restrictions (UPDATED)

Thomas Eakins’ “The Gross Clinic” has been nominated for protected status by Philadelphia’s mayor. This may effectively mean the work will not be sold later this month as proposed. I’ve written about the proposed sale before here. Donn Zaretsky has posted a number of interesting developments as well.

Stephan Salisbury of the Philadelphia Enquirer reported yesterday that Philadelphia’s mayor has designated the work as a historic object, which would prevent the work from being sold, as proposed by the trustees of Thomas Jefferson University. The University had agreed to sell the work for $68 million to a new museum in Arkansas funded by heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. The University voluntarily gave local institutions until December 26th to match the price and keep the work in Philadelphia. However, the city has stepped in to prevent removal.

This is an interesting turn of events, and is the only example I’m aware of a city preventing the export of a work of art. Many nations attempt to prevent the export of works of art, but I am aware of no individual cities preventing the removal of an important work. The US is among the few nations in the world which has no export restrictions on works, due in part to its status as the largest art importer in the World. It’s quite interesting to see an individual city make make similar claims to that of source nations such as Peru, Mexico or Egypt. The potential litigation in this case should be very interesting to watch unfold, if the trustees are unable to reach a satisfactory resolution with the city.

UPDATE:

Donn Zaretsky points out that this is not the first time Philadelphia has used historic designation to keep a work in the city: In 1998, “[in] the case of Dream Garden, a collaboration of Maxfield Parrish and Louis C. Tiffany whose sale ignited considerable public controversy, the Historical Commission acted after receiving a nomination request from then-Mayor Ed Rendell.” The Commonwealth Court’s decision on the case is available here.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

$15.4 Million for a Hidden Rockwell

Norman Rockwell’s “Breaking Home Ties” sold at a Sotheby’s auction yesterday for $15.4 million. The work was rediscovered last March behind a false panel in a home in Sandgate Vermont. Art historians have long noticed discrepancies between the image which appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, and what was believed to have been the original, on temporary exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It appears that cartoonist Don Trachte Jr. bought the work for $900 in 1960.

It seems that the cartoonist may have forged the work, and hidden the original in his Vermont home to prevent his ex-wife from gaining the work in a messy divorce in 1973. His sons discovered the work last Spring after their father’s death.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Ramses II for sale

French police arrested a man attempting to sell pieces of hair from Pharoah Ramses the II on the internet. He was asking for 2,000 Euros for hair samples. The main claimed his father worked on restoring the body between 1976-77. Ramses II was born around 1304 BC. The unfortunate story highlights the fact that human remains are being bought and sold, and are an unfortunate component of the illicit market in cultural property. It will be interesting to see exactly how French authorities prosecute this man. The mummy most likely belongs to Egypt. Even if the man had nothing to do with the actual removal, it is likely he will be charged with receiving stolen property.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

More on Italy’s Aggressive Repatriation Campaign

Two articles from today’s New York Times further highlight Italy’s aggressive repatriation policies of late.

First, a new sculpture, the statute of Eirene, pictured here, is on extended temporary display until 2009 in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Italy agreed to loan the sculpture after the Museum agreed to return antiquities to Italy. The Museum of Fine Arts held a news conference yesterday with Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli to announce the display. The Met will also receive a temporary exhibition of a 4th century B.C. drinking cup, called a kylix. However it has chosen to downplay the agreement. The granting of these two temporary exhibitions by Italy, further underscores its dispute with the Getty over antiquities. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Met have chosen to cooperate with Italy, and have been granted these works. It gives added emphasis to Italy’s threatened cultural embargo against the Getty, after negotiations broke off between the two parties.

Second, a private collector has been asked by Italy to return 20 artifacts it claims were illicitly excavated. The collector, Shelby White and her late husband, Leon Levy, acquired a significant collection of antiquities over the last 30 years. Maurizio Fiorilli, a lawyer with Italy’s Culture Ministry, has asked Ms. White to return the objects. The Italians have acknowledged that they do not have much legal pressure to force the restitution of these objects. However exerting public pressure may be their best chance at repatriating these objects. Highlighting Italy’s claims is a study conducted by two British archaeologists, Christopher Chippindale and David Gill. It suggested that 84% of objects owned by Ms. White and her husband which were exhibited at the Met in a special 1990 exhibition were illicitly excavated. Whether this Italian campaign will prove successful and will have an impact on the demand for illicit antiquities remains to be seen. It is an interesting move by Italy to attempt to convince private collectors that purchasing these objects without a solid provenance may indeed be unethical, and may be damaging the very tradition and heritage which they wish to preserve and own. Some commentator have argued for stiffer criminal penalties for collectors of these objects. That seems like a difficult thing to enact though, as these individuals are generally the pillars of their community. After all, Ms. White donated $200 million to NYU for a new antiquities department. A more effective approach may be a campaign to associate collecting of unprovenanced antiquities with the destruction of a nation’s heritage and archaeological record.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

UK Museums falling behind?

Research conducted by the a nonprofit group called the Art Fund indicates that UK museums spent far less in acquiring works in 2006 than other museums in the world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York spent £53.5 million pounds; The Museum of Modern Art spent £20 million; The Louvre spent £16.8 million. UK institutions spent far less. London’s National gallery spent £6.8 million, the Tate Galleries spent £4.8 million, and the British museum spent £761,000. The UK institutions also have much more difficulty in deaccessioning works, than these other institutions. This ties in with the discussion yesterday involving the proposed anti-seizure legislation. UK art institutions risk falling behind the rest of the world if their collections are not able to adapt, and they have difficulty bringing in traveling exhibitions.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Anti-Seizure Legislation

The Times today published a letter to the editor written by a handful of members of the House of Lords who have serious concerns over the Government’s proposal to provide immunity to stolen and looted works of art which are on display in the UK. The letter is reproduced below.

Anti-Seizure Legislation of this sort is quite common. The Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) held a consultation on the issue last spring, a summary of which is available here. The legislative proposal is an attempt to bring the UK in line with a great number of other nations, which do routinely provide anti-seizure protection for works of art which are exhibited on loan. I’m not sure what the proposal this letter refers to is based on, however this letter reveals a lack of understanding of how many of these anti-seizure provisions work, they do not always apply to stolen works, and anti-seizure provisions certainly do not mean UK institutions will be implicit in theft or nefarious activity.

For example, in the US, anti-seizure provisions do not always apply to stolen works. In New York, the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law 12.03, was changed in 2000 to limit its scope to civil proceedings only. Similarly, the Texas anti-seizure legislation adopted in 1999 under the Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code dictates that works of art on loan may not be seized, except for stolen artworks. In addition, the Federal Immunity from Seizure Act, 22 U.S.C. Section 2459 requires applicants seeking protection to certify that it has no reason to know of any circumstances with respect to the potential for competing ownership claims.

Again, I’m not aware of the specific provisions of this proposal, but if other recent cultural property legislation in the UK is any indicator, there might be serious unintended problems with it. The Recent Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 had a number of loopholes rendering it essentially useless. The essential issue here is whether UK museums will be able to compete with other museums in the world for traveling exhibitions. On balance, I think it does make sense to allow museums to display works, as it allows a greater number of visitors to view and appreciate works from other nations and artists.

Stolen art works

Sir, We are deeply concerned at the Government’s proposal to give complete immunity to those who wish to display stolen and looted art works by making them available for exhibition in this country. The proposed legislation, buried in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, would provide automatic protection from seizure to lenders outside Britain, making them safe from the legitimate claims of the rightful owners.

The justification is that the UK’s position as a leading centre for world-class exhibitions will be jeopardised unless all loans are protected from seizure. This reasoning results from pressure exerted by museums and those overseas whose concern for the provenance of art works owned by them is at best cavalier. In fact, the result will be that Britain will become one of the few countries in the West where such ill-gotten gains can be displayed with impunity and where the rights of the true owners will be so easily frustrated.



The public interest must surely be in upholding the rule of law, rather than promoting an international free-for-all through the unrestricted circulation of tainted works of art. Do we really wish to educate our children to have no respect for history, legality and ethical values by providing museums with the opportunity freely to exhibit stolen property?

The morally correct and legally responsible approach, adopted by many countries, is for objects proposed for loan to galleries and museums to be subject to rigorous inquiries to determine their provenance and that rightful owners have the opportunity to recover works surfacing in this way. The current proposals, giving automatic and indiscriminate protection against seizure mean that otherwise respectable institutions in this country will have no reason to make such inquiries. This legislation shames us and should be opposed rigorously.

LORD CARLILE OF BERRIEW
Liberal Democrat

LORD FELDMAN
Conservative

BARONESS GOLDING
Labour

LORD HOGG OF CUMBERNAULD
Labour

LORD JACOBS
Liberal Democrat

LORD JANNER OF BRAUNSTONE
Labour

LORD KALMS
Conservative

BARONESS LUDFORD, MEP
Liberal Democrat

BARONESS NEUBERGER
Liberal Democrat

BARONESS O’CATHAIN
Conservative

LORD CAREY OF CLIFTON

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The National Gallery says a work may have been stolen by Nazis

Richard Brooks of the Sunday Times, has a piece yesterday which indicates the National Gallery has a work by Lucas Cranach, “Cupid Complaining to Venus”, which may have been looted by the Nazis. The National Gallery has an entry on its website about the painting here. Elsewhere on the National Gallery website, the work’s provenance is listed as being questionable.

The National Gallery revealed the dubious history of the work after they learned it had been taken from a German Warehouse in 1945 by Patricia Lochridge Hartwell, an American Reporter. Hartwell’s son met with the museum last year. It seems she may have been invited into a German warehouse by American Soldiers in 1945 and allowed to take her pick. It’s yet another example of how spoliation from World War II is still being discovered. The piece does not state why the Gallery has taken so long to come forward with this news. Perhaps it was investigating the claims, or it may have been concerned that the news was about to be broken. The Gallery coming forward in this way of its own volition looks much better than if the questionable provenance was revealed by a claimant.

If a claimant comes forward, the case will be considered by England’s Spoliation Advisory Panel, which was set up in 2000 to evaluate claims for spoliation issues. Often, the panel orders compensation for the claimant, as a measure of compromise, and not the whole work. I would look for Germany to initiate a similar panel in the wake of all the restitution which has caused the loss of art from its museums in recent years.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com