Spoliation Advisory Panel


The Spoliation Advisory Panel has issued a decision on a claim for three works by Rubens, St. Gregory the Great with Ss. Maurus and Papianus and St. Domitilla with Ss. Nereus and Achilleus 1606–1607; The Conversion of St. Paul, c.1610–1612 (pictured here); and
The Bounty of James I Triumphing Over Avarice, for the ceiling in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, c.1632–1633. The panel’s full report on the case is here.

The panel is an alternative to legal action, which rules on both the legal claims but also the broader ethical questions implicated in these disputes. The panel issued its ruling Wednesday that art collector Franz Koenigs lost these works due to “business/economic reasons” and not to the Nazis. A translation of the Dutch Wikipedia page on Koenigs is here. Christine Koenigs, the granddaughter of the collector sought the three Rubens from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. The panel ruled these three works had been used as collateral to a bank in Hamburg. The bank then moved to the Netherlands, and in 1940 it liquidated its assets before the Nazi invasion, thereby calling in Koenigs’ loan.

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

Greek Charges Dropped


Some of the criminal charges against Marion True have been dropped in Greece. Marion True was accused of illegally acquiring this 4th c. BC gold funerary wreath. The wreath had been returned to Greece back in March.

True still faces charges for illegally possessing a dozen antiquities found at her holiday home in Paros last year.

The Hellenic Society for Law and Archaeology has a good overview of the decision. The criminal act allegedly took place in the US, but according to US law was a misdemeanor. As the prosecution took place over five years ago the charges were dismissed. I’m a bit unclear what the US law in question may have been, perhaps future news reports will update that, and I’ll post an update when i learn more. In the end the result isn’t surprising. Surely if serious wrongdoing was implied then the federal prosecutors would have been eager to pursue a prosecution under the NSPA, or at the least initiate forfeiture proceedings.

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

Shocking theft… in 1994


Is it any wonder that 7% of the Italian GDP comes from Mafia crime? The Italian city of Catania on Sicily has announced the disappearance of 51 works of art, after a 1995 document regarding their disappearance was recently “rediscovered” and provided to the carabinieri. The works were taken from the art gallery, housed in the Ursino castle pictured here, and were discovered by a new Catania councillor responsible for culture, Silvana Grasso. This is probably not the kind of news Francesco Rutelli wanted on the heels of the discovery of what may be the Lupercale, under Augustine’s palace on the Palatine Hill.

At least one step which should be taken by all museums, and even individuals who own art, is to take a photo of the works. One of the works stolen is a Rembrandt, but there’s no photograph of the work, rendering recovery nearly impossible. If there’s an image, recovery is possible. Ask Peter Crook, who recovered two works by his grandfather GF Wetherbee from the US via the Art Loss Register.

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

Rare Good News in Iraq


There appears to be some rare good news in Baghdad of late. There are indications that attacks in Iraq are way down. Also, John Swain of the Sunday Times reports today on the likely reopening of the Baghdad Museum next month, according to Amira Emiran the acting director.

Visits will be confined to just two galleries on the ground floor containing Assyrian and Islamic treasures that are too large and heavy to be easily removed. The remaining 16 galleries will remain empty and closed and security will be tight. Nevertheless, Iraqi and American officials are keen to portray the opening as a sign that security in Baghdad has improved after the chaos of the past few years…

The Assyrian Hall has monumental sculptures, including stone panels from the royal palace at Khorsabad and two winged bulls. The other large gallery that is opening, the Islamic Hall, has the eighth century mihrab from the Al-Mansur mosque in Baghdad. It is also hoped to display 10 monumental Parthian sculptures from Hatra in the courtyard which links the two galleries and through which visitors will pass.

The decision was welcomed by Matthew Bogdanos, a colonel in the US Marine Corps reserves, who investigated the theft and destruction of thousands of artefacts from the museum and from thousands of Iraq’s poorly protected historic sites where looting has been conducted “on an industrial scale” since the war.

Bogdanos, a New York prosecutor, said: “I don’t know if there is any such thing as a right or wrong moment to open the museum. But great things are won by great risk and the museum should open and it should stay open. If it means doubling security, then double security.”

Estimates of the number of missing objects vary, but about 10,000 objects are probably still missing, out of a total of 15,000 objects taken. One piece still missing is the ivory plaque pictured above, Lioness Attacking a Nubian, 8th c. BC. News of the reopening is welcome news, especially given it was seldom open to the public in the two decades preceding the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The announcement was made last week at the meeting of UNESCO’s International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural heritage.

The news from Iraq is not all good however. The Bush administration is tempering its goals in Iraq, as military progress has been gained but the US will begin its major drawdown of troops following the “surge”, (i.e. escalation). US Officials are lowering their expectations, dropping plans for an oil-sharing plan and regional elections. The increase has yielded some important military successes, reflected in the decrease in attacks, but this military presence is not sustainable. One wonders if the decision to reopen the museum was made by Iraqi’s or if it was encouraged by their American counterparts. Even if it were the latter, the fact that Iraqis may now be able to view some objects safely is perhaps cause for cautious optimism.

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

The Getty Bronze and "Culture Property Wars"


The “Arts, Briefly” section in today’s New York Times has a couple of interesting points today. First, Marion True went on trial in Greece for conspiring to acquire a gold funerary wreath, alleged to have been removed from Greece. Also, a judge in Pesaro, Italy dismissed a local prosecutor’s claim to the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” found by fisherman in the Adriatic and currently on display at the Getty. When a repatriation agreement was reached in August for 40 other objects, Italian authorities said they would consider their case after the case in Pesaro was resolved.

Along those lines Lee Rosenbaum has an interesting series of posts on how to create a “ceasefire in the cultural property wars”. She makes a number of excellent suggestions, including a need for full disclosure of acquisition policies, and to create a “consistent handling” of repatriation proposals. I agree with both those suggestions.

I have to raise some issues with her discussion of a consensus for future acquisitions. She gives the three dates normally given as cutoffs for new acquisitions:

  1. 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention;
  2. 1983, the date the US implemented the Convention with the CPIA; or
  3. A 10-year “rolling rule” advocated by the Association of Art Museum Directors.

Those are all plausible dates, but I think Rosenbaum misses the point in discussing the Getty’s new acquisition policy, and how it relates to the Getty Bronze. First, here’s the Getty’s revised acquisition policy:

For the acquisition of any ancient work of art or archaeological material, the revised policy requires:

* Documentation or substantial evidence that an item was in the United States by November 17, 1970 and that there is no reason to suspect it was illegally exported from its country of origin OR

* Documentation or substantial evidence that the item was out of its country of origin before November 17, 1970 and that it has been or will be legally imported into the United States, OR

* Documentation or substantial evidence that the item was legally exported from its country of origin after November 17, 1970 and that it has been or will be legally imported into the United States.

Rosenbaum then argues, “good faith counts. And it seems to me that this is the best argument for returning the Getty Bronze: There was plenty of ‘reason to suspect it was illegally exported from its country of origin,’ and plenty of people DID suspect it, at the time of the acquisition.”

I think Rosenbaum misses the point of the new acquisition policy, because if the Getty were deciding whether to acquire the Bronze today, based on its new acquisition policy it could certainly do so. To be fair, you have to think like a lawyer. The “or” is critical. The Getty could hypothetically acquire the statue if any one of the three clauses are satisfied; it doesn’t have to satisfy all three. The statue was found in international waters in 1964. Even assuming Italy was its “country of origin” the statue had left Italy by 1970, and it certainly was legally imported into the United States; as at that time the US did not enforce Italy’s export restrictions. It’s also worth remembering that absent a treaty agreement the US does not enforce the export restrictions of another nations. The reasons for that policy are complicated, and often don’t seem to have a solid policy foundation, but that’s the general rule followed in both the US and the UK.

These are difficult issues to be sure, but as I’ve argued I don’t think Italy has a strong ethical or legal claim to the statue. Greece perhaps has an ethical claim, but not Italy. The most likely reason for the statue ending up in the Adriatic is it was taken from Greece, probably by Romans.


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

Evidence of a Flawed Market


BBC News has an overview of the sentencing of a Family of 3 Art forgers from Bolton, UK. Pictured here is the “Amarna Princess” a fake Egyptian statue which the Bolton Council purchased for more than £440,000. A gallery of a number of the forgeries is here.

Shaun Greenhalgh, 47, has been jailed for four years while his 83-year-old mother, Olive, has been given a 12-month suspended sentence for her part in the con. His father, George, 84, is to be sentenced at a later date.

For successful forgers, the trio had an unremarkable lifestyle. Despite having £500,000 in the bank they lived “in abject poverty”, said police. Olive had never even left Bolton.


Much of the reporting of this arrest and sentencing focuses on the criminals themselves. Shaun Greenhalgh, 47, and his 83-year-old Mother and 84-year-old Father. I however agree with David Gill who asked back in October
[W]hat checks were made? Who made them? And who double-checked in the [National Arts Collection Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund]?” From what I can gather, the checks were made, but the letters and other fake provenance was fabricated cleverly to appear genuine. In a market where few checks are made, these probably were far more comprehensive than what usually passes for provenance. Of course there is an eagerness to acquire valuable objects which can sometimes cloud judgment. This story echoes the Getty’s purchase of an unprovenanced Greek kouros, which was purchased in 1983. As far as I know it is displayed today as “Greek, 530 B.C. or modern forgery”.

Of course provenance research could alleviate some these problems, but the current state of the antiquities trade relies on limiting information rather than providing a full picture. If a man living with his parents in Council Housing can fool authenticators at the British Museum and auction houses, isn’t it time for more thorough research when objects are bought and sold? I think so. The sad reality is that these fakes came with far better provenance information than many antiquities which are bought and sold today.

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

A Call for Antiquities Leasing

Peter Wendel, a Law Professor at Perpperdine University has written an interesting new article in the most recent edition of the Fordham Law Review, Protecting Newly Discovered Antiquities: Thinking Outside the “Fee Simple” Box, 76 Ford. L. Rev. 1016 (2007). A .pdf version is available here. Here’s the abstract:

Newly discovered antiquities are “mixed goods.” They have a physical component (the object itself) and an intangible component (the archeological and historical information associated with the discovery). This dual nature justifies government intervention into the market, not to capture the positive externalities associated with the antiquity, but to minimize the negative externalities associated with the law of finders. When the typical finder excavates an antiquity, its historical and archeological information is severely damaged, if not destroyed. In response to this problem, source countries have enacted state ownership/retention statutes. These laws, however, have their own negative externalities. They create incentives for finders to turn to the black market to secure financial compensation and to destroy the historical and archeological information to make it more difficult to catch them. This raises the issue of which is worse: market failure or government intervention failure?

Source countries need to create a stronger incentive for finders to report their finds. In theory, this is easy: Pay the finders more. In practice, this is difficult because source countries tend to be antiquities-rich but revenue-poor. A possible solution is a “possessory estate and future interest approach” to newly discovered antiquities. If the finder reports the find, he receives a transferable term of years and the source country receives the future interest. A transferable term of years creates an incentive for the finder to go public with the find—the finder can profit from his or her discovery. The source country receives ultimate ownership of all newly discovered antiquities at minimal cost (Western museums will be the likely purchasers; they will pay for the cost of creating the incentive). A possessory estate and future interest approach could help end the current feud between source countries and Western museums, two entities that should work together to secure and protect newly discovered antiquities, not waste resources fighting each other.

It’s an interesting approach. Wendel justifies his claim by using a law and economics rationale. What he’s advocating is a kind of antiquities leasing, similar in concept to the practice in both England and Wales, and Scotland of rewarding finders. He starts from the position that the strong source regulation of nationalizing antiquities and prohibiting their export does not work. I think most can agree the current legal regime is not working. He then advocates giving finders a kind of limited temporary right, known in the Anglo-American legal system as a “possessory estate” and a “future estate” or ultimate vesting right would go to the source nation. That would allow finders of antiquities to profit off their discoveries, while allowing the source nation to ultimately receive ownership of the object.

In essence he’s making an interesting claim for the use of antiquities leasing and a renewal of the idea of partage, the traditional practice whereby foreign archaeologists would get to take a portion of the discovered objects back to their European or N. American institutions. It’s a pragmatic compromise, and one that may work well in practice. I envision substantial hesitation on the part of source nations to enacting such a system though.

I would welcome a discussion of the merits of this idea in the comments section.

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