Looted Matisse Handed Over to Charity

The AP reports this work, Le Mur Rose, a work by Matisse which was stolen from a Jewish family some time after 1937 by a Nazi officer has been given to a charity:

The story of how “Le Mur Rose,” or “The Pink Wall,” made its way through the war to France is as surprising as the colorful painting itself, and steeped with death, mystery and injustice. Stolen from Jews, proceeds from the expected sale of the painting will go toward the Magen David Adom network of ambulances, paramedics and emergency treatment centers in Israel.  “It’s a remarkable and in some ways slightly creepy story,” said Stuart Glyn, chairman of the British charity Magen David Adom UK. He will take delivery of the artwork at the French Culture Ministry in Paris.  The painting belonged to Harry Fuld, a German Jew who made his fortune in telephones, founding the H. Fuld & Co. Telefon und Telegraphenwerke AG in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1899, the charity says.
“The Fuld family were almost manic collectors, with the broadest of tastes,” Glyn said in a phone interview…

Harry Fuld Jr. died in 1963 and for reasons unknown willed his estate to Gisela Martin, a woman who has remained something of a mystery in this saga. She in turn left her estate to the British charity when she died in Switzerland in 1992, which explains why Magen David Adom UK is now getting the Matisse.  Glyn said they have not been able to determine the nature of the relationship between Fuld and Martin, why he left her his estate or why Martin in turn made Magen David Adom the beneficiary of her will.  The Matisse is worth a “a good six-figure sum,” but will first be displayed in a museum, said Glyn. He said he’s in discussions with museums in Germany and Israel.  The charity is also trying to recover other parts of the Fuld collection, which included 12th-century Buddha statues, 16th-century Italian masters, furniture and other art, Glyn said.”There are pieces in the Hermitage (museum in Russia), there are pieces in museums in Germany, there are pieces believe it or not in Israel,” he said.

 The work had been displayed in France since 1949. 

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

Terrorism and Antiquities

Last week Lee Rosenbaum noted the Met’s “Beyond Babylon” show was unable to exhibit 55 planned objects from Syria because of the possibility that victims of terrorism might attempt to seize the objects to satisfy judgments. This is the predicted outflow of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act provision and another ongoing dispute over the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, briefly discussed here. A group of plaintiffs has sued Iran for a terrorist bombing which took place in Jerusalem in 1997. Iran did not defend the suit, so the defendants have attempted to satisfy the judgment by using

Judith Weingarten, an archaeologist, has a very good extended discussion of the Met’s difficulty, and a great rundown with links of the ongoing tablets dispute over at IntLawGrrls:

The tablets are not commercial assets like oil wells, tankers, or houses. Instead, these types of culturally unique and important materials fall within a special protected category and are not subject to seizure. This trove of tablets has never been a commercial item to be bought or sold. The tablets have never been a source of profit either to Iran or to the Oriental Institute. They are non-commercial items of cultural heritage, every bit as unique and important as the original document of the Constitution of the United States. (Imagine if a future Iraqi government were to put a lien on that document.) The stakes are enormous. If the lawsuit prevails, this would do irrevocable harm to scholarly cooperation and cultural exchanges throughout the world.
That is already starting to happen. The Syrian government had offered to lend the Met invaluable parts of their cultural heritage: many of these objects that had never left the country before. Of American institutions, only the Met has the resources to pull off such a project, which depends as much on personal contacts as on cash. That little card on the wall doesn’t say it all.
The Met submitted applications for immunity from seizure for all the borrowed foreign works — including pieces from Armenia, Georgia, Greece, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as Syria — but finally decided that the FSIA amendment jeopardized the Syrian loans. Though not on display, the 55 Syrian objects are in the catalog. There you can see how important a role they played in the internationalist narrative conceived by Joan Aruz (right), the curator in charge of the Met’s department of ancient Near Eastern art.

Interesting points. As museums continue to find it harder and harder to acquire new objects, loans are a great substitute which alleviates pressure on the existing regulatory framework. When leases become difficult as well, American courts and lawmakers ought to seriously consider whether the attachment of these antiquities really is the best way to proceed.

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

Hawass Elevates Rhetoric

Earlier this week Zahi Hawass made some really over-the-top statements with respect to this object, the Ka-nefer-nefer mask which was purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art in 1998.  Some have noted this is an attempt to “Marion True-ize” Benjamin.    I’ve discussed in-depth the history of this mask before.  Neither Egypt nor the St. Louis Art Museum have been able to give us a complete and definite story of the mask, but I certainly don’t think it is a case where repatriation is called for, even if we accept Egypt’s version of events.  Part of the reason for that, is the Egyptian government is either unable or unwilling to adequately document its existing stores of antiquities.  If we adopt Egypt’s version of events, the mask was stolen from a storehouse.  If so, a properly documented collection register could have been submitted to the Art Loss Register, and when the SLAM considered purchasing the object in 1998, the acquisition wouyld have been halted.  

Some commenters have even labelled the SLAM director, Brent Benjamin “controversial” because of the dispute.  I think those accusations are over the line, and very unhelpful.  Benjamin has done the right thing in this case, and it should be noted the mask was acquired before he took his post at SLAM.  Earlier  this week in an AP article Hawass called him a “stupid man” who “doesn’t understand the rules here”.  I’d like to suggest that Hawass — who perhaps does a lot of great things for Egyptian heritage — has a clouded view of the legal rules in this case.  An unhelpful mistake made worse by a proposed Egyptian law which may “give [Egypt] the power to take people to court in Egypt … (Benjamin) will be wanted in Egypt.”  Is this the way to conduct international negotiations?  What’s more, if the mask had been in an Egyptian storehouse, and it is so important as to warrant this level of rhetoric, why wasn’t it documented by Egypt? 

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

First Circuit Court Swats Away "Cardboard Sword"

A de facto confiscation of a work of art that arose out of a notorious exercise of man’s inhumanity to man now ends with the righting of that wrong through the mundane application of common law principles. The mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

So concluded the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Vineberg v. Bissonnette.  It affirmed summary judgment for successors of an art dealer who lost this work to Nazi Spoliation.  The dispute was an appeal of Vineberg v. Bissonnette, 529 F. Supp. 2d 300 (D.R.I. 2007).  I briefly commented on the earlier district court ruling here

The work is a 19th-century painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter titled Girl from the Sabine Mountains.  It is valued at roughly $70,000 – $94,000 USD according to Ray Henry in brief AP story.  Katie Mulvaney also has a very fine overview for the Providence Journal

The current possessor based her defense on laches, an equitable doctrine which essentially posits that it wouldn’t be fair to allow the claimant to regain title to the work.  No luck for the current possessor however.  The opinion was not particularly kind to Bissonnette, perhaps because the appeal seemed thin on the merits.  In one passage Senior Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya admonished the appellant “Proving prejudice requires more than the frenzied brandishing of a cardboard sword; it requires at least a hint of what witnesses or evidence a timeous investigation might have yielded” (emphasis added).  I must find a way to use that in conversation soon.   

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

Greek Icon Returned

This 14th century icon was returned to Greece this week, 30 years after it was stolen from a monastary in Serres, Northern Greece.  The work was recovered by the Art and Antiques Squad in 2002. 

From Helena Smith’s piece in the Guardian:

It emerged in London in 1980 when a British Byzantinist, Professor Robin Cormack, spotted it in a suitcase in a restorer’s atelier. It had been touched up by the looters to make it more saleable in the underground art market.
“It had been cut in two by the looters. Seeing what it was, Robin realised it must have been stolen and advised them to return it to Greece,” said the cultural attache at the Greek embassy in London, Victoria Solomonides, who travelled with the icon to Greece.
“That did not happen and 10 years later the plot thickened when he was called by the British Museum to value an icon. It was the same one.”
On the advice of Cormack, curator of the Byzantium exhibition currently on at the Royal Academy of Arts, the British Museum decided not to buy the icon.

It seems then in 2002 a Greek art dealer offered to sell the work to the Benakis Museum in Athens for  £500,000.  It seems the High Court has ordered the return of the work in a proceeding “Six weeks ago”.  I’ve attempted to track donw the ruling this morning on baili.org, but I suspect the ruling is unpublished.  If any of my kind UK readers could confirm this, I would be most grateful. 

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

Cleveland Museum of Art and Italy Reach Repatriation Agreement

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and the Italian Culture Ministry announced today an agreement which will return 14 objects to Italy in exchange for loans of “a similar number of works of equal aesthetic and historical significance”. The loans will be for a “renewable” 25-year period. The objects are going back to Italy because they have been looted, stolen or illegally exported.

David Gill has compiled a list of the objects, and provided links to their description on the CMA website.

Here is the list:

1) Pig-shaped Feeding Vessel/Vaso plastico a porcellino.
2) Mule Head Rhyton/Rython a testa di mulo. (Pictured here).
3) Sardinian Warrior/Bronzetto nuragico.
4) Apulian Volute Krater by the Darius Painter; Departure of Anphiaros/Cratere a volute a figure rosse.
5) Etruscan Red-figure Duck Askos/Askos ad anatra a figure rosse.
6) Bird Askos/Askos campano ad uccello.
7) Dog “Lekanis” Bowl with Lid/Coppa e coperchio a figure rosse.
8) Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
9) Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
10) Apulian Gnathia Lekythos/Lekythos tipo Gnathia.
11) Acorn Lekythos: An Eros Serving a Lady/Lekythos campana a figure rosse.
12) Corinthian Krater/Cratere a colonnette corinzio.
13) Pair of Bracelets/Due coppie di armille in argento.
14) 14th Century Italian Processional Cross/croce processionale in rame dorato del sec. XIV.

The announcement is not really a surprise. The former Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli, had hinted at this deal for months. The deal is the result of a “friendly and collaborative 18-month negotiation” as reported by Steven Litt, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Art Critic. That’s the way both sides are describing the negotiations. Timothy Rub, director of the CMA told Litt “I think it’s always difficult when adverse claims are made against an object or objects in a museum’s collection, but the most important thing to do is to first of all determine if these claims have any merit, and if they do, to deal with them as transparently and as thoroughly as possible. This has been a very open and thoughtful discussion.”

Likewise, Maurizio Fiorilli, said “The director is an exquisite person, this was a negotiation among gentlemen. They always collaborated and exhibited great openness, therefore, I am content.” High praise indeed.

The crucial point to pick up on here is these objects were connected with Giacomo de Medici, which Italian and Swiss authorities raided in 1995. The polaroids they seized are the engine driving nearly all of these repatriations. Without that solid evidence, the chances are that these objects would not be returned. The restitution of these works is a positive developmetn to be sure, but will they continue? Has the antiquities trade learned its lesson? What about institutions who want to make further acquisitions? Are further acquisitions possible? Can we be sure they are legally excavated? Are the fundamental legal mechanics of the purchase and sale of antiquities different now than they were in the 70s, 80s and 90s? I don’t think so. The underlying problems persist, though at least public perception has changed markedly. On that front, perhaps judges will be more inclined to adopt more encompassing views of the foundational international legal agreements such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but the antiquities trade can still effectively evade legal safeguards.

To see how let’s contrast these returns with the CMA’s recently-acquired bronze Apollo, pictured here. Not being an art historian nor an archaeologist, I still think this Apollo is a much more interesting and valuable antiquity than most of the objects being returned. In fact it is slated to be the centerpiece of the CMA’s renovated classical exhibition. Litt reported today that there will be a joint scientific study of the statute which was acquired by the museum in 2004. The Apollo was the subject of another article by Litt in the Plain Dealer back in February. Evidence suggests the sculpture has been excavated for perhaps 100 years, though Italy has argued it was salvaged from the Adriatic in the 1990s and then illegally sold. The publicly-released provenance of the object seems a bit suspect. Its recent history stems from Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a retired German lawyer who said he foudn the statue lying in pieces when he recovered his family’s estate in the former East Germany.

It was then sold to a Dutch art dealer (Michael van Rijn perhaps?), then sold to the Phoenix Ancient art gallery. We have no idea where or how this stunning statue was found. There is no contextual information. Was it really in pieces for 100 years? The discussion and feeling from the CMA and Italy definitely don’t seem to indicate there will be a much in the way of a continued dispute over the object. And that’s because there is no evidence it was stolen, looted or illegally exported. Rather, there exists a paucity of information about its origins. That is not enough to base a legal claim.

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

Portable Antiquities Scheme Review and Treasure Report

A flurry of new information on the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been released today. The PAS is the voluntary program which records objects found by members of the public in England and Wales, some of these objects may qualify as treasure as defined under the Treasure Act, in which case finders are entitled to the full market price of the object while the Crown holds title.

First, the Review of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was released today (commissioned by the Museums Library and Archives Council with the British Museum and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). The very positive review notes the PAS is under-resourced and yet “still well-liked, delivering genuine partnership and good value for money. Having reviewed budgets and operations, it is clear that with no increase in resources, posts must be cut and the scheme will not deliver regional equity.” The report recommends an increase in funding of just over 9% next year. This appears to be very good news for the scheme in the short-term as the cuts made this year can be reversed.

Second, the Treasure Annual Report was released today. A few highlights:

  • “Treasure” reporting increased again, with 749 objects qualifying as treasure reported, up from 665 in 2006. One of which was this Iron Age torc, made of gold and silver and found near Newark in 2005.
  • In 2007, 77,606 objects were recorded on the PAS database, now totaling 360,000 objects.
  • Since 2003, the date at which the PAS was extended throughout England and Wales, treasure reporting has increased nearly 200%.

The release is featured in a brief BBC story today “Treasure Hunters Boost Gold Finds“. To read my thoughts on the PAS, and what it means for other nations of origin, see here; Kimberley Alderman has a kind summary of it today. The biggest success of the PAS has been its inclusion of a variety of disparate interests from coin collectors to archaeologists. Such compromise is exceedingly rare in heritage policy.

It has also included social groups which aren’t always typical museum-visitors — a very good thing in my view. This happens in two ways. First, finders are encouraged to report and record the objects they find. Second, anyone can access the database and use the data. This may include people ranging from schoolchildren to doctoral candidates to established academics.

The images of the finds are stunning. Below is a slideshow from the PAS on flickr.

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