Lord Colin Renfrew has offered a comment on the Sevso hoard in the Art Newspaper. He revisits the multi-claimant scramble of a lawsuit which saw three nations attempting to wrest control of the hoard from the investment trust; and we learn perhaps why Hungary only purchased a portion of the silver:
Through his lawyer, Peter Mimpriss of Allen and Overy, Wilson was able to interest the Marquess of Northampton in the silver as a proposition for investment, and by 1987, the Marquess of Northampton 1987 Settlement Trust was the sole owner of what by then was a collection of 14 pieces of impressive Roman silverware. The plan for Sotheby’s to sell the silver by auction in Switzerland in 1990 was halted by the seizure of the treasure on a publicity tour to New York, when Lebanon, and then Hungary and Croatia, laid claim to it in the New York State Supreme Court. The court did not find in favour of either Hungary or Croatia, Lebanon having withdrawn its claim, and the treasure was returned to London to the custody of the Marquess of Northampton.
It is important to note that the judge did not rule that the marquess was the legal owner, simply that neither Hungary nor Croatia had demonstrated good title. Not surprisingly, the Marquess of Northampton was disappointed by the sale fiasco of his investment, and (with a new lawyer) sued Mimpriss and Allen and Overy, winning a settlement—reportedly of £24m—in 2000.
In November 2006, the 14 pieces of silver (and the copper container in which they were found) were placed on display at Bonhams auction house for an invited audience. Then the scene went quiet, until the announcement in late March by Victor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, that seven pieces of the treasure had been successfully repatriated (at a cost of €15m) and put on public display.
The vendors, who are €15m better off, did not include the Marquess of Northampton; the silver was instead sold by a trust. Its beneficiaries are the two sons of the late Peter Wilson, who made the initial, ill-fated purchase in 1980. Ludovic de Walden, the current lawyer of the marquess, indicated last week that the marquess is still the owner of the remaining seven pieces.
Last week Federal prosecutors in Manhatten revealed more details of the sad demise of the Knoedler gallery. In particular the work of two Spanish brothers and the forger Pei Shen QianThough Knoedler is not mentioned by name, that must be the gallery referred to in the indictment as “Gallery 1”. The indictment contains a long list of art crimes including: wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the IRS, tax fraud, false statements, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. The indictment was unsealed after two of the men in the indictment were arrested in Spain. As reported in the NYT:
The art dealer, Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who has been sought for many months, was arrested by the Spanish police on Friday at a luxury hotel in downtown Seville, according to the official, who is with the Spanish Interior Ministry in Madrid. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Mr. Bergantiños’s brother, Jesus Angel Bergantiños Diaz, was also arrested, according to another person with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no charges have been announced in the case. It was not immediately clear whether the United States will seek his extradition as well, but some $33 million netted from the scheme was transferred to bank accounts in his name in Spain.
The Spanish Interior Ministry official said that Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who had an anxiety attack after his arrest and was briefly hospitalized, was being held by the police in Seville. But he is likely to be transferred to Madrid in the coming days, the official said, where he will appear before a judge pending an expected extradition request from the United States.
The indictment itself alleges:
By knowingly and falsely claiming that the Fake Works were painted by these famous artists, Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, Qian, and Rosales were able to trick purchasers and prospective purchasers into paying tens of millions of dollars in total for many of the Fake Works which, as the defendants and Rosales well knew, were essentially worthless, as the defendants well knew, the Fake Works were created not by famous artists, but by Qian, with guidance from Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, and Rosales. Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, and Rosales also created and refined at least two false provenances (i.e., historical ownership records) for particular Fake Works in order to dupe purchasers into believing that those Fake Works were painted by particular famous artists, instead of by Qian. The defendants earned more than $33 million from the scheme to create and sell the Fake Works. To conceal the illegal nature and origin of the proceeds from the scheme, Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz and Jesus Angel Bergantinos Diaz, the defendants, and Rosales worked together to launder the proceeds by transferring the proceeds through foreign and domestic bank accounts that they controlled. In addition, as set forth below, to increase the amount of proceeds he kept from the unlawful scheme, Jose Carlos Bergantinos Diaz, the defendant, unlawfully impeded and obstructed the Internal Revenue Service (‘IRS’) by hiding millions of dollars in his unlawful income from the IRS and by knowingly failing to report the existence of the foreign bank accounts that he controlled or maintained an interest in, as required by law.
You can fool some of the art market, but not the IRS. The tale of the Knoedler is a sad one, it was a storied gallery that had a hand in creating the collections of countless American art museums. I was reminded of this a couple weekends ago when we visited the MFA Houston’s special exhibition of John Singer Sargent, which brings together the Brooklyn and Boston collections of Sargent’s wartercolors. The Knoedler was able to sell one exhibition wholesale to Brooklyn in 1909 and then to Boston in 1912. One imagines the Knoedler was not using a serial forger in 1909, but it was this storied history which perhaps allowed buyers of art to avoid asking uncomfortable questions. If such a storied gallery can make so many egregious ethical and legal lapses, what about other galleries. How can we trust with absolute certainty the authenticity of any work? One may almost feel like Lord Byron in describing the Palace and Prison on each hand as he stood on the Bridge of Sighs.
Heritage & Museums: Values, Ethics and Communities
Clive Gray and Charlotte Woodhead of the University of Warwick, UK cordially invite you to the second of our roundtable discussions – this time on the topic of Ethics and Communities. These sessions aim to bring together academics and practitioners from the museums and heritage sector to identify and discuss some of the core questions faced in practice.
This free event on +Tuesday 13th May 2014 comprises a series of brief presentations showing contrasting viewpoints on particular aspect of ethics. This will be followed by the opportunity to discuss the implication of these for the development of more specific research networks with a view to identifying key issues of concern to develop into innovative research initiatives. Full details can be found on the project website (details of which are set out below).
Speakers include: Jonathan Ferguson (Royal Armouries), Kathryn Walker-Tubb (University College London), Janet Ulph (University of Leicester), Mike Robinson (Ironbridge Institute for Cultural Heritage, University of Birmingham) and Vikki McCall (Stirling University).
The roundtable discussion will take place at the University of Warwick on +Tuesday 13th May 2014 (all day event). If you would like to attend this event (there is no charge to attend and there is even a complimentary lunch!) please complete our online form to reserve a place so that we can make appropriate catering arrangements.
Rachel Donadio reports for the New York Times on a number of repatriated antiquities back in their nation of origin. The list includes la dea di Aidone in Sicily, the Weary Heracles in Turkey, the Lysi frescoes on Cyprus, and the Euphronios Krater in the Villa Giulia.
In rare cases, a repatriation is arranged so that a collector knowingly buys works identified as stolen to protect them from being further damaged or broken up. That happened in 1985, when the art collector Dominique de Menil bought some 13th-century Byzantine frescoes from a Turkish art dealer after the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and government officials there identified them as having been stolen.
When she was first offered the works, depicting Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin Mary with the Christ child surrounded by the archangels Michael and Gabriel, Mrs. de Menil was skeptical about their provenance. She quietly approached the Church of Cyprus, which said the frescoes had been secreted out of the apse and the dome of the church of St. Euphemianos in Lyssi, in a part of Cyprus that had been annexed by Turkey in 1974.
Mrs. de Menil pledged to buy them — and return them to Cyprus in 20 years. The Menil Collection in Houston paid for the frescoes’ restoration, which took years. It built a bespoke minimalist space for them next to its Rothko Chapel and put them on display there in 1998. Themuseum had been hoping that Cyprus would extend the agreement and allow them to keep the works on view.
But in 2012, Cyprus asked for them back, in a climate in which the new government and leadership of the Church of Cyprus have been increasingly aggressive in their campaign to call attention to the deconsecrated Christian religious sites in the areas of Cyprus that Turkey still controls.
The Menil Collection made good on its promise. “Of course we were sad, but in the end we were very proud because ethically, from a moral point of view, this was exactly what needed to happen,” said Josef Helfenstein, the director of the Menil Collection.
The frescoes are now on view in the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation Byzantine Museum and Gallery in Nicosia, Cyprus’s second-most visited museum, “until the day they will be put back in the chapel,” said John Eliades, the director of the Byzantine Museum. That might not be so easy.
Rachel Donadio, Repatriated Works Back in Their Countries of Origin, N.Y. Times, April 17, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/arts/design/repatriated-works-back-in-their-countries-of-origin.html.
Daniel Klerman, of the University of Southern California Law School, has a new paper titled “Jurisdiction, Choice of Law and Property” up on SSRN. The piece looks at international choice of law generally, but he argues that the situs rule produces bad outcomes with respect to stolen art disputes. Instead, he argues the lex originis rule produces better outcomes. From the abstract:
Jurisdiction and choice of law in property disputes has been remarkably stable. The situs rule, which requires adjudication where the property is located and application of that state’s law, remains the norm in most of the world. This article is the first to apply modern economic analysis to choice of law and jurisdiction in property disputes. It largely confirms the wisdom of the situs rule, but suggests some situations where other rules may be superior. For example, in disputes about stolen art, the state where the work was last undisputedly owned may be both the most efficient forum and the best source of applicable law.
In the meantime here is my analysis of how Italy could successfully use its Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States to secure repatriation.
From the Introduction:
Italy has been engaged in an ongoing fifty-year struggle to recover an ancient Greek bronze. The “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” has a remarkable story. It was lost at sea in the Adriatic in antiquity; found by chance in international waters; smuggled into the Italian seaside village of Fano; hidden first in a bathtub, then a cabbage field; smuggled and hidden in Brazil; later conserved in Germany and London; and ultimately purchased by the Getty Museum only months after the death of the Trust’s namesake, J. Paul Getty. Getty refused to allow his museum to purchase the statue during his lifetime without a thorough and diligent inquiry into the title history of the Bronze, a step the trustees of the Getty did not take prior to acquisition of the Bronze.
The question is not whether the Bronze was illicit when the Getty trustees made the decision to acquire it. It most certainly was, and still is. The question now is whether the Getty will be able to continue to retain possession. In the press and in cultural property circles, the Bronze is considered nearly un-repatriatable given this convoluted history. But an Italian forfeiture action in Pesaro has quietly set in motion a means by which Italy might repatriate the Bronze through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. This transnational forfeiture marks the creation of a useful new tool in the struggle to repatriate looted and stolen cultural objects. And perhaps more importantly, the dispute signals a continuing trend reflecting the importance of domestic law in source nations in cultural heritage law.
Ardelia Ripley Hall (1899–1979) served from 1946 until 1962 as the Fine Arts and Monuments Adviser to the U.S. Department of State. In this role she oversaw the recovery and restitution of movable cultural property that had been displaced during the Second World War. In spite of her vast accomplishments, almost nothing has been written on Ardelia Hall, and little is known about her life. She began her career at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but personal circumstances led to her resignation in 1941. During the war, she was employed by the Office of Strategic Services. The expertise she established as an art historian working with the Roberts Commission at this time led to her appointment at the State Department in 1946. This essay traces for the first time Hall’s remarkable journey from curatorial researcher to adviser on international art restitution.
Victoria Reed, Ardelia Hall: From Museum of Fine Arts to Monuments Woman, FirstView International Journal of Cultural Property 1–15 (2014).
The Getty has announced the return of a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament. Details are scarce in the piece, other than a record in 1960 from the Monastary indicated the Manuscript was missing. The object was acquired in 1983 as part of a “large, well-documented” collection.
From the Getty’s release:
The manuscript was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1983 as part of a large, well-documented collection. Recent research on the object by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, which was conducted in close collaboration with the Getty, suggested that the New Testament had not been legally transferred from the Monastery of Dionysiou. This was confirmed by a recently obtained 1960 monastery record indicating that the book had been illegally removed. The report of its disappearance had never been made public, nor had information about the theft been made available to the Getty, to law enforcement, or to any databases of stolen art.
The Getty is right to point out in the release that this is a voluntary return which came about as a result of the agreements entered into by the Museum as a result of other returns of illicit material. But one wonders about this other collection, if there are other objects in that collection which may be suspect, and how exactly the facts surrounding this return came to light.
The interesting story is how Gurlitt and his father were able to explain and justify the possession of these works for so many years, else keep it so well-hidden. The 30-year German statute of limitations on stolen art claims now also supports his current possession (though if there is any evidence Gurlitt knew these works were stolen would surely be grounds for challenging his possession).
His lawyers claim that with “clear evidence” Mr. Gurlitt will return works to claimants. Gathering that evidence is of course extremely difficult. And how clear is clear:
Last week it was revealed that Hungary has purchased seven works out of the “Sevso Hoard” a notorious collection of Roman-era silver whose beauty was matched only by the number of investors and nations of origin scrambling to decide on its disposition. At the time it seemed a bit curious that only a portion of the treasure was purchased. Now Margit Feher reports on Hungary’s Central Bank. It has some funds set aside buy Hungarian art with a 100m Euro fund. Rather than use diplomacy or the courts, it is the market itself which is the vehicle for returning works:
Hungary’s central bank said in January that it plans to spend 100 million euros ($136.8 million) by the end of 2018 on buying Hungarian works of art that have ended up in foreign hands during the country’s eventful history.
Visual art as well as literature plays a core role to define Hungarian identity. The cultivation of a sense of national togetherness is among the main goals of the current government, in which central bank Governor György Matolcsy, a close ally of the prime minister, served as economy minister between 2010 and March 2013.
“Hungarians have survived throughout the ages because they have been feeding on the 1,000-year-old cultural heritage of the Hungarian Kingdom, the statehood, only morsels of which have survived,” said Mária Prokopp, a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Art at the Eötvös Lóránd University in Budapest.
The goal of the central bank’s art program “is to repatriate the highest possible number of major works of art” to protect and treasure the nation’s cultural legacy, the National Bank of Hungary said. It didn’t say how it intended to finance the program that roughly equals three times its operating expenses in 2012.