Shelby White at the Met

Kate Taylor, of the New York Sun, has lengthy and extremely interesting article on Shelby White, a generous benefactor to the Met, who has also been accused by Italy of purchasing unprovenanced antiquities. The article notes that Michael Steinhardt, a friend of White’s (and who also is a proprietor of the Sun) believes White’s collection has been singled out by Italy for 2 reasons: her collection is published which allows the authorities to check the antiquities against criminal investigations, and she and her husband have been very generous.

Steinhardt is quoted as saying “She and her husband, Leon, have been generous to a fault to all sorts of institutions… Therefore she is a ripe target. Those people who are pursuing her don’t seek justice; they seek victory… Further, I would say, Shelby has stood alone, and was not as strongly defended as she should have been by those very institutions to whom she had been a too-generous donor.”

Steinhardt is not exactly an impartial actor here though. A phiale was seized from his home in 1997 because the customs declaration form was clearly misstated. Interestingly, had the customs form been accurate, and even if it was conclusively shown the phiale had been illegally exported from Italy, there would have been no legal claim for the objects return. The phiale was seized because the customs form was incorrect.

In any event, the article on White highlights the tension Museums are now facing as they change their acquisition policies, and that may require them to refuse donations from wealthy benefactors who have been collecting for many years, many times without being careful about the provenances of objects which they have acquired.

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

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