Competition Complaint Filed Against Art Loss Register

Via the Art Newspaper: Art Recovery Group founder Chris Marinello with Matisse's Seated Woman, which was returned to the Rosenberg family last year (left), and Art Loss Register founder and chairman Julian Radcliffe
Via the Art Newspaper: Art Recovery Group founder Chris Marinello with Matisse’s Seated Woman, which was returned to the Rosenberg family last year (left), and Art Loss Register founder and chairman Julian Radcliffe

Melanie Gerlis reports for the Art Loss Newspaper on a competition claim filed against the Art Loss Register. The claim was filed by Chris Marinello, founder of the Art Recovery Group, and former employee of the Art Loss Register:

ARG’s letter to the competition authority accuses ALR of “systemic breaches of competition law”, citing seven examples of “abusive behaviour”. ALR, according to the letter, “is implementing a persistent, pervasive and systematic plan to eliminate ARG fr om the market”.

Heading the list of complaints is what ARG describes as “vexatious litigation”, a reference to a civil claim that ALR took to the UK’s High Court in July. This claim accuses Marinello and others of “the unlawful establishment and operation” of ARG, citing breach of contract, breach of confidence and “infringement of database rights”, among other things. ALR’s claim demands the handover of any confidential information the defendants may have that belongs to ALR.

Marinello and the other defendants filed a counterclaim in November, in which “each and every allegation contained in the particulars of claim is denied”. A subsequent reply and defence was lodged by ALR in December, which also denied all allegations.

James Ratcliffe, ALR’s director of recoveries, lawyer and near-namesake of the company’s founder, says that, while he has not seen ARG’s letter to the competition authority, ALR’s legal actions are “certainly not vexatious” and that there is “no systematic plan” to eliminate its competitor. He says the claim had to be issued to protect the interests of ALR’s stakeholders because Marinello “took confidential information from our business and we don’t know the full extent of it”.

Marinello says: “The ALR knows exactly the extent of information in my possession because it was obtained openly, transparently and with express permission pursuant to an agreement signed by Julian Radcliffe in 2012.”

Julian Radcliffe is ALR’s majority shareholder, although Sotheby’s also has a stake (around 11%), as does Christie’s (around 3%), and Marinello himself (10%).

Both companies are positioned to fill an important function in the art market, and to help recover lost and stolen works of art. Hopefully they can find a way forward to coexist.

Melanie Gerlis, Art Loss Register faces competition complaint from Art Recovery Group, The Art Newspaper (Jan. 26, 2016), http://theartnewspaper.com/market/gloves-come-off-in-fight-to-run-international-database-of-stolen-works-of-art/.

The Art Loss Register profiled in the New York Times

The Art Loss Register and Julian Radcliffe got the New York Times treatment last week. I think it was an accurate portrayal of the ALR and its role in the art market. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in many of the same art crime tropes that some are unable to resist in a piece like this. Things like Radcliffe’s physical appearance, his almost spy-novel backstory, and other aspects distracted me from some of the good reporting in the piece.

The main point holds true I think, that nobody really loves the ALR, but they do perform a service for the Art Market. Much of the criticism lobbied against the organization is entirely justified, but many critics point to the fact that the ALR not only is a database, but also acts as a stolen art recovery service, in exchange for a sizable portion of the value of the work. That has often put them in an uneasy position.

For example the incident involving a Norman Rockwell painting, ‘Russian Schoolroom’ is discussed:

Judy Goffman Cutler, an art dealer who became entangled in a Register hunt for a Norman Rockwell painting, has sued the company twice, contending that it harassed her for years in its zeal to collect a fee for recovering the work.

Mrs. Cutler had clear title to the painting in 1989, when she sold it to the director Steven Spielberg. Later it was mistakenly listed as stolen by the F.B.I. and, consequently, the Register, which tried for years to recover it.

Mrs. Cutler said that the Register pursued her even after company officials had reason to know she had done nothing wrong. Neither of her suits against the company succeeded, and she is still angry.

“They knew better but chose to follow the greedy path,” she said.

The Register has characterized its dispute with Mrs. Cutler as a misunderstanding based on faulty information it received from the F.B.I. and others that suggested that the painting was stolen.

I have heard many similar arguments and criticisms of the ALR. Dorothy King relates a similar example from last year.

Have any experience dealing with the ALR that you’d like to share? Comment below or drop me a note.

  1. Kate Taylor & Lorne Manly, Tracking Stolen Art, for Profit, and Blurring a Few Lines, The New York Times, September 20, 2013.

Chappell on Art Theft

Duncan Chappell uses the occasion of a loan exhibition of William Turner works on display at the National Gallery in Canberra—which does not include a couple of well-known stolen-then-recovered works.

He then discusses the persistent problem of stolen art:

 

Continue reading “Chappell on Art Theft”

Reactions to the Kunsthal Theft

Yesterday we learned that the Kunsthal Museum (I’ve also heard it described as essentially a gallery) had suffered a theft of seven works of art in a late night theft, likely aided by the building’s difficult-to-secure windows. The tireless Catherine Sezgin has a good roundup of all the news reports at the ARCA blog.  Here’s some reactions from the security and law enforcement experts I found thoughtful:

Anthony Amore, the director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston debunks the popular impression of art thieves in an Op-Ed for the New York Times:

As usual, a combination of master art thieves and faulty security was blamed. But this seductive scenario is often, in fact, far from the truth. Most of us envision balaclava-clad cat burglars rappelling through skylights into museums and, like Hollywood characters, contorting their bodies around motion-detecting laser beams. Of course, few of us have valuable paintings on our walls, and even fewer have suffered the loss of a masterpiece. But in the real world, thieves who steal art are not debonair “Thomas Crown Affair” types. Instead, they are the same crooks who rob armored cars for cash, pharmacies for drugs and homes for jewelry. They are often opportunistic and almost always shortsighted.

Chris Marinello of the Art Loss Register tells NPR’s Morning Edition:

MONTAGNE: And do insurers pay ransom?  
MARINELLO: Absolutely not, they do not want to encourage further art theft and then the thieves are going to have to go to Plan C. They usually contact me and see if I have any ability to pay them to return the works. They won’t succeed there, either. The pieces are likely to travel in the underworld at a fraction of their true value, maybe five or 10 percent, used as currency for drugs, weapons, even something called a Get Out of Jail Free card. If a criminal thinks that they’re going to be arrested, they may try to make a deal with the prosecutor for a lesser sentence, if they have information that leads to the recovery of the seven paintings.   
MONTAGNE: Is it likely than that they will resurface eventually?  
MARINELLO: Well, I have a lot of faith in the Dutch police and they are meticulous. We might see something over the next few weeks. I mean sometimes when they realize they can’t get rid of the haul that they just brought home, they just return them. But if we don’t see that happening in the next few weeks, it could be decades before these resurface.

Bob Wittman, formerly of the FBI’s art crime team talks to the Atlantic:

Here’s the story on selling stolen art. Paintings that are stolen like last night, those pieces that were taken out of the Kuhnsthal museum, are not going to get sold on any kind of market, whether it’s a black market or any kind of market. They’re going to get recovered. But what happens with pieces that are worth much less — let’s say the $10,000 and less market, pieces that aren’t well known — is a burglar goes into a home and steals a $5,000 painting. That can be sold in a flea market, that can be sold on what they call the secondary art market, because it’s not well known. And that’s the vast majority of art heists. It’s not these once a year museum thefts. It’s burglaries around the world. And that’s the major part of the art theft business and the collectibles business. Even the smaller works of art have no value if they have no provenance, authenticity, or legal title. But when you talk about pieces that are under that amount, people don’t do the due diligence. When people go in and pay $5 million for a Cézannes, they’re going to do the due diligence to make sure everything is right. If a piece is $300 at a flea market, it’s not done.

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

Stolen Degas Work Revealed as Stolen Before Auction

“Blanchisseuses souffrant des dents” by Edgar Degas, stolen in 1973

This work was recognized by a an individual from Le Havre France as a painting which had been stolen in 1973. The individual recognized the long-missing painting in Sotheby’s auction catalogue.  It was slated for sale today before the auction house withdrew it. The French Culture Ministry says that it will negotiate the return of the work, and that the seller “seems to be of good faith”. The case speaks to the difficulty with multiple stolen art databases. The painting is apparently on a museum data list in France, but it is unclear from the initial reports whether the work was reported to the Art Loss Register, the leading stolen art database.

  1. Stolen Degas painting resurfaces at Sotheby’s auction, AFP, November 3, 2010, http://ph.news.yahoo.com/afp/20101103/ten-france-us-art-painting-auction-degas-1dc2b55.html (last visited Nov 3, 2010).
  2. Stolen Degas painting discovered at New York auction, RFI, November 3, 2010, http://www.english.rfi.fr/americas/20101103-stolen-degas-painting-discovered-new-york-auction (last visited Nov 3, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

“He has no proof, and I have all the proof”

So says Joanne King Herring in the Houston Chronicle earlier this week when discussing her suit to regain this work by Sir Henry Raeburn.  Herring has an auction catalog receipt and a 1986 police report which was filed when the work disappeared from a framing shop. 

The work had been missing since, until Geoffrey Rice recently consigned the painting to Sotheby’s.  When he did, the painting raised flags with the Art Loss Register.   Rice claims to have purchased the painting from Hart Galleries in Houston, an auction house that is now shuttered because of misapplication of fiduciary property.  Rice has no paperwork for the work and claims to have stored the painting in his laundry room for years, and only recently decided to sell the work.  Probably not the best provenance.  I like Herring’s chances to regain the work.  As Herring says “I wouldn’t any more press a case if I didn’t have a bill of sale than fly to the moon.”

Rice has defended Herring’s suit on a statute of limitations defense.  However she has done everything a prudent victim should—contacting the police and reporting the theft to the Art Loss Register.  As a consequence the limitations period will probably not begin until she discovered the present possessor of the painting.  

  1. Douglas Britt, Artwork socialite reported stolen now caught in custody battle, Houston Chronicle, February 21, 2010.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Stolen Antiquities Recovered With the Help of the Art Loss Register

The Art Loss Register—though not a cure-all for what ails the antiquities trade—is an invaluable tool for the recovery of stolen objects so long as they have been documented and reported.  I have received a couple of press releases from the ALR highlighting recent recoveries of antiquities.  Though it cannot help aid the recovery of antiquities which have never been documented, it can help in the recovery of stolen antiquities which have been documented and reported missing, underscoring the need I think for museums and nations of origin to do a better job documenting and reporting the stores of objects which they currently have.  A couple recent seizures by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) highlight this.

Yesterday ICE announced a wall panel fresco which had been stolen in 1997 was recovered.  I found the history of the site interesting:

The panel, rectangular with a white background depicting a female minister, white wash on plaster with a modern wooden frame, was previously located at the excavation office in Pompeii and was reported stolen with five other fresco panels on June 26, 1997.

The investigation revealed that, between 1903 and 1904, the Italian government authorized a farmer, Giuseppe De Martino, to restore his farmhouse, which was located on an archeological site in Boscoreale, province of Naples. During the restoration, six important frescos, originating from Pompeii were found.

On July 12, 1957, the Government of Italy purchased the frescos. On June 26, 1997, after the completion of work to the excavation site, the Italian government observed that the six frescos were missing and subsequently reported the theft.

 This follows soon after the recovery of seven Egyptian antiquities which had been stolen from the Bijbels Museum in Amsterdam in 2007:

The investigation received significant help from the Art Loss Register (ALR) of New York, an organization that maintains a database of stolen works of art. The ALR discovered the artifacts at the Manhattan auction house, which turned the artifacts over to the Register and ICE agents.

One of the pieces recovered is a 7-inch-high depiction of a mummy with arms folded over the chest and hoes in each hand. It dates to between 1307 and 1070 B.C. The other recovered artifacts were an bronze figure of Imhotep, artchitect of the first pyramid, and one of Hapokrates, and an Egyptian painted Wood Osiris, all dating as far back as 712 B.C.

“The recovery of these artifacts sends a strong message to thieves that the market to sell stolen antiquities in the United States is freezing up.” said Peter J. Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. “ICE is committed to working closely with foreign governments and organizations like the ALR to recover priceless works of art and antiquities so they can be returned to their rightful owners.”

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