Picasso Work Seized in Corsica

"Head of a Young Woman" by Pablo Picasso was seized by French customs officials on the island of Corsica
“Head of a Young Woman” by Pablo Picasso was seized by French customs officials on the island of Corsica

French customs officials seized this work by Pablo Picasso from a yacht off the coast of Corsica. It was reportedly about to be flown to Switzerland on a private jet. Henry Samuel reported for the Telegraph that:

 

The work Picasso painted in 1906 and valued at “more than €25 million” is the property of Spanish billionaire Jaime Botin, the largest shareholder of Bankinter and whose great grandfather founded Spain’s largest bank, Santander. Mr Botin reportedly bought the painting in 1977 at the Marlborough Fine Art Fair in London for his personal collection.

He has a stake in the company that owns the yacht where the painting was found but “was not on board at the time”.

The seizure is the latest chapter in a three-year battle by the 79-year-old billionaire, Spain’s 15th richest man according to Forbes, to take the Picasso out of Spain and auction it off in London.

 

  1. Agence France-Presse, Authorities in France Seize Picasso Painting Banned from Leaving Spain, The Guardian, Aug. 4, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/aug/04/authorities-in-france-seize-picasso-painting-banned-from-leaving-spain.
  2. Henry Samuel, Picasso worth €25m seized from British-registered yacht off Corsica (8–4, 2015), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11782480/Picasso-worth-25m-seized-from-British-registered-yacht-off-Corsica.html.

Italian Court Confirms Seizure of "Getty Bronze"

The Getty received some very bad news Thursday.

Jason Felch reports on a ruling by an Italian regional magistrate in Pesaro upholding an earlier ruling to seize the bronze statue.

The ruling Thursday by a regional magistrate in Pesaro will likely prolong the legal battle over the statue, a signature piece of the Getty’s embattled antiquities collection whose return Italian authorities have sought for years. “This was the news we were waiting for,” said Gian Mario Spacca, president of the Marche region where the statue was hauled ashore in 1964, in an interview with Italian reporters. “Now we will resume contacts made with the Getty Museum to build a positive working relationship.” Spacca visited the Getty last year hoping to negotiate an agreement to share the statue. But the Getty has made clear it will fight in court to keep the piece and is expected to appeal the ruling to Italy’s highest court.

Using a domestic court to seek the seizure of an illegally exported object from another country has not been attempted before. But Italy has been at the forefront of repatriation strategies. This novel approach could lead to a new legal tool for nations of origin to pursue, if it can convince the Attorney General and a U.S. District Court to enforce this seizure order. The Getty appealed the earlier ruling, and they did so for a reason, this case could set a precedent which would open up museums to seizure suits in the nation of origin.

It should be interesting to watch this dispute continue. For background on this dispute, see here.

  1. Jason Felch, Italian court upholds claim on Getty bronze, L.A. Times, May 4, 2012, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-getty-bronze-ruling-20120504,0,2759444.story (last visited May 5, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Getty Secures Export License for "Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino"

JMW Turner “Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino”, soon on display at the Getty

This landscape by JMW Turner has been granted an export license from the UK Culture Ministry. The painting had been on display for the last thirty years at the National Galleries in Scotland, on loan from the Primrose family. For me, the work fit well in Edinburgh, echoing nicely that city’s neoclassical architecture. It was always one of my favorites, a reason to stop in to Scotland’s national gallery. Turner’s depictions of classical ruins and renaissance buildings echoed Edinburgh’s own neoclassical features. Now the work is on its way to Los Angeles.

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

The UK has a limited export restriction scheme, which temporarily halts the export of a work if it falls under one of the three Waverley Criteria:

  1. Is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?
  2. Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?
  3. Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?

If a work can fall under any one of these three categories, export will be temporarily restricted by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) so a UK buyer can raise enough money to keep the work in the UK. This work was purchased for $44.9 million at an auction in Sotheby’s last year. Will there be calls to amend the limited export regime as more works of art leave? In the past the UK had been more willing to continue to delay export, and even to offer more funding to help domestic buyers match foreign prices and ensure works of art remain in the. But austerity may be changing that. As Mike Boehm speculates

But “Modern Rome” is coming, perhaps a sign that at a time of austerity in Great Britain, a domestic arts economy that’s far more reliant on government funding than in the United States could not muster the wherewithal to take the painting away from the privately and lavishly endowed Getty. In 2004, according to a BBC report, the British government anted up more than half the money to match the Getty’s bid for “Madonna of the Pinks,” tapping a fund from lottery receipts that’s earmarked for cultural purposes.

  1. Mike Boehm, Getty Museum’s $44.9-million purchase of J.M.W. Turner masterpiece is final as sale clears U.K. export hurdle, LA Times Culture Monster, February 3, 2011, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/02/getty-jmw-turner-masterpiece.html (last visited Feb 4, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

These things are three-times cursed

That’s what Joseph Sisto said to his father with respect to the 3,500 objects in the elder Sisto’s Illinois home according to Rosalind Bentley in a piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday. 

These things are three-times cursed, Sisto, of Duluth, would tell his father, John. Cursed once because they were stolen, cursed twice because they were smuggled, and cursed thrice because concealing the cache in their home had robbed the family of its peace of mind.

And there are more details on how the objects came from Italy to the United States.  I think one curious thing to pick up on here, are all the crates of antiquities and other objects which were shipped from Italy.  Customs agents in both the United States and Italy were unable to detect these objects which were certainly illegally exported, and some were perhaps stolen.  I’m left wondering how many crates of objects are still being shipped which are undetected.  And I don’t think its a case of authorities not taking this problem seriously, or a lack of legal restrictions; rather I think there are limits to what we can reasonably expect of law enforcement and customs agents. 

Collectibles and old texts fascinated the elder Sisto. By the time Joseph was an adolescent, his father was taking him on regular trips to Italy to visit family. The trips were often more drudgery for Joseph than pleasure. Italian summers were interminably hot, and Joseph and his dad would spend hours looking for rare books and manuscripts in musty old castles and homes in the country. Often, his father would either leave with purchased packages or he’d wind up buying the entire contents of the place.

Months after the Italian visits, crates would arrive at the brick bungalow in Berwyn. Scores of crates, almost never just one or two. That’s when the real work began. Joseph, his younger brother and his father would spend every minute of their spare time unloading dirty, messy crates. Instead of playing softball outside with friends or just hanging out, Joseph and his brother had to stay inside and catalogue the contents. But instead of selling the items on the black market (which the FBI said had been part of an original plan), John Sisto kept almost everything.

He converted the second floor of the bungalow into a veritable archive. He had dozens of bookshelves installed. He filled the attic. Then he learned how to read and translate Latin to better appreciate what was in his trove. He quietly and cautiously sought out curators to learn how to properly preserve ancient documents, always taking his absolute worst and most insignificant piece for the consultation so as not to arouse suspicion, Sisto said.

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

Germany and the UNESCO Convention

David Gill speculates today that Germany may be a hub of the antiquities trade after recent reforms in Switzerland. That may be possible, or perhaps even likely, but he provides little empirical evidence, and merely some offers speculation. He does not consider for example the very useful EU restrictions on cultural objects which effectively prevent the trade in objects originating from EU member nations.

In the post he references an article by Andrew Curry ($), a journalist. Journalists do a lot of good reporting, and Curry may be a great one. Journalists who report on the law, particularly one as malleable as the UNESCO Convention often miss the mark however. Curry’s summary of the UNESCO Convention, and the arguments Gill makes are very misleading.

Curry’s piece states:

Whereas the United States and many of the other 112 signatories to the convention restrict or prohibit trade in broad categories of artifacts, the German law passed last Friday requires countries to publish lists of specific items they consider valuable to their cultural heritage. Only those items will be protected under German law, which means trade in undocumented artifacts, such as those looted from archaeological sites, will be difficult to restrict. “This is a bad signal,” says Michael Mueller-Karpe, an archaeologist at the Roman-German Central Museum in Mainz. “It tells the world that whatever isn’t published isn’t worth protecting.”

This is wrong on at least two accounts. First, both the United States and Switzerland do not prohibit broad categories of objects. They must be subject to ownership declarations. The real important issue here is the enforcement and recognition of foreign export restrictions. To recognize these both the US and Switzerland require individual nations to make a request and require bilateral agreements to implement the heightened restrictions. This is the province of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee in the United States.

Second, Germany requires nations to publish lists of specific items they consider valuable because this is what the Convention requires. Article 5 of the Convention states,

To ensure the protection of their cultural property against illicit import; export and transfer of ownership, the States Parties to this Convention undertake, as appropriate for each country, to set up within their territories one or more national services, where such services do not already exist, for the protection of the cultural heritage, with a qualified staff sufficient in number for the effective carrying out of the following functions:

(a) contributing to the formation of draft laws and regulations designed to secure the protection of the cultural heritage and particularly prevention of the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of important cultural property;

(b) establishing and keeping up to date, on the basis of a national inventory of protected property, a list of important public and private cultural property whose export would constitute an appreciable impoverishment of the national cultural heritage;

(c) promoting the development or the establishment of scientific and technical institutions (museums, libraries, archives, laboratories, workshops . . . ) required to ensure the preservation and presentation of cultural property;

(d) organizing the supervision of archaeological excavations, ensuring the preservation `in situation’ of certain cultural property, and protecting certain areas reserved for future archaeological research;

(e) establishing, for the benefit of those concerned (curators, collectors, antique dealers, etc.) rules in conformity with the ethical principles set forth in this Convention; and taking steps to ensure the observance of those rules;

(f) taking educational measures to stimulate and develop respect for the cultural heritage of all States, and spreading knowledge of the provisions of this Convention;

(g) seeing that appropriate publicity is given to the disappearance of any items of cultural property.

Note that article 5(b) requires a register and specific definition, the very thing Gill criticizes Germany for doing. This actually strikes me as a very good policy idea. Cultural heritage can mean lots of things to lots of people. I don’t see how its an onerous task for nations of origin at minimum to broadly define categories of objects which should be It should be noted that very few nations have successfully completed this task. This is one flaw, among many, of the UNESCO Convention.

The Convention is an important foundational document, but as a legal instrument leaves a great deal to be desired. Article 2, which can be read more broadly imposes vague requirements on States Party, but States are free to implement the Convention with a great deal of discretion.

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

Another Deaccessioning Decision in Duluth

Donn Zaretsky has an interesting overview, with lots of links, to an emerging problem for the National Galleries of Scotland, which may have to find £50 million in the next four months to purchase Titian’s Diana & Actaeon.

It may have to do the same within the next four years for another one.

He concludes by arguing:

[T]o oppose the deal between Fisk University and Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum on “anti-deaccessioning” grounds just means that you would prefer that Fisk suffer whatever consequences follow from its inability to consummate the proposed sale (elimination of various athletic programs, faculty layoffs, etc.) than that the works at issue be relocated (and, in that case, for only half the time, and probably to a venue which would allow even more people to see them).

The difference in Scotland and the UK is the process is somewhat more regulated. If a work is slated for export outside of the UK, important “Waverley” level works are temporarily delayed so funds can be raised. Perhaps a similar idea could work in the United States, though that idea is anathema to the ethos of many American cultural institutions which are often eager to acquire works to build collections.

Another example is the city of Duluth, Minnesota which is considering selling this window featuring Princess Minnehaha, which is installed in the railroad depot in the city. The city is considering selling the window to help make up a $6.5 million budget gap. This window could fetch between $1-3 million at auction.

The window was commissioned by the State of Minnesota and was used in an 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A Duluth civic group bought the Tiffany window soon after the exhibition. City officials have tried to justify the sale, arguing it doesn’t have a strong Duluth connection, and that the city isn’t a museum. That may be true, but a window which has been in the city for well over a century must have begun to develop a kind of attachment to the city. I wonder what differences there might be between the city of Dulth’s potential decision to sell the window, and the Univeristy of Iowa’s potential decision to sell its Pollock.

I’d recommend to Duluth, that if it is considering selling the window, it give civic groups and interested parties an opportunity to raise funds to keep the window in Duluth (as the Waverley criteria accomplish in the UK), or try to work out a sharing agreement to allow the window to be viewed by its citizens. If so, then it seems like a good idea to allow the city to continue its day-to-day operations in exchange for auctioning off the window.

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

South American Antiquities Seized in Europe


There have been two major seizures of South American pre-Columbian antiquities in recent days.

On Tuesday, Spanish police announced they had seized more than 700 objects (pictured here), which included gold objects, masks, vessels, pendants, and maces. The objects may have been taken from Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. The objects were in the possession of a Spanish man and his Columbian wife, who it seems has been selling them mainly in France for many years, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry.

This follows on the major unrelated recovery in Germany of over 1,000 objects, including masks, necklaces and statues which may be worth as much as $100 million USD. This collection had been exhibited in 1997 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and were taken out of Spain in violation of Spain’s export restrictions. This group of objects may be more difficult to ascertain ownership, as Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador all may have claim to them. This may be the classic case of an orphaned object, stripped of its provenience (the place where it was unearthed).

It’s worth noting perhaps that this German seizure was made possible because of the EU regulations, which require one Member State enforce the export restrictions of other member states. In this way, objects have to pass multiple checks ideally before they can be sold. However this collection of objects has been missing for 11 years, since 1997.

These massive seizures seem to occur with more regularity now than they have in the past, which is certainly a good thing. We may perhaps speculate about how many objects escape regulation.

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

UK Enforces Italy’s Export Restrictions


European Council Directive 93/7/EEC creates a regime for the return of cultural property within the Community for cultural objects belonging to the national artistic, historical, or archaeological heritage which has been illegally exported from a member state.

Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper has an example of this in practice. Two works by Francesco Guardi have been seized by Scotland yard in London. The paintings, The Departure of the Bucintoro to San Nicolo on the Lido and The Return of the Bucintoro to the Palaxxo Ducale (picture here) were owned by Lord Shuttleworth, and were later bought by an Italian, Mario Crespi in 1952. The paintings were purchased three years ago by an Italian art dealer, but it appears an export licence was made in Milan but the works were perhaps intentionally misattributed to an “anonymous artist” thereby allowing for their export. When a UK art dealer sought to re-export the works from the UK, he correctly labeled the works. The works may be worth “€6m ($9.4m) in Italy, but over £10m ($20m)” elsewhere.

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

More on Dr. Julius No


A warm welcome to everyone who’s clicked through from Randy Kennedy’s excellent piece which appeared in yesterday’s New York Times. He managed to add some analysis and even novelty to a subject which often gets the same treatment whenever a high-profile art theft takes place.

I think he contrasts nicely the idea of an alluring art thief with the reality that “art is an exceedingly dumb thing to steal.” That certainly seems to be the conventional wisdom. But of course because “art museums are still relatively unguarded public spaces”, these thieves will continue to have the opportunity to take objects. The ultimate tragedy would be if we had to run a gauntlet of airport-like security checks to view works of art. However if these thefts continue, that may be a step certain institutions may decide to take. I particularly like the comments he elicited from Thomas McShane, the former FBI agent whose memoirs I reviewed here.

The reason myself and others like to speculate about a “Dr. No” when an extremely valuable and well-known work is stolen can be traced to the very first bond film. Dr. No was of course the unwanted son of a German missionary and a Chinese girl, and a member of the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE). The film makers, in a throw away moment, capitalized on the theft in 1961 of of this work by Goya, Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Bond does a double-take when he reaches the island home of Dr. Julius No. He sees the painting and remarks “So that’s where that went”.

Hugh McLeave’s Rogues in the Gallery details the perhaps more bizarre reality. The real thief may have been a man named Kempton Bunton. He was a disabled British pensioner who confessed to committing the crime. Bunton was a retired bus driver. In 1961, Charles Wrightsman purchased the painting for £140,000. He wanted to take the work to the United States, but of course the UK’s limited export restriction applied, and money was raised to purchase the work and it was displayed at the National Gallery. At this time a great deal of press attention was paid to the work, and Bunton, upset at the amount of money he had to pay for his TV license, may have decided to break into the museum early in the morning and steal the work.

After chatting up the security guards, Bunton allegedly learned the electronic security system would be turned off early in the morning. He used tape and paper to insure the door and a window in the toilet would be unlocked, and made his way around back early in the morning and took the painting. He later said “I raced back to the lodgings. Taking the picture from behind the wardrobe, I stood it on the bed with the frame leaning against the wall and looked at it in triumph. Wellington returned my stare with cold contempt and I swear I saw his lips move, with the imaginary voice that said: ‘thou low-born wretch, I’ll break thee for this.’ And somehow I believed he would.”

Bunton seemed to be after some notoriety and fame. Letters were soon sent to newspapers, one asked for donations to charity to allow the poor to pay for TV licenses.

In 1965, four years after the theft, Burton reportedly returned the painting via a left luggage office at the Birmingham New Street Station. Soon after he went to the police and confessed to the crime. The police initially rejected him as a suspect, as they didn’t think a pudgy 61 year-old disabled man could have committed the crime. However charges were soon filed and the jury only convicted Bunton of the theft of the frame, which was not returned. Judge Aarvold explained to the jury that if they thought he meant to return the painting if a ransom bid failed, they must acquit him. If they felt he would keep it until he got the money, they would have to convict. The jury found Bunton not guilty of stealing the painting, but guilty of stealing the gilt frame, which was never returned. Bunton served only three months in prison.

The law was changed soon after as a direct result of this light sentence. A provision in the Theft Act 1968, sec. 11 makes it a crime to remove without authority any object displayed or kept for display to the public in a building to which the public have access. It does not require an intention to permanently deprive.

As for Bunton, there are some indications that he may have perhaps been innocent. In 1996 the National Gallery released an unsolicited and simple statement that he may have been innocent. What actually happened is still subject to some speculation.

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

Measuring the Size of the Illicit Antiquities Trade

There is more and more good empirical work being done to measure the size of the illicit trade in antiquities. The latest is a super paper by Raymond Fishman and Shang-Jin Wei, both of Columbia University (some users may need to pay to download if they don’t have an .edu or .gov ip).

They came up with a great idea to measure illicit antiquities entering the United States. They capitalize on the odd way the trade works. An object may be illegally exported from a source nation, but be imported and sold in a perfectly legal manner in the United States. The historic justification for this is the idea that nations will not enforce the public laws of another nation. However this policy has disastrous consequences for the antiquities trade. By focusing on this paperwork gap, they can estimate the nations with the biggest loss of antiquities. The biggest reporting gaps are in Syria, Iran, Egypt, Greece, Vietnam and Russia. As one would expect Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Hong Kong have low reporting gaps. Both Canada and Britain of course have limited export restrictions.

Here’s the abstract:

We empirically analyze the illicit trade in cultural property and antiques, taking advantage of different reporting incentives between source and destination countries. We thus generate a measure of illicit trafficking in these goods based on the difference between imports recorded in United States’ customs data and the (purportedly identical) trade as recorded by customs authorities in exporting countries. We find that this reporting gap is highly correlated with the corruption level of the exporting country as measured by commonly used survey-based indicies, and that this correlation is stronger for artifact-rich countries. As a placebo test, we do not observe any such pattern for U.S. imports of toys from these same exporters. We report similar results for four other Western country markets. Our analysis provides a useful framework for studying trade in illicit goods. Further, our results provide empirical confirmation that survey-based corruption indicies are informative, as they are correlated with an objective measure of illicit activity.

(Hat tip: Jay Hancock)

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