Supermarket clerk or principessa? Leonardo or Greenhalgh?

"Profile of a Young Fiancee"  Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Profile_of_a_Young_Fiancee_-_da_Vinci.jpg#/media/File:Profile_of_a_Young_Fiancee_-_da_Vinci.jpg
“La Bella Principessa”

Scott Reyburn aptly summarizes the range of possibilities with respect to the controversial work of art known as “La Bella Principessa” in his report for the New York Times:

By various accounts, then, it would seem that “La Bella Principessa” is either a real Leonardo worth tens of millions; a 19th-century Italian Renaissance style drawing worth tens of thousands; or a modern fake worth hardly anything at all.

The Sunday Times has published a report that claims Shaun Greenhalgh, a prolific art forger who has fooled the Art Institute Chicago, the British Museum, and countless others may be the creator of this work. He claims he created the work in the 1970s, depicting a “bossy” supermarket clerk named Alison.

Doubts should now increase as to whether this is an authentic Leonardo da Vinci. It was purchased by a Canadian, Peter Silverman, who has been trying to demonstrate the authenticity of the work. It seems the work was made on vellum, but may have been done on the wrong side. The art critic Waldemar Januszczak, part of a consortium publishing a limited run of Greenhalgh’s memoirs, writes in the Sunday Times that Greenhalgh “bought an old land deed that had been written on vellum, and finding the ‘good’ side to be too ink stained to use turned it over and drew on the rough side instead, as Leonardo would never have done”.

For now Silverman will keep the work of art at the Geneva freeport. In an attempt to burnish the reputation of the work, he claims he will offer 10,000 pounds to Greenhalgh if he could reproduce the work on vellum, and criticized Januszczak as “shameless”.

  1. Scott Reyburn, An Art World Mystery Worthy of Leonardo, The New York Times, Dec. 4, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/07/arts/international/an-art-world-mystery-worthy-of-leonardo.html.
  2. Josh Boswell and Tim Rayment, “It”s not a da Vinci, it’s Sally from the Co-op’, The Sunday Times, Nov. 29, 2015, http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Arts/article1639169.ece .

“New” Leonardo da Vinci seized in Switzerland

A portrait of Isabella d'Este, seized from a bank vault in Lugano
A portrait of Isabella d’Este, seized from a bank vault in Lugano

A joint Swiss and Italian investigation has resulted in a seizure of this portrait, which may be a work by Leonardo da Vinci. Whether the work is, in fact, a recently surfaced work by the Renaissance master is very much in doubt. Some have tried to attribute the work to him the Telegraph reports:

Carbon dating has shown that there is a 95 per cent probability that the portrait was painted between 1460 and 1650, and tests have shown that the primer used to treat the canvas corresponds to that employed by the Renaissance genius.

Carlo Pedretti, a professor emeritus of art history and an expert in Leonardo studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the tests showed there were “no doubts” that the portrait was the work of Leonardo.

However Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Trinity College, Oxford, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the artist, has expressed doubts about whether the painting, which measures 24in by 18in, is the work of Leonardo.

Continue reading ““New” Leonardo da Vinci seized in Switzerland”

An Art Theft Anniversary

100 years ago Vincenzo Peruggia stole this painting:

The Mona Lisa

And 50 years ago Kempton Bunton stole this painting:

Goya’s The Duke of Wellington

Noah Charney discusses both in an Op-Ed for the LA Times:

These two famous art thefts, the date of the latter chosen by the colorful Bunton for the theatricality of falling on the anniversary of the former, helped to mold the public perception of art theft as a crime of oddball characters who did not really harm anyone. It is true that some of the many famous art thefts of the period preceding World War II were of this ilk, involving quirky nonviolent thieves with gentlemanly aspirations.

To read more about the Mona Lisa thefts, you can read Noah Charney’s long essay, The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting, available from Amazon. All of the proceeds support ARCA. You can also read my short forward to the book, where I argue that perhaps we’d all be better off had the work stayed stolen.

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

New Leonardo . . . does anybody care about the art?

A portrait of a young womanA labratory in paris has discovered a fingerprint on this work which is “highly comparable” to one on a Leonardo da Vinci work in the Vatican.  That means this work which was purchased for $19,000 may be worth tens of millions now.  It seems there are also stylistic similarities, and this work was performed by a left-handed artist (as Leonardo was).

It is an interesting story, but again I’m reminded of the lament by Jonathan Jones that art history has become pseudoscience.  Why should we care how much this work could fetch at an auction, what about the art?  Is it a nice picture, or just a windfall investment?

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

Court Appearance for Da Vinci Thieves


The five men accused of trying to launder da Vinci’s Madonna with the Yarnwinder have appeared in High Court in Glasgow. From the Telegraph:

The men are accused of contacting a loss adjuster, whom they believed to be acting for the insurers of the painting, and stating that they could return the artwork within 72 hours. It is alleged they said the masterpiece would not be returned unless £2m was deposited in an account at Marshall Solicitors, formerly known as Marshall Gilby Solicitors, and a further £2.25m placed in a Swiss bank account.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

More Bad News for da Vinci defendant

A solicitor accused of helping to try and launder Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder is in the news again. Marshall Ronald is also being investigated into possible theft from clients’ accounts — a very serious crime given the vast sums of money lawyers typically handle for their clients. Via the Liverpool Echo:

A SOLICITOR accused of taking part in a £40m Leonardo Da Vinci painting robbery is being investigated for allegedly stealing from clients’ accounts.

Officials from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) visited the business address of Marshall Ronald, 51, in Skelmersdale, last week.

They shut down his company and removed documents and money relating to his former practice.

It’s probably not too surprising that a lawyer willing to violate the law in one instance — trying to launder a priceless painting — would also be inclined to perhaps mismanage client funds. Its another indication though that art crime is seldom isolated. It often has other corrolaries, whether its organized crime, violent crime, or in this case, white-collar crime.

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

Tokyo Loves da Vinci

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the protests surrounding the loan of Leonardo da Vinci’s the Annunciation to the Tokyo National Museum for three months. The loan generated massive protests in Italy. Italian Senator Peolo Amato even chained himself to the entrance to the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

The loan went forward, and in this week’s annual gallery attendance rundown in the Art Newspaper, the work attracted over 10,000 visitors per day, the highest daily average for any exhibition since the Art Newspaper began compiling such statistics in 1997. The full table is here.

The attendance is impressive, and it’s worth noting that though there may be small risks associated with transporting a work like this, perhaps the trade-off is worth it to earn revenue, but more importantly perhaps, to allow Japanese to experience an important Italian work of art.

There are indications though that the work is not entirely a work of da Vinci, but he may have finished a work by Domenico Ghirlandaio, a fellow apprentice in the same workshop as Leonardo. As such, in 1869, soon after the work came to the Uffizi from a monastery in Monteoliveto, it was recognized as perhaps an early work by da Vinci, who probably inserted the angel on the left of the work. A detail of the angel is pictured above.

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

Catching Up

Apologies for the light posting the last couple of weeks. I’ve returned from the US and the AALS hiring conference. It seemed to go well, and I was pleased with the response I got from the handful of interviews I had. I am cautiously optimistic about my chances of further interest from the schools I spoke with, but I’m also glad to be back here so I can concentrate on finishing up my thesis.

Enough about me, there was a lot of exciting news while I was away, including:

  • This Morning’s news that a private investigator has been charged in the theft and recovery of da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder. That brings the total to five now.
  • Iran’s Cultural Heritage News Agency reports on last Thursday’s auction of the Achaeminid limestone relief from the city of Persepolis, in present-day Iran. It’s a slanted view of the dispute, which ignores Iran’s difficult legal footing. But the unpleasant outcome is the acquisition by an anonymous buyer for $1.2 million USD.
  • Three paintings worth an estimated $100,000 were stolen from a San Antonio gallery on Sunday.
  • Germany has finally returned 100 objects to Greece, many of which date back 8,000 years. The objects were stolen in 1985, and recovered in a raid last year. They were seemingly forgotten until a German court ruled in August that they should be returned.
  • A number of news outlets have coverage of the antiquities playing cards now issued to US soldiers in the middle east, urging them to take care of the archaeological heritage there.
  • And most importantly, Princeton has reached a repatriation agreement with Italy. The deal is similar to those reached with the Getty, the Met, and the MFA Boston.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"A Silly Thing to Steal"


So said my cab driver on the way down to the BBC’s Aberdeen studios bright and early this morning to talk about the recovery of the Da Vinci yesterday. A stream of the interview is available here.

I’m not sure I was able to offer much more insight. Details on this recovery are still sketchy. The FBI estimates the size of the illicit trade in art and antiquities at $6 billion, which is quite a sum. A better estimate may be the idea put forth by Simon Houpt in the excellent Museum of the Missing that if we were able to collect all the stolen works in one single museum, it would be the world’s greatest by a good measure.

Why then was the work stolen? This question will surely be answered in the coming months, but there are three reasons usually given. First it may have been a theft to order. This seems the least likely. If you have a masterpiece you want to show it off and put it on display. Second, the thieves may have been unaware how hard this kind of work might have been to sell. Finally, and most likely I think is the thieves may have wanted to ransom the work back to the Duke of Buccleuch or to the insurance company. This is just idle speculation, but I wonder if the passing of the Duke last month may have encouraged the thieves to think they could dispose of the work.

In any event this is a fantastic recovery. Police recovered the work yesterday from the law offices of HBJ Gateley Wareing; and arrested a partner in the firm and three other men. At this point there are far more questions than answers. An interesting issue may be whether the lawyer committed any wrongdoing, or if he in fact alerted the authorities to the location of the work. I’ll confess to a total ignorance of the professional rules of conduct for lawyers in Scotland, but I would venture a guess that assisting a client in committing a crime is frowned upon. Various news reports have speculated that the lawyer may have been assisting in repatriation, or looking at how to draft a contract under Scots law to allow the return of the painting.

There are other initial questions I have. For starters has the work been damaged? Will the work return to Drumlanrig Castle? What is the insurance agreement regarding the work? If an insurance policy has been paid out, the insurer now may have title to the work, but the Duke’s estate may be able to trade the money paid for the work, depending on the agreement.

The four men will appear at Dumfries Sheriff Court this morning, so more details should be forthcoming this afternoon.

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

Da Vinci Recovered

After four years this work has been recovered. Madonna of the Yarnwinder, a masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci was stolen four years ago from Drumlanrig Castle. It was a daring theft, and was listed on the FBI’s top 10 Art Crimes. The BBC has the details of today’s recovery here.

Three men were arrested today in Glasgow, apparently after they attempted to sell the work. This was a major theft, and a great recovery. I’ll have a lot more to say on this tomorrow. If everything goes as planned I should have an interview on the Good Morning Scotland program tomorrow morning, and I’ll post a link here when one becomes available.

In the meantime congratulations should go to the law enforcement services who recovered the work, led by the “Dumfries and Galloway Police and involved the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and Strathclyde Police.” Odds are that a work like this only has a 20% chance of recovery within 30 years.

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