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/.

Olympia Antiquities Recovered

Recovered objects stolen from a museum in Olympia, Greece in February (24 Nov)
Some of the recovered objects from Olympia

In February of this year armed men stole 80 small objects from a museum in Olympia dedicated to the Olympic games. They were armed, were able to overcome a lone security guard, and smashed the display cabinets and stole close to 80 small objects. At the time there was speculation by the Mayor of Olympia and others that Greek austerity measures had led to diminished security, making the theft easier to execute. After an undercover operation with an officer posing as a buyer, all of the objects have been recovered, most of them buried in a field only 3 km from the museum.

Given such a high-profile theft, in an olympic year, it is safe to assume that Greek authorities made recovering these stolen objects a high priority. A task which at the time was seemingly more difficult as there was speculation that these small, portable objects would have been easily shipped abroad or smuggled across the Adriatic to organized criminal networks in the Balkans. But it seems the objects did not make it far away from Olympia.

On Sunday authorities in Greece announced three Greek men were arrested in the city of Patra after an undercover officer posing as a potential buyer was offered one of the highlights of the theft, a Bronze Age gold ring. The remaining objects were found in a field near Olympia, where they had been buried inside a sack. So congratulations are in order for Greek law enforcement. And given the context of the theft, it is noteworthy that the Greek Public Order MInister Nikos Dendias told reporters on Sunday that “Despite the difficult economic situation we are not being lax on security issues, especially over our cultural heritage.”

 Here is some video of the press conference and the recovered objects from Al Jazeera:

 

  1. Greek police recover stolen Olympia artefacts, , http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2012/11/2012112582211277291.html (last visited Nov 26, 2012).
  2. Greek police recover stolen Olympia artefacts, arrest three, Reuters, November 24, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/24/us-greece-olympia-idUSBRE8AN08H20121124 (last visited Nov 26, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Art theft with pistols, a long drive and a cemetary

                                     This photo released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, shows the four paintings stolen from a museum in its capital hundreds of miles away in a cemetery under a park bench in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Brig. Marinda Mills of the SAPS told The Associated Press on Tuesday that officers found the paintings in Port Elizabeth, about 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) from Pretoria where they were stolen. (AP Photo/South African Police Service)
Four recovered works from this photo released
by the South African Police Service

Four works of art stolen from a museum in Pretoria South Africa appear to have been discarded hundreds of miles away near the coast in Port Elizabeth. On Sunday the thieves paid for their admission to the art museum and asked the curator to show them around the museum. Then, presumably after seeing what they liked they pulled out their pistols and stole five works of art. Today it seems four of the works have been recovered in a private cemetery 700 miles away. There must be an interesting story here, perhaps more details will emerge and that fifth painting will hopefully be recovered soon.

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

Flea market Renoir really was a steal

Paysage Bords de Seine, Renoir

Every time I hear the story of a flea market sale where some lucky buyer with a good eye purchased a work by a well-known artist, I always think that chances are good that work was stolen at some point. How does a Renoir make it to a flea market, really. And that’s the story of this Renoir purchased at a flea market in West Virginia for $7. It was scheduled for auction this week, but now it looks likely to have been stolen some time before 1951 from the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The painting has not it seems been reported to art loss databases. The Washington Post notes that its own reporters conducted research and found the painting was missing from the Baltimore Museum of Art:

Museum officials then searched their archives, where they found paperwork showing that the Impressionist work, “Paysage Bords de Seine,” or “Landscape on the Banks of the Seine,” was pilfered from their building nearly 61 years ago. The museum had the painting on loan from one of its famous benefactors, Saidie A. May, a Baltimore native who died in May 1951. Museum records show that the Renoir was stolen on Nov. 17, 1951, just as May’s art collection was being bequeathed to the museum for permanent ownership. The revelations put on hold Saturday’s much-ballyhooed auction of the Renoir at the Potomack Company in Alexandria. Elizabeth Wainstein, Potomack’s president, said the Virginia woman who made the flea market find was disappointed. But she immediately agreed to halt the sale until the FBI determines the rightful ownership of the painting, which the auction house estimated is worth $75,000 to $100,000. It will remain at the auction house until then, Wainstein said.

The case reveals the importance of reporting a theft, even decades into the future. There is no word on whether the doll and plastic cow the anonymous flea market art buyer also bought with the this $7 painting are stolen as well. But the buyer should get credit for reportedly cooperating fully with the FBI.

  1. Ian Shapira, Flea market Renoir was allegedly stolen from Baltimore Museum of Art, auction canceled, The Washington Post, September 27, 2012.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Cezanne Recovered in Serbia

Boy in the Red Vest, Cezanne

There are reports today that one of the works stolen from the Emil Buehrle Collection in Zurich has been recovered in Serbia. ARCA’s blog has a good rundown of the current press reports. The work was stolen in 2008 along with 3 others.

The BBC report notes:

Authorities have not named the painting, but local media have reported it is The Boy in the Red Vest, which was taken from Zurich’s Emil Buehrle Collection. Police said three people had been arrested in connection with the theft. It added an art expert was being flown in to confirm the authenticity of the 1888 painting, worth $109m (£68.3m).

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

Connecting Art and Drug Crime

LS Lowry’s The Viaduct, stolen in 2007

We can make at least one more connection between the drug trade and art theft. A number of stolen artworks have been recovered near Manchester. The investigation was primarily aimed at the sale of illegal narcotics, the paintings were ancillary to that investigation. The theft of the paintings in 2007 was a troubling example of a violent art theft:

A man posing as a postman knocked on the Aird family’s door in Cheadle Hulme. When Louise Aird, who was carrying the couple’s two-year-old daughter Sabrina in her arms, opened the door, she was confronted by Miller brandishing a 10-inch knife. Three other men followed him into the house. “They tied me up with a cable and had a knife in my back,” Aird, 46, said. “They said they would slit my throat. Then they said they would kill the baby if we moved, that’s what they kept saying. They took everything out of the bottom half of the house.”

The four men stole 14 pieces of art. In 2009 one of the thieves was jailed, while three remain at large. The two arrests in connection with this drug raid do not appear to have a connection to the theft itself. Rather the arrested men acquired the paintings through the black market. Though these works are well known and could not have been sold on the open market, these paintings do have value on the black market as leverage. The connections between other criminal activity and art theft are often discussed, but seldom shown in such sharp contrast as we see in this case. Interesting that the defendants thought the police were investigating them for the art, when it was a drug investigation instead that led to the recovery.
  1. Victim of LS Lowry paintings robbery relieved after thieves jailed, the Guardian, March 22, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/mar/22/ls-lowry-paintings-robbery (last visited Mar 22, 2012).
  2. LS Lowry Masterpieces Found In Anti-Drugs Raid In Liverpool, The Huffington Post,  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/21/ls-lowry-masterpieces-worth-17m-found-liverpool-anti-drugs-raid_n_1370727.html (last visited Mar 22, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Stolen Magritte Returned

Olympia by Rene Magritte, has been returned

In 2009 two armed thieves stormed the former home of Rene Magritte outside of Brussels. They held the three curators and two tourists at gunpoint while they stole the work.  Given the events yesterday at the Athens Museum, it is perhaps reminding ourselves why art thieves decide to steal. At the time I ran through some possible motives of stealing a work of art:

The first, is that a collector admires the piece, and hired a thief to take it for him. We can call this the Dr. No situation. This seems the least likely possibility, but the one that strikes a chord with the imagination. Writers in this subject frequently cite the Dr. No as being responsible for thefts, and I admit it makes for good Bond villains, but there has been no convincing evidence that thsi is why people are stealing rare objects. Another similar possibility  . . .  is that an unscrupulous dealer may have a similar piece for sale, and if he can establish some excitement around these kinds of pieces, the price for his similar work may go up. 

Second, the thief may not have known that the object was so rare as to make its subsequent sale difficult.

Third, the thief may simply be trying to kidnap the object. They could then [ensure] its safe return for a generous reward, or negotiate its return.

Finally, perhaps the market is doing such a poor job of regulating what is and is not legitimate, that it may not be all that difficult to sell this piece after all. This strikes me as the most troubling possibility, but also not very likely.

We can also add a fifth possibility, that organized criminals use these works as collateral in a kind of shadow version of the stock market.

In this case it seems the second possibility was exactly right, as now the work has been returned because the thieves were unable to find a buyer. In a report the Curator of the Magritte museum, Andre Garitte said the painting was returned after the thieves “understood they wouldn’t be able to sell it because it was too well-known,” he said. “It became an embarassment and they preferred to get rid of it. Luckily they didn’t destroy it.”

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