Spoliation Advisory Panel

The Spoliation Advisory Panel has issued a decision on a claim for three works by Rubens, St. Gregory the Great with Ss. Maurus and Papianus and St. Domitilla with Ss. Nereus and Achilleus 1606–1607; The Conversion of St. Paul, c.1610–1612 (pictured here); and
The Bounty of James I Triumphing Over Avarice, for the ceiling in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, c.1632–1633. The panel’s full report on the case is here.

The panel is an alternative to legal action, which rules on both the legal claims but also the broader ethical questions implicated in these disputes. The panel issued its ruling Wednesday that art collector Franz Koenigs lost these works due to “business/economic reasons” and not to the Nazis. A translation of the Dutch Wikipedia page on Koenigs is here. Christine Koenigs, the granddaughter of the collector sought the three Rubens from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. The panel ruled these three works had been used as collateral to a bank in Hamburg. The bank then moved to the Netherlands, and in 1940 it liquidated its assets before the Nazi invasion, thereby calling in Koenigs’ loan.

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

Export Problems

Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper has an excellent story on the apparent export-bungling by Christie’s and UK authorities of this
£3m Rubens masterpiece. The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta was granted a temporary export permit for 5 days to allow it to be displayed in New York. The work sold in London on December 2005 for £3,144,000 to an anonymous New York buyer. It was then re-exported after the sale.

In a statement to the Art Newspaper Christie’s said:

Our policy is to adhere strictly to all applicable laws and standard processes for the international transport of works of art. In the exceptional case of The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, a human error led to the accidental shipping of the picture to a client without completion of the appropriate export licensing process. Christie’s regrets the error and are co-operating fully on this matter with all relevant authorities to rectify this situation.

Some error. One would think a work of this magnitude would be double checked. Christie’s is subject to criminal penalties, and the New York buyer must be upset as well. Incredibly the Export Reviewing Committee flew to New York to examine the work and has deemed it of Waverley quality. A fundraising effort may now begin.

It’s uncertain whether the funds can be raised (as there are other works which need to be matched) or even if the New York buyer would consider selling the work. If she does not, the work will have certainly lost value, and I’d anticipate Christie’s would be subject to a civil suit brought by the buyer. Though the work cannot be recovered because the US does not enforce the UK export restrictions, it will not be able to be sold or even travel to Europe in all likelihood. Both Christie’s and HMS Customs have come out looking

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

Trouble Ahead for UK Museum Funding

Back in July, Martin Bailey wrote in the Art Newspaper that the National Gallery is “facing its most serious acquisition crisis for over 100 years, with the threat of losing pictures on loan worth around £200m.” Why the cause for alarm? A number of works currently on loan at the National Gallery will be going up for sale, and public funds are scarce. The works on the market include:

  • Rubens’ Apotheosis of King James I, a sketch for the Banqueting House in Whitehall just down the street from Trafalgar Square. It was created by Rubens around 1629-30 in preparation for Indigo Jones’ new building. It has been on display since 1981, and is owned by Viscount Hampden’s family trust.
  • Five works by Poussin, known as The Sacraments; pictured here is one of the five, The Eucharist. Originally there were seven paintings. One was lost to fire in the 19th century, while the other is on display in the National Gallery in Washington D.C. The remaining five belong to the Duke of Rutland.
  • Also, Titian’s Portrait of a Young Man is up for sale as well. The National Gellery offered “the after-tax equivalent of £55m” for the work two years ago, but Lord Halifax rejected the offer.

The sale of these important works is going to put pressure on the funding arrangement, which has been substantially cut in recent months to prepare for the London Olympics. The Heritage Lottery Fund set has previously set aside £80m for arts projects. This year that number was reduced to £40m, but in the next two years the number will be decreased to £20m. As Giles Waterfield’s editorial in the Art Newspaper makes clear,

When the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was set up in 1994, the trustees’ prime priority was to update Britain’s museums. This certainly needed doing: since repairs made after World War II, remarkably little had been spent on the fabric of museums, or on new construction. Compared to France, Germany or the United States, the number and quality of new museum buildings were laughable.

This will all change to free up funds for the London Olympic bid. As Charlotte Higgins wrote in the Guardian recently “The lottery fund was due to lose an initial £143m to the Olympics, but in March a further £90m was taken”.

I’m not an art historian, and I don’t feel qualified to comment on whether these works warrant these sums, or if all of them are integral to the cultural heritage of the UK. It is a pity that arts funding has been sacrificed for the Olympic bid to this extent. The decision to sell these works will also continue to put pressure on the funding system, especially given the tremendous upswing in the art market. The UK export restrictions are a model, and one which cuts a great compromise between retention of art and an open market. Those works which rise to the Waverley Criteria are delayed export until domestic funding can be secured. That system though depends on the availability of funds. If arts funding is decreased in this manner, such efforts will become more difficult.

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