Turkey Imposes Cultural Embargo on Museums with Contested Objects

The Art Newspaper reports that Turkey has refused to lend objects to museums in the US and UK until issues over disputed objects are resolved.

    The British Museum had asked for 35 items for the exhibition “Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam” (until 15 April). Although Turkish museums were agreeable to the loans, the ministry of culture blocked them, leaving the British Museum to find alternative artefacts at short notice. As part of the growing Turkish campaign, loans have been blocked to museums with disputed objects in their collections. The Met has confirmed that a dozen antiquities are now being claimed by Turkey, but would not identify the individual items. A museum spokeswoman says: “The matter is under discussion with the Turkish authorities.” This month, the Met is due to open “Byzantium and Islam” (14 March-8 July). Many loans are coming from the Benaki Museum in Athens, with none requested of Turkish museums.

  1. Martin Bailey, Turkey blocks loans to US and UK, The Art Newspaper, March 1, 2012, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Turkey-blocks-loans-to-US-and-UK/25869 (last visited Mar 1, 2012).
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Vernon Rapley Leaves the Metropolitan Police for the V&A

According to a report by the Art Newspaper, the V&A museum has hired Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley away from Scotland Yard’s art and antiques.  The V&A is a massive museum, which has been difficult to safely secure in the past.  Here’s to hoping he can continue to improve the V&A’s security.  From the Art Newspaper:

He joins the museum on 21 June, to take charge of security and visitor services. Before turning to art, Rapley investigated murder, paedophilia and child abuse at the Metropolitan Police. He really got to know the V&A in 2004, when there was a spate of thefts at major London museums. The V&A was hit three times, and 38 rooms had to be shut, many for years, while security was upgraded. Supported by the V&A, the Yard set up the London Museum Security Group. Rapley even took a turn as guest curator earlier this year, when he organised a Scotland Yard-curated display at the museum on fakes and forgeries, which spotlighted the case of the Greenhalgh family from Bolton, who created objects ranging from Egyptian antiquities to modern paintings.

  1. V&A gets its own personal detective | The Art Newspaper, (2010), http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/V&A-gets-its-own-personal-detective/21044 (last visited Jun 9, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Largest British Art Theft Comes to Light

When exhibits were returned to the V&A after the war, John Nevin was able to sneak some outEarlier this month, Cahal Milmo had an excellent article in the Independent on the story of John Nevin, an employee at the Victoria & Albert Museum between 1944 and 1953 who stole over 2,000 objects, some of which are still missing.  That makes this the largest art theft ever from a British museum in terms of the scale of objects taken.  This is an old theft, but many thefts which take place aren’t done by armed gunmen or in a dramatic fashion, but rather in a mundane way by museum staff. 

Documents held at the National Archives in Kew, west London, reveal that Nevin was able to slowly remove his haul from the storage areas of the museum – smuggling out items such as a small table, which he dismantled and secreted bit-by-bit in his trouser leg – after he was granted unique access to showcases in the aftermath of the Second World War.
By the time police caught up with the kleptomaniac museum worker, who was 48 when he began his crime spree, Nevin had amassed a vast array of precious objects, including 20 Japanese silver sword guards, 229 illustrations torn from books, 18 pieces of Albanian embroidery, 132 original drawings and watercolours and a 300-year-old Flemish tapestry.
Nevin profited from the opportunity presented when elements of the V&A’s collection were returned to its building in Kensington after the war, when they had been in storage.
Senior managers at the museum were shocked when the string of thefts was discovered late in 1953, the documents make clear. In his statement to police, Peter Floud, Nevin’s boss and head of the Circulation Department, the part of the museum responsible for external loans, said: “His duties involved moving, handling, sorting and checking museum objects. As a result of the war years, when stocks were being moved into shelters and then back to the museum, a great deal of sorting was necessary.

Museums and institutions have learned many of these lessons, that their own employees can sometimes betray them.  This of course highlights the importance of accurate and complete documentation of museum collections, and is another consequence of the art trade, which does not rigorously check title histories.  There is a bit of comedy about this story though.  With Mrs. Nevin using an 18th Century Italian tortoiseshell handbag and claiming it as her own, and decorating their council house flat with objects from the V&A. 

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