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December 12, 2000


- Dealers give thumbs down to art print plan
- Mona Lisa 'was saved from Nazis by British agent'
- Pompidou Center in Paris looses Niki de Saint Phalle Nana
- `Picasso' cat's confessed thief arrested in Stuart

Dealers give thumbs down to art print plan

ANTIQUE dealers always relish the chance to get their hands on a nice set of black and white prints. Now the police are to help them to build up their collection. In an attempt to make buying and selling stolen property more difficult, customers are being invited to leave their thumbprint with the object they are offering for sale. The scheme, which has been piloted by Kent police and is to spread nationwide, involves officers distributing thumbprint kits to traders. They are also handing out Polaroid cameras and urging dealers to photograph vendors. The assumption is that people with nothing to hide will not object. The thumbprint process is said to take 15 seconds and the ink rubs off the fingers instantly. Within weeks of launching the scheme, police in southeast Kent said that photographs and prints had been used as evidence against handlers of stolen goods. Items worth £3,500 have been recovered. Some antiques dealers are outraged at the scheme. Georgina McKinnon, of Newington Antiques, near Sittingbourne, Kent, said: "We're all aghast." She believes that, even if clients are legitimate, they will be shocked at being treated like criminals. Malcolm Hord, chief executive of Lapada, the trade body representing more than 700 dealers around the country, said: "We're outraged by this." Roger Bingham, of Liberty, the civil liberties organisation, echoed the dealers' reservations: "We do have concerns about a blanket collection of data on people when it's regardless of whether there are grounds for suspecting them." Police said that secondhand dealers - including high street jewellers and electrical shops - are increasingly recognising that thumbprints are just another signature or proof of identity in doing business.,,50119,00.html

Mona Lisa 'was saved from Nazis by British agent'

LEONARDO DA VINCI'S Mona Lisa has always been something of a mystery woman. There have been questions over the reason for her enigmatic smile and her whereabouts during the Second World War. Now the story of a secret agent working for Britain may have the answer to the second puzzle. Albrecht Gaiswinkler, an Austrian, rescued the painting from the Nazis, according to the previously classified official history of the Special Operations Executive published today. The Louvre in Paris, where the Mona Lisa is exhibited, has always denied that it was taken by the occupying Nazi forces, although last year the museum said for the first time that a 16th or 17th century copy of the painting was taken by the Germans and hidden in a salt mine in Austria. The SOE history, which has been kept secret for 50 years, details the heroic story of Herr Gaiswinkler, who is singled out for rescuing a number of Nazi treasure hoards "including the Mona Lisa". The Secret History of SOE 1940-1945, published by St Ermin's Press, is based on secret files from the war and interviews with members of the covert organisation. It states unequivocally that the Mona Lisa was recovered from the Nazis. The files were released four years ago to the Public Record Office but their existence was known only to a few official historians. Past Cabinet Secretaries had always refused to declassify them. Now they has been published, although there are still passages deleted "on grounds of national security". The story of Herr Gaiswinkler who deserted from the German armed forces, and joined the Maquis in France in June 1944 has survived the Government censor. It is revealed that when the Austrian joined the French Resistance, he brought with him four trucks of arms and ammunition and 500,000 francs. He reached the American lines with 17 German prisoners in September 1944. The history, written by the late Professor William Mackenzie, a Classics scholar who served in the Air Ministry and was asked to produce the work, describes Herr Gaiswinkler as "the star turn of the Austrian Resistance", which was sponsored by the SOE. The Nazis pillaged European art treasures on a huge scale on the orders of Adolf Hitler and many were stored in an Austrian salt mine near the town of Bad Aussee. According to the SOE history, Gaiswinkler was "dropped blind" back into his country, where he raised an active force of 350 men and armed them with German weapons. In the last weeks of the Nazi regime he was able to harass the Nazis "by a multitude of bluffs". When the Americans arrived, they found that he had captured several eminent Nazis and "had rescued a number of Nazi treasure hoards, including the Mona Lisa and the Austrian Imperial Crown Jewels". The Louvre said yesterday that it was aware of Herr Gaiswinkler, but maintained its line that the painting by Leonardo da Vinci had "never left France". It had been hidden in five different chateaux, along with 4,000 other works of art. The Mona Lisa, the gallery said, was removed from the Louvre on August 28, 1939, and the Germans never succeeded in looting it. In a book published last year, called The Lost Masters, the authors, Peter Harclerode and Brendan Pittaway, raised the issue of whether the Mona Lisa was among $500 million-worth of art held by the Germans in the Austrian salt mine. The authors discovered that Herr Gaiswinkler and three other SOE agents had prevented the Germans from blowing up the mine which would have destroyed the Mona Lisa and other priceless works of art.,,47575,00.html

Have You Seen This Nana?

Joerg Sarbach/Associated Press, for The New York Times
HANOVER, Germany - Museums rarely lose works of art, particularly nine-foot-high sculptures. But that, says the French- American artist Niki de Saint Phalle, is precisely what the Pompidou Center in Paris has done with one of her famous Nanas. And thereby hangs a Hanover tale. In a sense, this northern German city is the home of the Nanas, sculptures of women of paleolithic force and buxom brightness that have been exhibited everywhere from New York to Tokyo. Three of them were bought by the city in 1974 and placed in a central street, prompting an insurrection. But Hanover eventually warmed to the heavy-legged ladies and adopted them as its symbol. There they stand today on the banks of the River Leine - Sophie, Caroline and Charlotta - giddily oblivious to the turmoil that once surrounded them: the Friends of the Nanas group confronting the Away With the Nanas movement as the big-breasted sculptures found themselves at the center of one of the epic clashes that occur when the German avant-garde meets German conservatism. "It was like a hurricane," recalled Michael Gehrke, an art lover and jazz enthusiast who was instrumental in bringing the three sculptures here and fighting for their survival. It was also an important moment for Ms. Saint Phalle, an artist born in France and raised in Manhattan, for it gave her the lasting sense that "Hanover was one of those places where my art is alive." So when Werner Spies, the former director of the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center, called Ms. Saint Phalle this year to say he was very sorry but one of the museum's Nanas had been "lost," it was natural enough that the artist, in her indignation, would turn her thoughts to a city seemingly more committed to her work than Paris. On the face of it, Hanover, a provincial city of no great distinction, has little to offer to rival the French capital, which prides itself on its vast array of cultural attractions. But this singular display of Gallic carelessness prodded Ms. Saint Phalle to snub Paris, a city with which she had long been closely associated. "How on earth can you lose a piece that was almost three meters high?" asked Ms. Saint Phalle, a woman as slight as her Nanas are massive, her blue eyes great orbs of incredulity. "It just seems extraordinary." The piece, called "La Waldass" (roughly, "The Countrywoman"), is made of chicken wire, glue and cloth and weighs about 250 pounds. With her small head, massive breasts, gaudy floral-printed yellow skirt and still gaudier red shoes, she is at once utterly graceless and utterly liberated in her earthy enormity. In the tension between female power and female humiliation lies the work's enduring fascination. The sculpture, the first Nana of such size made by Ms. Saint Phalle, was initially exhibited in Paris in 1964 and later acquired by the Pompidou Center. It was last seen at a show in Bonn in 1991. Ms. Saint Phalle had assumed the piece was in storage until Mr. Spies informed her it had gone missing. Two calls to Mr. Spies were not returned. Christine Hirsig, a spokeswoman for the Paris museum, said, "If this piece is indeed lost, it is the first time such a thing has occurred.' Alfred Paquement, the current director of the Pompidou Center, has indicated to the artist that the Nana was probably mistakenly destroyed in the crate where it was packed after the Bonn show. "I don't believe it was destroyed, and I don't know how you can break something so big or how so many French bureaucrats sitting around calling their friends for so many hours can be so incompetent," said Ms. Saint Phalle, who was long married to the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely and whose joint work with him, the Stravinsky fountain, stands outside the Paris museum. The news of the loss came at a sensitive time. At 70, Ms. Saint Phalle is not in robust health; she had been considering the bequests she wishes to make. Although she now works mainly in California, she lived much of her life outside Paris and had been in negotiation with the Pompidou Center and the Museum of Decorative Arts over major donations. "The French always assumed they would get my things," she said. If so, they are to be disappointed. "I just came around to an important question: Where has my art been loved the most?" Ms. Saint Phalle said. "And Hanover was certainly high on the list." Through Mr. Gehrke, a friend since the battles of the 1970's, contact was made with the Sprengel Museum, a remarkable modern collection whose genesis lay in the passion for art of a Hanover chocolate baron. Ulrich Krempel, the museum's director, traveled to San Diego, where Ms. Saint Phalle lives, and began "combing through the works in storage there." Within weeks, an agreement was reached: Ms. Saint Phalle would donate 363 works, the largest donation ever received by the museum. "It's a very nice Christmas gift," Mr. Krempel said. The value of the works is estimated at $30 million. Many of the new acquisitions have been gathered in a recently opened show that will run until February. It traces Ms. Saint Phalle's career from the violence of her early work, in which paint drips in great clots like blood (she created a sensation in the early 1960's by firing a gun at her canvases in performances sometimes joined by Robert Rauschenberg), through some of the original papier-mâché Nanas to more decorative recent pieces where joyful exuberance seems to outweigh the ever-lurking snakes. "For Germans of my postwar generation, Ms. Saint Phalle was a critical figure - the sexy anti- war rebel killing effigies of authority in her work, making great slashes in the face of proper taste," Mr. Krempel said. "So we value the presence of her work greatly." Hanover will now have 10 Nanas. Larger ones like those on the River Leine weigh half a ton to a ton each and are made of polyester; smaller ones are made of papier-mâché or wire and fabric. One of Hanover's newly acquired Nanas is to be placed outside the museum overlooking the artificial Maschsee lake, built from 1934 to 1936 during Nazi rule and adorned with equestrian sculptures by one of Hitler's favorite artists, Arno Brecker. Two of the sculptures are still beside the lake. The juxtaposition, so expressive of Germany's convulsive 20th century, could scarcely be starker. Ms. Saint Phalle, who was made an honorary citizen of Hanover last month, says she is delighted that the city will now provide "the most complete overview of my work." The daughter of a French banker and a Francophile American, she remains ambivalent about the United States, where her figurative work has sometimes been dismissed as anachronistic and her following is less strong than in Europe. "American museums sell works, and they often go in for postage-stamp collections - a bit of everything but little depth," she said. "I prefer the German approach." And what about that lost Nana? "I even have the name of the shipper who was responsible for it before and after the Bonn show," she said. "And I am offering a vase or a sculpture to anyone who can find it."

`Picasso' cat's confessed thief arrested in Stuart

KEY LARGO -- The man who bragged last month that he stole a ceramic cat reputed to be a Picasso from Key West's Hemingway House and Museum has been arrested, the FBI says. Robert Joseph Naughton, 31, who called himself ``Mr. Green'' in anonymous calls to The Herald, was arrested Saturday after handing the alleged masterpiece over to a catamaran captain in Stuart as a security deposit on a borrowed dinghy. ``The guy was broke, and he gave [Naughton] a little boat that he could use to come back to shore,'' FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said. ``He had gotten the cat as collateral.'' The FBI was alerted last week by Key West detectives who received a tip that Naughton, of Hudson, Wis., was mooring his 35-foot motorboat, The Unforgiven, near a marina behind a Marriott Hotel in Stuart while he tried to hawk the cat he claimed to have swiped Nov. 14. Naughton, who police say also used the alias Peter D. Nelson, had called The Herald to complain that a museum official rebuffed his not-so-covert campaign to claim a $10,000 to $15,000 ``reward'' for the cat. The museum had touted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the cat or its captor, and Naughton said he wanted to cash in. If that tactic didn't work, Naughton told The Herald, he would either try to sell it for less money or give it to his mother for Christmas. Despite all the hubbub, it's still not clear if the cat is really a Picasso and worth more than a few dollars. Hemingway's son Patrick dismissed the cat as a thrift-store find. And although it was identified by the writer's first wife as a gift from the Spanish master in the 1920s, scholars have argued that ceramic figurines marketed as Picassos were actually crafted by a group of artisans beginning in 1946. An FBI agent traveled to Stuart this weekend to arrest and interview Naughton, who was taken into custody by a Martin County Sheriff's deputy. After initially insisting he bought the cat from someone else, Naughton finally confessed to the heist and phoning a Herald reporter from a series of pay phones with details of the scam. ``He admitted to everything,'' Orihuela said. Now the man who said he dreamed of becoming ``a new supervillain'' sits in a Martin County jail facing felony grand theft charges.


Police said Naughton has a lengthy out-of-state criminal record, mostly for petty crimes. Employees at the Hemingway House were thrilled that the alleged masterpiece -- which lost a leg in the theft -- was on its way back home. ``We are very happy about this,'' museum spokeswoman Linda Larson said. Larson said she's still trying to figure out how to simultaneously display the piece while preventing it from becoming catnapped again. The figurine, protected only by a plastic case, was lifted from the top of an armoire in a bedroom of the historic house. ``We are going to step up our security,'' she vowed. For the time being, however, the former feline hostage will be kept under close watch. ``Today we will be putting it in a safe,'' Larson said. In the meantime, the museum's general manager is reviewing whether to divvy up the $10,000 reward among a few folks whose tips may have led to the cat's recovery. ``I don't know for sure, but it sounds like there were a couple of people who were instrumental in helping,'' Larson said.
Miami Herald