May 25, 2003
- Judaica Theft in Tel Aviv
- IRAQ: questions about number of items looted (Tom Flynn)
- Hong Kong Probes Christie's Auction of Chinese Antiquities
- Jagmohan seeks restitution of British Museum Saraswati idol
- Theft of Afghan artifacts persists
- Architectural salvage dealers fear a new law could put them out of business - and make it a crime to sell your old fireplace
- Museum display theft
- Tackling the looters
- Media blamed for exaggerating loss of antiquities
- Theft case threatens the art of handshake; dealer is said to take money and a Picasso
- World War II Allied Intelligence report on German art dealer on the web
- Arnold can't pull weight without Anna Nicole
- Painting returned to local gallery
- Nazis, stolen treasure & mystery deaths
Date sent: Sat, 24 May 2003 15:59:47 +0200
From: Bernhard Purin email@example.com
Subject: Judaica Theft in Tel Aviv
On Thursday night, May 22, 2003, thieves broke into the Beit Hatefutsoth Museum in Tel Aviv.
35 objects from a temporary exhibition "Journey to No End of the World" were stolen. These are all objects from the Gross Family Collection.
Your help is requested in the effort to trace these items. The stolen objects, with a photo and brief description, can be viewed on the website:
If you see or hear anything regarding any of these items, would you
please contact William Gross at:
Jewish Museum Munich
From: "Tom Flynn" firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: IRAQ: questions about number of items looted Date sent: Thu, 22 May 2003 09:47:42 +0100
. . To List Subscribers,
It is with great bewilderment that some of us read the claims by officials at the Iraq National Museum that "shoddy reporting" is to blame for creating the impression that the majority of the museum's 170,000 objects were looted following the invasion. I was present at the British Museum Press Conference a few weeks ago at which curators who had already visited the museum and Donny George himself all had ample opportunity to clarify to the best of their knowledge the extent of the looting and the likely number of missing objects. True, they too were operating under the fog of war at that time, but perhaps they could all have made a greater effort either to be more accurate in their estimates or more cautious in the speculations they made. Most importantly, they could have been more open about the precautioins they had taken to hide away certain objects prior to the invasion, which were barely mentioned. British Museum Director Neil MacGregor was clearly very uncomfortable chairing an open discussion on cultural heritage in his own front room, and at which a microphone was being passed around, but had he not truncated the public question and answer section of that press meeting quite so abruptly we might all have had a better opportunity to press Mr George on the basis for his own estimates and to clarify what measure had been taken to protect certain parts of the collections.
I recall from my notes of that press conference that Donny George recounted - and, it appeared to some of us, not without a certain relish - how Saddam had in the past proved himself prepared to summarily execute looters of cultural heritage. Conversely, although the estimate of looted items might have been exaggerated, Donny George was emphatic in his condemnation of the American military for protecting the Oil Ministry but neglecting the museum. There is a queasy subtext here if you bother to seek it out.
Many questions still remain unanswered about this event, not least how irreplaceable artefacts such as the Warka Vase could have been removed prior to the invasion without the knowledge of museum officials. But there are also questions to be asked about why Donny George and other museum officials knew so little about pre-war measures to store and protect, which now appear to have been efficient enough to safeguard many of the items which many of us were misled into believing had been looted . We may have got the wrong end of the stick at the British Museum - but is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr George made little or not attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting.
Dr Tom Flynn
Hong Kong Probes Christie's Auction of Chinese Antiquities Wednesday, May 21, 2003 00:27 AM ET
HONG KONG -- Police here are investigating whether Chinese antiquities sold by Christie's auction house were previously stolen, highlighting rising concerns over the world-wide traffic in smuggled artifacts from China, Wednesday's Wall Street Journal reported.
The inquiry is focusing on items sold at an auction in Hong Kong last Oct. 28 titled "Imperial Devotions, Buddhist Treasures for the Qianlong Court." "We are cooperating with the police on the investigation to see if the pieces were stolen," says Pola Antebi, head of Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christie's Hong Kong. A person close to the inquiry says as many as 20 of the 49 lots auctioned by Christie's Hong Kong Ltd., a unit of Christie's International Inc., are being examined by police, including an 18th- century enameled Buddha statue known as a famille rose Amitayus, or Buddha of Infinite Life, which sold for HK$2.3 million (US$295,000).
The items once belonged to the prestigious Palace Museum in Beijing, but were later transferred to a provincial museum, according to an official at the Beijing museum. Museum officials learned that some items formerly in their inventory were for sale only when a Chinese antiquities scholar noticed the items during a visit to Hong Kong last year. The Palace Museum's records, which track items transferred or lent to other institutions, confirmed the identity of the items, the official said.
Christie's says it devotes "considerable resources to investigating the provenance of all objects we offer for sale," and won't sell any works of art that it has any reason to believe were stolen. Ms. Antebi says the auction house had taken all reasonable precautions.
Wall Street Journal Staff Reporter Karen Mazurkewich contributed to this report.
Jagmohan seeks restitution of Saraswati idol
By Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI MAY 21. The Union Tourism & Culture Minister, Jagmohan, has urged his counterpart in the External Affairs Ministry, Yashwant Sinha, to use diplomatic channels and international conventions to secure the return of a 11th Century Goddess Saraswati idol, which is reportedly at the London's British Museum.
Mr. Jagmohan wrote to Mr. Sinha in this connection on April 29 in which he has suggested that because India was a signatory to the UNESCO Convention on `Preventing the Illicit Imports, Exports and Transfer of ownership of Cultural Property', it "might be possible for us to negotiate the restitution of the image of Saraswati to its country of origin through appropriate measures". Though the idol was exported from India to the U.K. prior to the promulgation of the Antiquities (Export Control) Act, 1947 — later superseded by the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 — Mr. Jagmohan's contention is that the UNESCO Convention of 1970 "encourages mutual negotiations on such articles of national wealth/heritage for restitution to the country of origin". While legend has it that the idol dating back to the Parmara dynasty was housed in the controversial Bhojshala complex in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Jagmohan's letter makes no mention of this possible connection.
However, he describes the artefact in considerable detail; stating that this idol of the period of King Bhojadeva was of iconographic significance and artistic merit. Also, the inscription on its pedestal, he noted, provides important historical information. Though over three weeks have passed since Mr. Jagmohan wrote to Mr. Sinha, there is no indication whether the MEA will consider the matter. The only communication that has come from the MEA is a formal acknowledgement of Mr. Jagmohan's letter. However, Culture Ministry officials themselves concede that this is not an issue that will find a quick answer; let alone a positive one.
Theft of Afghan artifacts persists
KABUL, May 22 (Online): For decades, war and gnawing poverty made Afghanistan fertile ground for thieves and smugglers. Looters have cleared the shelves in Afghanistan's museums and left deep hollows in the earth of its ancient sites, where Buddhist, Greek, Zoroastrian and early Islamic civilizations once flourished.
Two weeks ago, these roughly 1,500-year-old Buddhist sculptures were in the hands of smugglers. A team of looters had dug holes in the sandy ridges of an ancient settlement 80 miles south of Kabul. They had pulled the seven clay heads from the earth, damaging several, and stored them in a nearby house. If security forces had reached the house a day later, the sculptures would have been on their way to Pakistan and then most likely sold on the international stolen-art market, according to Aziz Rahman Mayel, an Afghan intelligence agent who helped retrieve the clay heads. Yet even with the U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai in place and an international community eager to support cultural preservation, large-scale looting of Afghanistan's archeological sites goes on. "It doesn't seem to decrease, it's very well-organized [and] it takes advantage of the fact that all the state structures for preventing and protecting cultural heritage are still very weak and disorganized," said Louise Haxthausen, a program specialist with UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization.
Powerful warlords help the smugglers in return for a cut of the profits, according to Afghan and Western officials. Opium dealers dabble in antiquities, using their supply routes to ferry ancient statues, coins and intricately painted pieces of ivory out of the country. "We are at one of the worst stages of our history in terms of historic artifacts," said Sayed Raheen, Afghanistan's information and culture minister. Every few months, people contact Raheen and try to sell him back pieces of stolen art. Someone got in touch with him recently about a 1,600-year-old painting on ivory of a nude woman surrounded by serving girls. The smugglers wanted $1 million, but "I couldn't afford it," Raheen said. Nancy Hatch Dupree, who traveled widely in Afghanistan in the 1960s and '70s with her husband, American archeologist Louis Dupree, and wrote a guide to the collection of the Kabul Museum, said she has bought back some items looted from the museum. But most of the time, she said, the prices are too high, and she doesn't want to reward the smugglers. "They tell me you can make as much off of stolen artifacts as you can in the drug trade," said Dupree, a senior consultant to ACBAR, the umbrella group that coordinates Afghan aid. "You can't crack down on this unless the central government is recognized, and out in the provinces it's not recognized." The seven clay heads, which date from the 5th to 7th Centuries, were looted from Kharwar, a 19-square-mile site that has never been legally excavated. They are thought to represent members of Buddha's entourage, including a bodyguard and a monk. Afghan conservators are using turkey basters to blow fine dust from the faces and have patched one of the heads with plaster.
Omara Khan Masoudi, general director of museums for the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, said experts believe Kharwar was a large residential area. A piece of wood collected there recently and sent to Paris for carbon dating suggests the site was inhabited as early as the 2nd or 3rd Centuries, and some experts believe the settlement is much older. Situated in what is now Loghar province, Kharwar was part of ancient Kabulistan, the trading center at the heart of central Asia that linked civilizations of the Middle East and east Asia. The site is now honeycombed with holes and trenches, where looters, believed to be working with a local military commander, have dug and removed pottery, coins and statues. Afghan intelligence and cultural officials say they know the military commander's name. In some parts of Loghar, his guards have been stationed at ancient sites, ostensibly to protect them, and are thought to be taking part in the looting. The government says it cannot stop them. When intelligence officials learned of the clay heads stolen from Kharwar, they had to craft a plan to steal them back from the looters. They didn't arrest the commander or anyone else. "He has been appointed by somebody from the government, so only in one case can we arrest him: if we have a decree and order from the president," said Mayel, the intelligence official. At Mis Inak, an isolated plain in Loghar province covered with pyramid-shaped hills that are believed to contain the remains of an ancient Buddhist holy site, about 40 soldiers loyal to this commander say they are guarding the area.
Although government officials say they have had recent reports of looting at Mis Inak, the soldiers deny knowledge of it. "It's possible it happened before, but we've been here for 10 to 12 months, and after we installed these check posts, there have been just nomads coming across this area with their animals," said Mohammad Malik, a deputy commander. Raheen, the culture minister, said the soldiers at Mis Inak soon will be replaced and 500 others will be hired to guard about 100 vulnerable archeological sites. Afghanistan also is expected to sign two international conventions this summer that would enable the government to legally reclaim stolen artifacts. But the agreements apply only to artifacts whose existence has been documented, not to pieces that are illegally excavated and not officially cataloged. "We can't talk about the price of these things; they don't have a price because they are the historic things of Afghanistan," said Masoudi, the museum director. "But the farther they get from Afghanistan, the more people will pay."
Don't throw it all away
Architectural salvage dealers fear a new law could put them out of business - and make it a crime to sell your old fireplace. Catherine Moye reports
Images of the empty Baghdad Museum, robbed of treasures dating back to the world's earliest civilisations, made many watching want to punish the dealers who will make millions peddling stolen Iraqi culture. Legislation currently going through Parliament could enable such criminal dealers to be prosecuted in the UK for the first time. Unfortunately, it could also make criminals of many innocent British householders: all you would have to do would be to decide that a gruesome gargoyle or perverse pediment does not suit your house and sell it. The legislation concerned is the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill, which was promoted as a Private Member's Bill by Richard Allan, the MP for Sheffield Hallam. Having won cross-party support, it has passed to the House of Lords and seems likely to become law by the end of this parliamentary session in July. The aim of the Bill is to close a loophole in the law. As things stand, disreputable dealers can avoid prosecution if they are caught buying or selling stolen artefacts from anywhere in the world, by claiming they were bought from a stranger in good faith. If the Bill becomes law this will no longer be a legitimate defence and, it is hoped, the market that encourages modern-day tomb raiders will dry up. The wholesale looting of Iraqi museums and historic sites makes the Bill both timely and laudable. The problem lies in its wording. The same phrases that aim to halt the "international trade" in "cultural artefacts" also apply here. As Richard Allan explains: "The principal aim of the Bill was to stop people hacking bits off Cambodian temples but it would be a nonsense to have a Bill if it didn't cover the UK."
This could have a severe impact upon our architectural salvage industry. Allan has unwittingly gone to the heart of a rift that exists between heritage groups such as the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and the architectural salvage trade. The heritage bodies say that the existence of the dealers encourages crooks to steal rare fittings from properties. Certainly thefts - of everything from Adam fireplaces to Kent clay peg tiles - go on. Phillip Venning of SPAB contends that, by making it harder to sell stolen artefacts, Richard Allan's Bill will deter thieves. The salvage companies, however, argue that they owe their existence to the boom in property renovation and demolition, and that they provide a service by finding new homes for period features that would otherwise be junked. Rather than thriving from theft, they say, reputable dealers are a bulwark against it, but the proposed legislation could make their business unviable.
Thornton Kay of Salvo has done more than most in his industry to clean up the image of the architectural salvage trade in the UK. His network, a web-based information clearing house, puts architectural salvage traders in touch with potential buyers. Salvo also passes on theft alerts and all respectable dealers subscribe to its code of practice. He believes that new legislation to control his industry is unnecessary and would have a detrimental impact on conservation. "There is already a law on handling stolen goods in this country and it's a criminal offence to remove items from listed buildings," he says. "But if the onus is on a dealer to prove that an item has not been removed illegally, under pain of a seven-year jail term, then a lot of stuff will just be directed to landfill. "If someone walks into my yard with a nice fireplace, of course I want to make sure that it didn't come from a listed building. However, if I have to ask all these questions and make checks, then the seller will go elsewhere - to the dodgy guy up the road." Even private sales could be affected. It can be almost impossible to say where an item came from before it was in your home. In the Victorian era, for example, householders routinely took their favourite fixtures with them when they moved house. A previous owner might have installed a Georgian fireplace in a 1930s mansion block, or a Tudor gargoyle over an Edwardian entrance. A subsequent owner could easily dislike such a feature and decide to sell it on.
Even items that are in period may be rejected by a householder who wants a sleek contemporary interior. If you buy from someone like that how are you going to show where the artefact came from originally? Then there is the complication of old bricks, popular for building extensions to period properties - and sometimes demanded by planning authorities. They are clearly part of the architectural fabric of a building, requiring proof of provenance. How can individuals be expected to check the detailed history of every brick and roof tile? Richard Allan admits that on this level the law would be unenforceable. "Monitoring transactions on that scale would place a huge burden on the police and it is unlikely that any prosecution would be successful." Thornton Kay believes that the proposed legislation could see a drying-up of period features for sale legitimately, with many going overseas and prices only affordable by the very rich.
If he is right, a praiseworthy attempt to end a piratical trade in the world's antiquities could see British heritage being cast aside as too dangerous to do anything with but throw in a skip.
Museum display theft REPRESENTATIVES of Three Rivers Museum were upset to discover the theft of a display they had created for Rickmansworth week, the day after it was hung for exhibition.
Since lightening struck Basing House, the home of the museum, last November, staff have been eagerly awaiting a return to the building. However, there is currently no fixed date for the return and representatives of the museum have been battling to keep its name in the forefront of people's minds by arranging displays and talks. To mark Rickmansworth week, a four foot display was created in two picture frames, of aerial pictures of Rickmansworth and the Three Rivers area from 1927. Chairman of the museum, Mrs Barbara Owen said: "We made an agreement for the display to go on the wall inside the doors of Watersmeet. "It was put up in the morning of Saturday, May 10, and by the following day it had disappeared, not even 36 hours later.
"No one at Watersmeet had seen anything and I never even got to see the display being exhibited we are all very upset, especially because of how much work had bene put into it."
The museum will have a stand at the Croxley Revels on Saturday, June 21.
Tackling the looters
"To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" - that was the original vow of the United Nations which alas it has failed to keep throughout 58 years of its existence. Today the post-war burden of the United States, having come through the scourge of a war, is not, as was first imagined, to reorganise a civil society and put in place what they call a transitional government, the immediate, urgent task is to prevent Iraq's descending from chaos into anarchy.
I must say that whatever was allowed for in the very careful planning of the liberation of Iraq I don't believe even Secretary Rumsfeld had any conception of how huge and wildly ungovernable the looting would be. The sheer wickedness of robbing a hospital, not only of its beds and blankets but of medical equipment, including life-saving devices for which the witless looters had no imaginable use. I think the tolerable limit was reached last Monday when American marines responding to fire from an asylum broke the outer wall and plunged in, along with an army of looters, while at least 500 of the 800 incarcerated psychotics, rapists, murderers, dangerous schizophrenics and so on, tumbled out and are now at large in the city.
Why was all this allowed to happen? Because all the American forces had been ordered from the start not to shoot anyone but an obvious combatant. Here's a definition: "looting - the pillage of valuables in time of war, according to the rules of war a crime punishable by instant execution but not universally followed". I recall that in Basra, in the first days, British soldiers fired on some looters but then, for no given reason that I read about, they stopped. Certainly the Americans were forbidden to perform instant execution, it was an element of administration policy, which in the early days of the war bent over backwards to avoid the appearance of conquerors.
You may have noticed that months before the war started a theory had been advanced by some Western intellectuals and very quickly was crudified into a popular protest among ordinary people, it was the theory that the United States was now launched on a new imperial crusade, that empire was a truer slogan than liberation.
Sympathetic intellectuals elaborated a programme much like that with which British liberals, throughout the 19th Century, looked on the development of their empire as a humane social undertaking. Prince Albert's passionate belief that Britons had a duty to lift the peoples of the dark continent out of abject poverty and exploitation by unscrupulous traders, to build railroads, a civil service, medical stations, create a merchant class. This idea of empire as a huge peace corps is, I should say, practically unheard of in the United States where the vast majority of people think of empire as a very wicked form of exploiting primitive peoples which the British, the French, the Dutch, the Belgians and the Portuguese eventually shed themselves of and none too soon. By this 21st Century I'm sure most Americans have forgotten, if they ever knew, that President Theodore Roosevelt had the great ambition, partially fulfilled, in Central America and the Pacific to found an American empire.
The remaining bits of the American empire are remote islands officially designated inland territories.
But I have to say that at the first outcry about a new American empire the administration did everything it could to obliterate the picture of an imperialism on the march. However, I'm afraid to people who are normally anti-American it has been food and drink. Reluctantly last Tuesday, President Bush officially recognised that before you could have an interim government there must be an interim police force. That's been the trouble since the day Saddam's statue was toppled and we breathed relief at the end of the war. The war with the civilian population had just begun. So last Tuesday President Bush, through Mr Paul Bremer - who's the new civilian with the unenviable job of creating a new Iraq - the president issued an order that from now on United States military forces are authorised to shoot looters on sight.
This has been done with full knowledge of the risk entailed in shooting young people, the unemployed, family heads desperate for food and electricity. The administration has spoken with all its fingers crossed. Until the cities can somehow acquire workable police forces it seemed the only thing to do. The administration is well aware it will not necessarily make the occupying Americans any more popular. Once again I think I'd better say that about a third of the population of the United States, up from the Deep South, through Missouri and the Midwest, the people there are equally concerned for their own lack of power - which means light, heat, air conditioning, flushing toilets - after, we hope, the end of a plague of tornadoes. In two weeks more than a hundred that have damaged or destroyed more than 80 small towns. Talking of natural disasters I must take note of a study that was published last week, at the end of a meeting of seismologists - earthquake specialists - producing a big surprise. Namely that there is an inland geological vein or fault running more or less parallel with the New England seaboard that could cause a deal of trouble. Earthquakes in New England? When? When? They aren't saying, though the meeting added of course that California can expect earthquakes till the end of time. And of course they have happened in that state since the days of the early Spanish conquest.
A famous conquistador, Portola - an 18th Century governor of what was called New Spain - camped by a river whose surrounding land one night trembled in a frightening fashion. When he moved on Portola did what all explorers do, he gave a name to his last resting place. he called it Santa Ana de los Temblores - of the "temblores", of the quakes. An old historian writes: "In later usage the name was shortened to Santa Ana - out of deference to local feelings, the appendage was dropped." There are three main faults that wriggle deep underground through central and southern California.
In deference to local feeling their names are not often mentioned, just as in deference to wishful feeling San Franciscans for the past three generations make a point of referring to the 1906 earthquake as "the fire". We have a friend, indeed my wife's oldest friend whom she's known since their teens, let's call her Bea for Beatrice. For, by a happy coincidence, that is her name. About 20 years ago she decided to go and live in California to be with the daughter who'd settled there.
Bea, when she left the east, didn't know much about California but she certainly had heard about the earthquakes. She lived down the peninsula from San Francisco, close by the big, thriving city of San Jose, which has had its share of quakes, so recently as 1989. Ever since then she's harboured a secret dread of earthquakes. Now understand she's not a nervous type - she's tall, handsome, very intelligent and sensible and - I almost said - down to earth. But one time she confessed to this secret dread, so ever-present that she got into the habit, just before she went to bed, of taking all the upstanding earthenware - plates, cups, saucers, whatever - and putting them securely in a drawer.
Well about 10 years ago I was out in San Francisco and I covered a conference of seismologists which had met to estimate the likely timing and scale of the next big one that would arise from the California faults, especially the one that starts out in the ocean in the north and runs in under Napa County and through San Francisco and on south. The conclusion of the conference was that this region of the country was likely to get the big one sometime in the next 30 or 40 years. But the big, and for Californians joyful news was, that the truly big one was likely to arrive sometime in the following 10 years by odds of five to one and it wouldn't be in California at all but in a fault - long unreported - that runs from about Hartford, Connecticut down through the New York suburbs and on to and through Philadelphia. We'd never heard of it. It also came out, incidentally, that the busiest little seismological station in America, perhaps in the world, is a village just across Long Island sound there, in Connecticut, that records three or four earthquakes every day of the year.
The Connecticut Chamber of Commerce has never told us about it. But once the news was out several officials in the state of Connecticut hastened to publish the truth. Which is that these quakes are minute, barely registering on the Richter scale. But I did a talk about that conference and being close by I rushed a fair copy of it to our friend Bea. And she stopped, she said she stopped from then on packing up the crockery every evening. She just heaved a happy sigh that she doesn't live in Connecticut. I felt at the time I'd done my good deed for the year.
Media blamed for exaggerating loss of antiquities By Alex Spillius in Baghdad
Officials at the National Museum of Iraq have blamed shoddy reporting amid the "fog of war" for creating the impression that the majority of the institution's 170,000 items were looted in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad.
A carefully prepared storage plan, used in the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf war, ensured that tens of thousands of pieces were saved, they said. They now believe that the number of items taken was in the low thousands, and possibly hundreds.
Donny George, research director, said: "There was a mistake. Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost.
"Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the show cases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move." Some pieces were hidden in the vaults of the central bank and others at secret locations, he added.
Thousands of manuscripts and scrolls were kept at a civilian bunker in north-west Baghdad and had been returned. However, some of the blame for the confusion lies with the poor communication skills of museum officials, most of whom are less approachable than Mr George. Shortly after the looting they were in a highly defensive mood and gave away little about what appeared to be - and probably still is - one of the biggest art thefts ever.
At the time, accusations flew that valuable pieces were looted to order in an operation that required inside help.
American investigators from the immigration and customs enforcement department also did little to dispel the notion that the theft had been on a much larger scale.
"On the face of it, it looked like the place was ransacked. However, the museum storage plan had been put into action," said special supervisory agent Steve Mocsary. "As the investigation progressed we found out about the storage."
Mr George now admits that the looters knew what they were looking for. "I see it as a planned project involving parties abroad which included planning the removal of items out of the country," he said.
Prof McGuire Gibson, an oriental specialist from Chicago University and a member of the Unesco team that first said the losses might have been wildly exaggerated, said he had received reports that "top five" items out of the 33 had shifted to Teheran and Paris within days of their removal from the museum.
These may include the Sumerian period Vase of Warca, and the 4,500- year-old Basitki statue.
Mr George said that judging from the fate of pieces looted from regional museums after the first Gulf war, London was likely to play a key role as an evaluation centre for stolen items. He said buyers for those artefacts came mostly from Japan, America and Israel.
Only 40 out of 4,000 pieces snatched in 1991 have been recovered.
Theft case threatens the art of handshake
Dealer is said to take money and a Picasso
By Tatsha Robertson, Globe Staff, 5/22/2003
NEW YORK -- The theft of which Michel Cohen stands accused was audacious in its scope and simple in its planning.
In the clubby art world where priceless works are entrusted to dealers and brokers on a promise and a handshake, Cohen, a highly regarded art broker, borrowed millions from prestigious art dealers such as Sotheby's and was handed a Picasso from another prominent dealer. But according to a complaint filed in US District Court in Manhattan, Cohen fled two years ago, swindling the dealers of millions of dollars and taking a valuable piece of art, as well. His May 6 arrest in Brazil has brought little comfort to art dealers in the United States and Europe. Not only are dealers anxious about reclaiming their lost millions, but the case is prompting many movers and shakers of the art world to reexamine traditional practices by which million-dollar deals were sealed by a dealer's word. Because the art world operates frequently with neither lawyers nor legally- binding contracts, Cohen's alleged victims may find it difficult to be fully compensated. ''I am not after him, but I would like our money,'' said Martin Muller, a prominent San Francisco art dealer, who said he is owed in the ''low millions.''
''I don't think I will get it,'' Muller said. ''I would be happy to be proven wrong, but I don't think most victims will get their money.'' The tradition of working on faith in the art circles may be as out of date as Impressionism. ''Now, we are much more cautious,'' Muller said. ''We put everything in writing. In those days, it was a handshake.'' ''I always tell everyone to put it in writing,'' said Ralph Lerner, a Manhattan art lawyer. ''You have to have a paper trail. People are doing it more and more to protect themselves and to avoid a Michel.'' Cohen, a native of France, knew the rules. Dark, handsome, and slight, Cohen's charm, wit, and energy helped him rise from peddling encyclopedias to opening a New York gallery. But it was his immense trustworthiness, the habit of keeping his word that helped build a solid reputation. According to court documents unsealed last week in US District Court in Manhattan, Cohen is now charged with transporting stolen goods across state lines and with fraud relating to a Monet. According to the complaint, New York's Richard Gray Gallery delivered to Cohen in December 2000 a Picasso, known as ''Nu Accroupi,'' so he could show it to a potential buyer. Cohen, who signed a consignment agreement letting him keep the painting for one day, apparently had a second buyer, unknown to the Gray Gallery. The gallery never got the painting back. And like many other dealers, the Gray Gallery received only a bad check from Cohen. Around the same time, Cohen received a partial payment of $2.5 million from the Beadleston Gallery of New York to purchase Claude Monet's ''Le Repos Dans Le Jardin, Argenteuil,'' a piece to be returned to a family of Holocaust victims from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But simultaneously he was shopping the Monet to others: European art dealers saw transparencies of the Monet, and they wired Cohen $5 million.
And then there were Cohen's dealings with Sotheby's, which took the step, unusual in the genteel world of fine art, of suing Cohen for $9.5 million, contending that the auction house had lent him nearly $10 million for five paintings and had received nothing in return. Sometime later, Cohen disappeared with his wife and two children. Others not included in court documents have disclosed that they, too, had lost millions. While there have been similar scams, New York Magazine writer Anthony Haden-Guest, who first reported Cohen's misdeeds, has estimated that losses could reach an unprecedented $50 million. ''We are victims like Sotheby's, but there are many whose losses are in the high millions,'' said Muller, whose father lent Cohen money. ''We have losses in the low millions. We really didn't think anything was wrong until he vanished.'' John Henry Merryman, who teaches an art law class at Stanford Law school, said that Cohen could be criminally prosecuted but that it may be difficult to win a case in civil court. He said a civil judgment would depend on the application of the statute of fraud law, which varies from state to state. Also, plaintiffs may have to prove that Cohen intentionally set out to harm them, Merryman said, while no one knows if the cash or artwork is still available. Richard Polsky, a private art dealer who flew from San Francisco last week to attend an auction at Christie's in New York, said the business of art dealing needs to be more regulated. He suggested that art dealers take licensing exams, as do doctors, lawyers, and beauticians. ''It's so much bad behavior in this business because it is not regulated,'' said Polsky. But Richard Feigen, a world-renowned art dealer based in Manhattan and one of the few in his circle who did not know Cohen, predicted that the informal way of doing business will continue.
''How would you protect yourself?'' Feigen said in a telephone interview, adding that he would be offended if someone asked him to sign a legal contract. ''That's just wrong.'' objected Lerner, who contends that art dealers should not care about offending anyone, but instead should demand that all transactions be in writing. Sitting in the hotel bar on Madison Avenue a few hours before a Christie's auction, Polsky said that some people in the art business have become more cautious. ''The joke is `don't do a Michel on me,' '' he said. ''It's a joke, but a joke with an edge.''
From: David Brancaleone email@example.com
World War II Allied Intelligence report on German art dealer on the web Date sent: Thu, 22 May 2003 16:41:46 +0100
World War II Allied Intelligence report on German art dealer NOW available on lootedart.com -- the website of the Central Registry
London 22 May 2003. The Hans Wendland Interrogation Report of 18 September 1946 by Bernard Taper of the MFA&A (Monuments and Fine Arts and Archives) and Otto Wittmann of the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services) has just been published on the web. Taper describes Wendland as "a shadowy, rather slippery figure" who was a key link in the transactions involving works of art confiscated from French Jewish collections by the ERR. The art objects reached Switzerland by diplomatic pouch (via Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering's Karinhall art collection), ending up for sale at the Fischer Gallery of Lucerne. Taper writes ("Investigating Art Looting for the MFA&A", in the Spoils of War, Elizabeth Simpson (ed.), Spoils of War, Abrams, New York 1997, pp. 135-138) that Wendland was questioned for "ten straight days" and that the report led to Wendland's extradition to France and produced information which helped pinpoint the possible whereabouts of several important looted paintings. Other reports were produced by the Art Looting Investigation Unit comprising art experts working for OSS, who dealt with the intelligence gathering on the German spoliation of cultural property in Europe between 1933 and 1945. The OSS produced two types of intelligence reports: Detailed Interrogation Reports (DIRs) and Consolidated Interrogation Reports (CIRs), following research carried out in 1945 and 1946 through interrogation of those responsible for dealing, selling, buying and shipping looted art and a study of captured enemy documents.
The DIRs concerned individuals who took part in the concerted German effort at securing art objects as financial assets for collection or sale to obtain hard currency; dealers such as Karl Haberstock and Hans Wendland and art historians such as Kajetan Mühlmann. These DIRs were later the basis of the CIRs which were accompanied by supporting evidence of copies of documents. Digitisation makes available in searchable electronic format important historic documents such as this one. The Central Registry of Information is working on others which will be duly publicised.
David Brancaleone MA (UCL) PhD (Warburg)
Director of Research and Deputy Director
of The Central Registry of Information
on Looted Cultural Property (1933-1945)
Arnold can't pull weight without Anna Nicole
By REGINA HACKETT
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER ART CRITIC
Jeff Hengst woke up Tuesday morning missing Anna Nicole Smith, but he didn't realize it until lunch.
"I glanced around and saw only Arnold Schwarzenegger," he said. "I felt as if I'd been punched in the gut." Hengst, 42, painted Smith and Schwarzenegger as 8-foot-tall gender parodies in 1995. Wearing nothing but a bikini bottom, Smith strikes a pouty pose while Schwarzenegger predictably flexes his muscles. Last week, Hengst decided to hang them in a niche outside his studio in the Lake Union neighborhood "for giggles," he said. He's not laughing now. "Arnold's useless to me without Nicole," he said. He called the police immediately. Although he wasn't expecting them to rush over and dust for prints, he was somewhat taken aback when they declined to come. They took his story over the phone and sent him a form to fill out. "I guess it didn't sound real serious to them," he speculated. He thinks if he could have found a client for the pair, they might each have been worth $8,000 to $10,000. Hengst has had other things stolen over the years, but nothing of this magnitude. "People have smashed windows and grabbed things," he said. "Once a bike was stolen. This is different. It's personal. It had to be planned. Remember that she's heavy. Getting her down wouldn't have been easy. Two people must have been involved, or maybe one big burly guy."
Although upset about his loss, he isn't making any great claims for the missing painting. "I'm a better painter now," he said. At the time, he said, he was fascinated by the fact that Smith and Schwarzenegger are living parodies. "They're flesh-and-blood cartoon characters. I wondered if I could paint them by hand and achieve the kind of impact with the imagery that People magazine gets." Hard lesson learned, he's going to put Schwarzenegger away, although he said he'd destroy the painting now if he weren't hoping that he might get Smith back. "Somebody might have borrowed her for a party. I'm hoping I'll show up for work and see her leaning against the building some day."
Painting returned to local gallery
PUNTA GORDA -- The painting of a lion by a North Port artist -- stolen from the River City Grill a month ago -- was returned to a local gallery Wednesday morning.
"I had faith in God and faith in human nature and it worked," said Nancy Colby, whose painting "The Huntress" was stolen in April from the restaurant, where the Sea Grape Artists Gallery was displaying it. Colby said the painting, which won her three awards at different galleries, and took her 30 hours to finish, was returned unscathed. The woman who returned the painting, which depicts a lion, said she bought it for $50 from a man who passed by her house. The painting had been hanging in the back of the restaurant near the men's restroom when it was taken. It was discovered stolen April 20. Barbara Coy, president of the Sea Grape Gallery, said the gallery often displays the works of local artists in restaurants to gain recognition for the artists, and they have never had a problem before. To find the painting, Coy said she and several others posted, "Have You Seen This Painting" signs around town.
The Huntress is now on display at the Sea Grape Artists Gallery in Punta Gorda.
"We're really excited to have it back," Coy said.
You can e-mail April Frawley at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nazis, stolen treasure & mystery deaths
Thursday, 22 May , 2003, 10:43
Berlin: It is a tale with all the classic ingredients of an edge-of- your-seat thriller: mystery deaths, Nazis and a modern-day chase for a stolen trove of early 18th century treasure. The fate of the Amber Chamber, in reality a set of lavishly gilded panels, has puzzled authorities, historians and researchers since the final months of World War II.
On May 31, the leaders of Russia and Germany will inaugurate a costly copy of the room as part of Saint Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations. It has taken 20 years, six tonnes of amber and some 11.5 million dollars to build the room as it might have looked when King Friedrich-Wilhelm of Prussia gave the panels as a present to Tsar Peter I of Russia in 1716. But the mystery of the original panels remains unsolved. "I'm regularly contacted by people, mostly elderly, claiming to know where the Amber Chamber is and who are ready to tell me, for a price," said Wolfgang Eichwede, part of the scientific committee behind the reconstruction. Not everyone is happy with the new version. "Nothing can replace the original, it was unique," said Hans Stadelmann, a German amateur historian who has spent 15 years looking for the lost panels. The last time they were seen was in 1941 at Koenigsberg, then the main town in East Prussia but now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Nazi soldiers took the curved amber panels there after stripping them from Tsarskoye Selo, the summer residence of Russian tsars. But the panels disappeared in 1945 at war's end. Stadelmann is convinced they were secreted in one of scores of inaccessible underground rooms below a Nazi-era building in Weimar, eastern Germany. His theory connects the panels to Erich Koch, a Nazi Gauleiter for Ukraine and East Prussia, whose collection of stolen art vanished at the same time as Soviet troops were entering Koenigsberg. Stadelmann says Koch, who was captured in 1949 and died in a Polish jail in 1986, confessed: "Find my collection and you'll find the Amber Chamber."
His problem is that authorities in Weimar do not believe him. Assuming the panels were evacuated from Koenigsberg in time, other theories place them on a wreck in the Baltic Sea, in mines deep in east Germany's Harz mountains or even in some dusty corner of a Bavarian castle. And there are sudden deaths too, like that of Alfred Rohde, a Nazi official who was in charge in 1945 when the panels were put into crates. He died later that year. The suspicious Soviets reportedly opened the tomb in early 1946, presumably hunting for the panels, and found it empty. Georg Stein, a German former soldier who was also looking for the treasure, was found dead in a forest in 1987, a knife in his stomach. Stadelmann said Stein's son did not believe the official verdict of suicide and claimed his father had been in touch with the Stasi, the secret police of formerly communist East Germany. The Stasi also spent years looking for the panels, even creating a special unit in the 1970-1980s to search more than 100 possible hiding-places. In 1997, a panel measuring 55 by 70.5 centimetres was seized by police from a lawyer in Bremen, northern Germany.
It was authenticated by experts and handed back to Russia, where it served as a guideline for the reconstruction. Hopes of finding the rest quickly faded: the panel had been plundered by a German soldier in 1941, long before the war's end. Of course, the treasure may still be hidden in a collapsed bunker somewhere in Koenigsberg. "But the probability is much greater that it was destroyed in the fighting in 1945," said Eichwede.
"Or," said Stadelmann, "somebody has it, and they're keeping quiet."