Museum Security website statistics; over 1000 hits per week

June 24, 1999


- Re: Sotheby's - Amazon and online database of stolen art
- Holocaust Art Restitution Project Announces Its Involvement in the Restitution of Four Works Plundered by Nazis
- Woman Pleads Not Guilty in UCLA Art Theft
- query about ownership after art theft
- Re: query about Legal sale of stolen art works (Jason Kaufman)
- Re: query about Legal sale of stolen art works (Patrick Vyvyan)
- How Mussolini park ruined frescoes of Nero's palace
- Thailand ready to return looted Cambodia carvings
- U.S. Writer (Hector Feliciano) Wins WWII Art Suit

From: thomas flynn

Re: Sotheby's - Amazon and online database of stolen art

Date sent: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 06:33:50 PDT
Dear Ton,
I agree wholeheartedly with your comments regarding Sotheby1s and Amazon in your last bulletin. Some of us have been calling for some time for a comprehensive online database of stolen art, while acknowledging that certain obstacles have until now stood in the way of such an initiative being realised. (For example, such an initiative has not been in the interests of competing private companies who make money from tracing stolen art). The Sotheby1s-Amazon co-operation, if handled imaginatively and responsibly, could be the answer to that problem and would help the trade, collectors and the museum community to demonstrate that they had exercised due diligence. Keep up the excellent work,
Tom Flynn (The Art Newspaper)

HARP Announces Involvement in Restitution of 4 Works

U.S. Newswire
21 Jun 17:32

Holocaust Art Restitution Project Announces Its Involvement in the Restitution of Four Works Plundered by Nazis

To: National Desk
Contact: Ori Z. Soltes of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project,
WASHINGTON, June 21 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Holocaust Art Restitution Project ("HARP") Chair and co-founder Ori Z. Soltes announced today (Monday, June 21) that HARP has been involved in the return to Jewish claimant families of four works of art stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Soltes announcement follows the release by HARP last Wednesday, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., of a version of the background research report that led to the momentous decision by the Seattle Art Museum ("SAM") to return a Henri Matisse painting on the grounds that it had been stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and never recovered by its original owner.
The research report had been prepared by HARP, under Soltes' direction, at SAM's request.
According to Soltes, "after a year of careful research through thousands of documents, we are quite certain that this painting is the "Orientale Casaque Brodee," painted by Matisse in 1928 and acquired by Paul Rosenberg a decade later. The painting was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941, together with 161 other works owned by the French Jewish dealer, from a storage facility in Libourne, in southern France. We are certain, moreover, that this work, numbered 3795, was never again seen nor recovered by Rosenberg between that time and his death in 1959. In fact, a year later, in 1960, French authorities still were unaware of the fact that the work had been taken to the United States and sold, by the Knoedler Gallery, to Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Bloedel in 1954."
Linda Williams, SAM's director of public relations, announced at HARP's press conference how "pleased the entire Seattle Art Museum board was to see this matter closed in such a favorable manner, and to see this painting returned to its proper owners after a nearly 60-year-long hiatus."
In a separate statement, Janine S. Benton, counsel to HARP and an attorney with the law firm of Epstein Becker & Green, remarked that "SAM's decision to request the research from HARP sets new, moral and legal standards on how claims for art lost or stolen during the Holocaust should be handled by museums or galleries. Moreover, SAM's decision to return the Matisse painting to Rosenberg's family is historic because it is the first time that an American art museum has resolved a Holocaust-era claim following the guidelines set out a year ago by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)."
HARP co-founder, Willi Korte, also reported on Wednesday about his contribution towards the decisions of two different German Museums, the National Gallery in Berlin and the Kunsthalle in Emden, to return three works of art to the families of two Jewish collectors victimized by the Nazis. As a result of these decisions, a Van Gogh drawing, "The Olive Tree," valued at several million dollars, and a Han Von Marees painting, "Self Portrait," will be returned to the heir of Max Silberberg, Greta Silberberg. Also, a painting by Otto Mueller, "Boy in Front of Two Standing and One Seated Girls," will be returned to the heirs of Ismar Littmann.
Max Silberberg and Ismar Littmann were each stripped of several hundred paintings in the mid 1930's, shortly after the Nazis came to power. In addition, Littmann had nearly 6,000 works of art on paper confiscated by the Nazis.
Korte stated that, "the decision to return works of art to the heirs of these Holocaust victims sets new precedent as to how the international community of museums should treat the forced sales and auctions of Jewish-owned art before 1939. Such sales should now be accorded the same serious level of scrutiny as that accorded to works directly stolen by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945. In addition, the art world should take very seriously the high volume of unrestituted art cases which are unsolved."
/U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/ 06/21 17:32
Copyright 1999, U.S. Newswire

Woman Pleads Not Guilty in UCLA Art Theft

A Van Nuys woman accused of stealing a 19th century oil painting from UCLA during her tenure there as a director of counseling pleaded not guilty Monday to federal fraud charges. Jane Crawford, 50, was indicted last month in connection with the 1994 theft of "Frost Flowers, Ipswich 1889" by American painter Arthur Wesley Dow from the university. She was accused of selling the painting through a middleman to New York City's Spanierman Art Gallery for $200,000. Crawford said an unnamed university official gave her permission to take home the artwork, which had hung on her office wall. Prosecutors said an alleged business dispute between Crawford and the middleman, who has since died, led the man to tell local authorities the painting was stolen. Authorities said Spanierman officials were unaware the painting was alleged to have been stolen. Crawford is scheduled to stand trial in U.S. District Court on Aug. 17. If convicted, she faces up to 40 years in federal prison. In April, Crawford resigned her academic counseling position after 23 years, she said, in response to the controversy.
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times.

Date sent: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 05:26:01 -1000
To: Museum Security Network

query about ownership after art theft

A reader asks the group: When you have works of art stolen; then recovered by law enforcement; not returned to owner because law enforcement fails to recognize the pieces match a theft report; then the art is sold at auction;
who owns the art?
Is it the original owner or the new owner?
We are not looking for an official legal opinion, just a community impression of the right answer. How does the Museum Security Commnuity view this situation? Obviously, an attorney would need to be consulted in the long run.
Thank you for any input.

Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 14:10:50 -0400
From: Jason Kaufman

Re: query about ownership after art theft

With regard to the police auction blunder question, whether or not the good title to the works is transferred in such a situation depends on local laws. But my sense is that all members of society should prefer the law enforcement agency to restitute the stolen art to the rightful owner, if necessary compensating the buyer at auction for the full market value of their unwittingly tainted purchase. If the buyer refuses to part with the art, and the victim is willing, the law enforcement agency should offer the same compensation to the victim. I would imagine the matter might be settled also through arbitration, rather than in court.
Jason Edward Kaufman

From: "Patrick Vyvyan"

RE: Legal sale of stolen art works

I guess your question about subsequent legal claims on unclaimed stolen art works sold by the police was aimed at a North American audience. I am an English art historian working in Chile, and certainly not a legal expert. For what it's worth...
For me there is at least a moral similarity to the much more exceptional case of works confiscated from Jewish collectors, dealers etc. by the Nazis in WW2. Such works have often been acquired in total good faith by a succession of owners, but current thinking says that a crime was committed and, if traced, the work should be returned to the original owner. In fact, not only the original owner but the successor who may well be a child or grandchild of the original owner. This, along with related issues such as Swiss bank accounts, insurance policies etc. of Jewish victims, is a relatively recent development. Yet while the Jewish case arouses a "politically correct" universal sympathy which individual thefts do not, there is still the possibility that whatever moral and legal criteria are applied now may change in the future.
My original studies were in medieval art, especially illuminated manuscripts. During the 16th and 17th centuries many manuscripts passed from churches and cathedrals to Oxford and Cambridge college libraries, usually gifted by an individual cleric rather than with formal authorisation. Who is to say that such works, illegally removed, should not now be returned to their original and lawful owners? What morally is the time limit on reclaiming a work - five years, fifty years or five hundred?
I would imagine that police sales of unclaimed stolen works are covered by specific rules - yet such works are obviously not sold in good faith. They are known to be stolen and their sale could be considered to reflect a failure on the part of the police to find the true owner. Obviously the onus is on the owner to report the work as stolen - and proof of ownership with appropriate documentation is essential. But a proven suggestion that the police did not do all that was possible to locate the owner might well be grounds to invalidate a sale. If so, and if the work had to be returned, would the police have to repay the buyer the original price, the price with interest or the current market value of the work etc.
My feeling is that the resolution of a crime is the more important, there should be no place for stolen art however "legalised". All in all, the principle should act as a deterent against theft. Works could be sold provisionally, subject to reclaim. But equally there should be an expiry date - perhaps five, ten or fifty years. During that time a register of such stolen works which have been sold should be made public. If the owners can't get it together in that time, they should forfit their claim. Whether this is practical, and how possible resale situations are resolved, I don't know!
Best wishes,
Patrick Vyvyan

(Daily Telegraph)

How Mussolini park ruined frescoes of Nero's palace

By Bruce Johnston in Rome
THE Emperor Nero's Golden House, one of the ancient world's most important buildings, is to be reopened today after being sealed for more than 20 years, but with many of its famous frescoes ruined. The sprawling Roman palace, which inspired the Renaissance, was closed in the Seventies because it had become unstable. Built in AD 64-68, it is now buried beneath a park created by Mussolini. Its frescoes withstood the ravages of time but not water leaking from the pipes of the park's sprinkler system After a row between the state, which controls the palace, and the municipality, which controls the park, an agreement was reached three weeks ago to turn off the sprinklers, but the stopcock cannot be found. Apart from the water damage, damp, dust, micro-organisms and pollution have entered the palace through 10ft shafts connecting the rooms to the air above.
On many of the frescoes a hard crust of salt and other deposits have formed up to an inch thick. In addition, tree roots have broken through the ceilings, including around Nero's Nymphaeum, with a decoration of Ulysses offering wine to the cyclops Polyphemus that may be the first mosaic used on a vaulted ceiling.
To protect the palace from further damage, the shafts have been sealed, and sensors have been installed to detect climatic change. The upper of the palace's two floors was partly razed by the Emperor Trajan less than half a century after it was built and the lower floor partly filled with earth as a foundation for baths. The palace remained hidden from the world until 1496. Artists then began lowering themselves inside like potholers through openings to copy the decorations on the walls. The decorations, then in good condition, became all the Renaissance rage. They quickly became referred to as "grotesques" after the grotto-like place where they were found.
Romano Prodi, the European Union president-elect, will attend the official re-opening along with Chris Smith and other European cultural ministers.

Thailand ready to return looted Cambodia carvings

PHNOM PENH, June 20 (Reuters) - Thailand is ready to return 117 ancient stone carvings looted from a northwest Cambodian temple and seized from art smugglers but is looking for help with the costs, a Thai official said on Sunday.
The Angkor-era sandstone carvings were hacked off an inner wall of the 12th Banteay Chhmar temple, 350 km (200 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh by Cambodian soldiers and sold across the border to a Thai smuggler. ``All of the judicial procedures are finished and we have decided to return all of the pieces to Cambodia but we have some problems about how we will return them,'' a Thai embassy official said. ``It will cost a lot and we need some agencies to help,'' he said. The official suggested that the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) might help with the return of the the artefacts.
The haul, one of the biggest of smuggled Cambodian carvings ever found, was seized in the eastern Thai province of Prachinburi in January. Cambodia has demanded their return. Thailand's Princess Mahachakri Sirindhorn is due to visit Banteay Chhmar and other archaeological sites on Tuesday on a one-day trip with Thai military cadets.
Talks on the return of the items might take place during the visit as the princess is being accompanied by the director general of Thailand's department of fine arts, Nikom Musikagama, the embassy official said.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.

U.S. Writer (Hector Feliciano) Wins WWII Art Suit

By SUSANNAH PATTON Associated Press Writer
PARIS (AP) - A French court on Wednesday ruled in favor of an American writer who suggested that a prominent French-Jewish art dealer collaborated with the Nazis. A panel of three judges said in a written decision that Hector Feliciano, accused of slandering the late Georges Wildenstein in his 1997 book ``The Lost Museum,'' had documents showing the art dealer ``had direct and indirect relations with German authorities during the Occupation.''
Feliciano's book suggests that Wildenstein, who ran the family business from 1910 until his death in 1963, maintained commercial ties with the Nazis during the Occupation.
Wildenstein fled France in January 1941, and settled in New York. His son Daniel, grandsons Alec and Guy, and their New York gallery, sued Feliciano, an art historian, for $1 million in damages, claiming the book tarnished the family name and scared away major clients. But the French judges said that while it wasn't their job to determine the truthfulness of Feliciano's book, his work was ``objective and fair.''
The judges also ordered the Wildensteins to pay $1,900 to Feliciano, who had countersued.
Feliciano said the case, which spotlighted complex transactions between Parisian art dealers and the Nazis, has begun to lift the veil of secrecy on France's thriving wartime art market. ``The courts are now doing what the administration wouldn't do,'' Feliciano said in a telephone interview. ``They are allowing people to gain access to archives and find out the truth about this period in history.''
The Wildensteins can appeal the decision. Neither family members nor their lawyer were available for comment Wednesday. The book, translated into eight languages, mentions Wildenstein only in passing. It focuses primarily on the Nazis' organized pillaging of thousands of paintings belonging to wealthy French Jews. Wartime Paris was an art dealer's dream. The Nazis flooded the market with works by artists they considered morally corrupt - Picasso, Matisse, Chagall among them - trading them or buying classical art for a museum to glorify Nazi ideals.
Under the measures passed by France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime banning Jews from owning businesses, Wildenstein's gallery was transferred to Roger Dequoy, a non-Jewish employee who appears to have done business with the Nazis.
Court documents show Wildenstein remained in contact with Dequoy, who conducted business with Karl Haberstock, a Berlin-based dealer and fervent Nazi who had close contact with Wildenstein up to 1939. Haberstock was Hitler's private dealer and later developed the theory of degenerate or morally corrupt art.
The Wildensteins contend that Dequoy, who worked at the gallery for nine years after the war, was acting on his own.

Main Indexpage