SEATTLE _ Heirs of a French art dealer seeking to regain possession of
an Henri Matisse painting have sued the Seattle Art Museum, nine
months after asking it to show proof of ownership or return the work.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court here by the heirs
of Paul Rosenberg, considered Paris' most important dealer in 19th-
and 20th-century art between World War I and World War II.
``The museum needs to give the painting back,'' said attorney Camden
Hall, who is representing the heirs. ``For the museum, the painting is
part of its inventory. For the Rosenbergs, it's their heritage.''
The art dealer and his family fled to New York after the Nazis
invaded France in 1940. More than 300 major paintings were left
behind --including works by Matisse, Picasso, Delacroix and Cezanne
-- and all disappeared into Nazi vaults.
``Odalisque,'' the 1927-1928 oil painting in question, was one of the
works in Rosenberg's personal collection. Christie's auction house in
Los Angeles said the painting could be worth as much as $2 million.
In 1954, Seattle's Prentice Bloedel bought the painting from New
York's Knoedler Gallery. In 1991, he donated it to the Seattle Art
John Reed, the museum's lawyer, said consultants are investigating
ownership history of the Matisse during World War II and the years
``We have assured counsel for the Rosenbergs that we will share the
results of that research once it has been completed,'' Reed said.
The heirs contend the museum sent them a letter June 12 saying it
wouldn't return the painting unless ordered to do so by a court.
Gail Joice, the museum's chief registrar, said the museum was
``willing to enter mediation with all parties involved'' but refused
to comment on the letter.
Hall said Friday the family isn't asking for damages at this point.
``My feeling is if we get the painting back quickly without a lot of
spear-throwing, we'll probably just fade into the sunset,'' he said.
``But if the museum makes us spend a lot of money and engage in a
battle royal, we might be forced to seek damages.''
Elaine Rosenberg, widow of Paul Rosenberg's son, Alexandre, expressed
frustration that the museum is forcing her and her sister-in-law,
Micheline Nanette Sinclair to sue. Sinclair is Paul Rosenberg's
There is ``no genuine doubt that `Odalisque' was part of the
collection of Paul Rosenberg that was stolen by the Nazis,'' Elaine
Rosenberg said in a statement released through her attorneys. ``There
is no justification for the Seattle Art Museums's forcing the
Rosenberg family to incur the expense and delay of bringing a lawsuit
to recover it.''
The family contends in the lawsuit that the painting was sold in 1954
by Galerie Drouant-David in Paris to Knoedler & Co., which then sold
it to Bloedel.
The Rosenbergs do not know how the French gallery obtained the
painting. If Rosenberg himself had recovered it and sold it to the
gallery, the museum would own it legitimately.
A HOSPITAL'S experiment in modern art has turned into a fiasco with
a 27ft multi-coloured cone left stranded outside its main entrance.
The sculpture, Land Sea Light Koan by the American artist Liliane
Lijne, was erected in April 1997 to considerable local amusement. It
was meant to be illuminated at night and to revolve, but within nine
months of being installed at St Mary's Hospital, Newport, on the Isle
of Wight, it had broken down. Islanders drew up a 2,000-name petition
and sent numerous letters to the local newspaper demanding its
removal. The Koan, though, is to stay. After many hours of discussion,
the board of the island's NHS trust voted to keep it in place but
without spending any money on repairs.
The Arts Council, which provided the bulk of the funding together
with the National Lottery, told the trust that if the sculpture were
removed, it might demand its UKPounds: 31,000 grant back.
Allan Munds, chairman of the trust, said: "It has not been a success.
The whole idea was that the sculpture would be calming and soothing,
but it has been neither for us. If we ever decided to dabble in modern
art like this again, we would ask people what they wanted first. It is
time we put this whole episode behind us and got on with the job of
providing health care for the Isle of Wight."
I'm organizing training for student guards at the Georgia Museum of
Art. We are a small college museum and are in need of a cost
effective comprehensive training program. Can anyone lead me in the
A brush fire broke out recently in the ancient Agora at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, briefly threatening 2,500-year old monuments before being brought under control.
Tourists watched as fire fighters battled burning trees and bushes
inside the site that was the ancient market and meeting place of
Athens, and smoke billowed up towards the Acropolis and the Parthenon.
Temperatures and winds have caused hundreds of forest fires
throughout Greece this summer, and the fire at the foot of the
Acropolis came only weeks after the long dispute over the Parthenon
Marbles grew more heated. In a new book, the British historian
William St Clair claims cleaners at the British Museum irreparably
damaged them 60 years ago by scrubbing them with metal scrapers.
As St Clair's book was being published, the British government once
again rejected renewed demands from the Greek Culture Minister, Mr
Evangelos Venizelos, for an international commission to decide the
fate of the Parthenon Marbles, known in the museum as the Elgin
Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, was British ambassador to the
Ottoman Court in Istanbul when he stripped much of the surviving
inner frieze and most of the pediment sculptures from the Parthenon,
shipped them off to England in 1802, and sold them to the British
Museum in 1816.
Elgin had stretched the powers of an Ottoman permit allowing him to
collect inscriptions and slabs from the Acropolis, and in their rushed
efforts his crews greatly damaged the temple.
"Instead of removing things slowly and safely they hacked away and
mutilated," says Dr Manolis Korres, the architect in charge of a major
restoration project at the Acropolis. "They pushed three-tonne ledges
from 15 metres high, shattering them and damaging the base of the
St Clair alleges the damage caused to the marbles 60 years ago was
covered up by the trustees of the British Museum. Over a period of 15
months from 1938 to 1939, the marbles were cleaned by workers who used
copper tools to remove what they believed was dirt but was in reality
the honey-coloured patina of the surface.
The museum standing committee found that "through improper efforts to
improve the colour of the Parthenon sculpture... some important pieces
had been greatly damaged", and disciplinary action was taken against
two officials. Frederick Pryce, then keeper of Greek and Roman
antiquities, was given leave to retire because of ill-health, and his
assistant, Roger Hinks, who later resigned, was formally reprimanded
for neglect of duty.
It is generally believed the cleaning was ordered by Sir John Soames,
then director of the British Musuem, at the request of Lord Duveen,
who had commissioned a new gallery to house the sculptures.
However, in public the museum denied using a blunt copper tool. In a
letter to the Times in 1939, George Hill claimed the cleaning method
involved only soap and water and any resulting damage was
imperceptible to the untrained eye. But Arthur Holcombe, the museum's
chief cleaner, later admitted that when a solution of soap and water
and ammonia had failed "to get some of the dirtier spots, I rubbed the
marbles with a blunt copper tool."
A new controversy over the cleaning of the marbles surfaced in 1983, when the museum was accused of speeding up the process of decay by coating the caryatid with a supposedly protective plastic. That year, the then Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, began a vigorous campaign for the return of the marbles, saying: "I believe the time has come for these marbles to come home to the blue skies of Attica.". Her successor, Mr Venizelos, says: "The request for the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles is not made by the Greek government in the name of the Greek nation or of Greek history. It is made in the name of the cultural heritage of the world and with the voice of the mutilated monument itself, that cries out for its marbles to be returned." In Britain, the campaign to have the marbles restored to Greece has received the support of writers such as Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Tariq Ali and John Fowles. However, the British Museum and government insist the marbles will stay in London, although previous Labour leaders, including Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot, supported their return. Earlier this year, the Mail on Sunday claimed the British Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, had said in private he was sympathetic to calls for the return of the marbles. Former arts minister, Mark Fisher, is a known supporter of the demand to return the marbles. A long-awaited Acropolis Museum is being built near the Parthenon to house the marbles, and Mr Fisher believes Greece has now met many of the British objections to their return. In recent years Greece has demonstrated a commitment to preserving its archaeological heritage. Alarmed by the rapid crumbling of the Minoan palace at Knossos, archaeologists in Crete are trying to rescue the 5,000-year-old site from further damage by the millions of tourists who visit it each year in search of a unique glimpse of Europe's oldest civilisation. A 700 million drachma (UKPounds:1.6 million) restoration project is expected to be completed by the end of the century. Last month it was announced that the five marble lions on the island of Delos, prized as beacons of Greek antiquity, are to be moved indoors to save them from salt erosion and pollution. The lions, dating from 700 BC, will be replaced by copies next year. But the most ambitious restoration programme in Greece is currently under way on the Acropolis. Of the 97 surviving blocks of Parthenon frieze, 56 are in Britain and 40 in Athens; of the 64 surviving metopes, 18 are in Athens and 15 in the British Museum; in many cases, half a sculpture is in Athens and the other half in the British Museum. Mr Venizelos says: "The most important monument of Western civilisation is mutilated. The Parthenon itself demands its marbles back." Roger Casement once wrote:
Give back the Elgin marbles, let them lie Unsullied, pure beneath the Attic sky. The smoky fingers of our northern clime More ruin work than all ancient time... Give back the marbles, let them vigil keep Where art still lies, over Pheidias' tomb
A REMBRANDT self-portrait in the National Gallery was daubed with
paint yesterday by a man dressed as a woman (Robin Young writes).
The picture, of the artist at the age of 63, was daubed with yellow
paint. Witnesses said that the man walked up to it and squirted the
paint from a tube that had been concealed beneath the skirt of the
dress he was wearing.
Martin Wild, the gallery's chief restorer, said yesterday: "Senior
staff have taken charge of cleaning the picture and I can confidently
say that it is unharmed. I do not know what motivates people to
attacks like this but any breach of security at the gallery is taken
very seriously indeed."
The gallery said last night that the restoration had been completed
at a cost of about UKPounds:500. The most damaging previous attack at
the gallery was on a Leonardo da Vinci cartoon that was damaged by a
shotgun blast in the early 1980s.
Vincent Bethell, 26, an unemployed man from Coventry, was charged
last night with criminal damage. He will appear at Bow Street
Magistrates' Court today.
WHEN the television crime reporter Roger Cook tried to expose the
lucrative trade in fake works of art by buying an imitation Lowry
painting, he ended up with the real thing.
The painting, which is worth up to UKPounds:40,000, was bought for
less than UKPounds:1,000 during an investigation into the world of
art and antiques. The work had earlier been examined by the Lowry
Museum in Salford, which was doubtful that it had been done by the
artist renowned for simplistic industrial scenes and stick figures. A
Nottingham auctioneer withdrew it from sale and researchers for ITV's
The Cook Report snapped it up to use in a sting.
Its authenticity was established only when the TV company took it for
other opinions. Lady Cooksey, a restoration expert who has worked on
more than 100 Lowrys, found that the painter's original signature,
written in a ballpoint pen, was hidden by a painted signature that
looked like a fake.
Her belief that the painting was genuine was backed by the dealer
Andreas Kalman, who had known Lowry for 50 years before his death in
1976. The painting has now been valued at up to UKPounds:40,000. Mr
Cook said yesterday: "If these experts don't agree, what chance does
the man in the street have? I've always had a cynical opinion of
experts in the art world.
"There will be arguments about who valued it for what and why and who
should pay whom. We paid for it as a fake because we thought it would
good for another sting., but we didn't use it for that."
Mike Morley, the programme editor, said: "There is no intention to
sell it. It's never been a profit-making exercise."
He said the programme showed some of the pitfalls of dabbling in the
art and antiques world, the underbelly of which is a trade in stolen
art and treasures reported to be worth UKPounds:500 million. The
programme, to be shown on August 19, uncovers someone who allegedly
puts criminals in contact with those who want works stolen to order.
The Cook Report team took over a large country house for the
hidden-camera operation and left a UKPounds:20,000 painting lying
around to bait the thieves.
THE heirs of Paul Rosenberg, a prominent Jewish art dealer who fled
Paris during the Second World War and took refuge in the United
States, have sued the Seattle Art Museum for the return of a painting
by Henri Matisse, alleged to have been stolen from Rosenberg by the
Nazis in 1941. The lawsuit under which the family seeks to recover
Odalisque - painted in 1927 - is the first against an American museum
over art seized from Jews by the Nazis.
Although the museum initially said that it would have preferred a
settlement reached by mediation, it later expressed a preference for
the dispute to go to court as a test case. In court, the museum's
lawyers hope to resolve the role played in the painting's history by
Knoedler & Company, the renowned Manhattan art dealer which bought
Odalisque in 1954 from a gallery in Paris.
However, the Rosenberg family, convinced that they have
incontrovertible proof that the painting was stolen from them, are
unhappy at having to go to trial to recover the object. Elaine
Rosenberg, the widow of the patriarch's son Alexandre, said: "There is
no justification for the Seattle Art Museum forcing the Rosenberg
family to incur the expense and delay of bringing a lawsuit."
Experts in Seattle have valued the painting at $2 million
The whereabouts of Odalisque were not known to the Rosenbergs until
1996. In that year, Prentice Bloedel, a Canadian timber magnate, gave
the painting to the Seattle Art Museum. Shortly afterwards a book
called The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's
Greatest Works of Art was published, in which the author, Hector
Feliciano, cites the painting as one of many plundered by the Nazis.
He stated that it was stolen from Rosenberg.
A grandchild of Bloedel, who is now dead, recognised the illustration
in the book as matching the painting that had been given to the
museum. The Bloedel family then contacted the Rosenbergs, who filed a
legal demand for the painting's return on October 17 last year.
They agreed to wait until June 15 before taking further legal action,
a period meant to allow the family and the museum to settle the
dispute out of court. However, on June 12 the museum wrote to the
Rosenbergs expressing a wish to go to trial.
Mr Feliciano, who spoke yesterday to The New York Times, has
expressed surprise at the museum's position. The "art sleuth-author"
said: "This is a very, very solid claim, where you have documents all
the way through from the 1930s through the 1960s showing that the
painting belonged to the Rosenbergs."