The nagging question behind the mysterious theft of a $7.5 million golden eagle
Ron Shore told Murphy he enjoyed his talk and would like to have coffee with him sometime. He said his sister-in-law had died from breast cancer and he was trying to raise $100 million for breast cancer research.
Murphy was distracted; he was in the middle of signing books and others wanted to talk to him.
But something Shore said caught his attention.
He disclosed he had a $9-million golden eagle statue in his backpack as part of his fundraising efforts. And he had another piece of art valued at about $50,000 in his car.
Investigating Ron Shore’s stories is like going into a black hole.“Why did you say that?” a woman accompanying Shore said to him.
“I’m sure I can trust Jim,” he replied.
Murphy was a bit confused.
He was right.
Outside the church that evening, Shore was assaulted by two masked men as he was loading the trunk of his vehicle and robbed of his prized eagle, along with a silver eagle, which Shore described as a “decoy.” Shore chased one of the suspects and tried to grab him as he fled in an SUV. He was dragged about 200 metres before falling, police said.
As the heist made headlines around the world, some on social media questioned whether Shore might be involved in the caper, either for publicity or to scam insurers.
Lawrence Northeast, who attended bible camp with Shore when they were teenagers, wrote on Facebook: “I would be very careful about jumping on a bandwagon led by a natural-born showman like Ron Shore or expend much effort looking for his lost eagle.”
A lawyer who represented a man who Shore sued following a 2004 car accident said he was one of the most difficult witnesses he had encountered.
“Investigating Ron Shore’s stories is like going into a black hole,” said the lawyer, who requested anonymity.
Even Shore’s brother, Douglas Shore, told the National Post to “double check everything” he says.
Shore is like a “sad pufferfish,” Douglas Shore said, someone who “blows himself up more than they are.”
Shore vehemently denies the allegations.
“It’d be 100 per cent not in my interest to have (the eagle) stolen,” he said.
Shore dismissed his brother’s criticism as that of a bitter and jealous man and said they haven’t spoken in more than 10 years.
Another brother, Robert Shore, confirmed Douglas Shore is estranged from the family. He said Ron would never fake a theft and is devastated by the loss.
The recipient of a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and a Caring Canadian Award for his altruism, Ron Shore is clearly upset by the scrutiny and the lingering question: is he masquerading or just misunderstood?
The approach he chose to raise money for breast cancer research was to create an elaborate worldwide treasure hunt — with an 18-pound golden eagle as its centrepiece.
“The first thing I said was, ‘We’re going to need … 22 or 24 pounds of gold and a bag of money. It’s going to be expensive,’” Peters recalled.
Peters spent a year going through iterations of the eagle. A couple were cast in bronze and a handful in silver before moving on to gold.
A few dozen craftsmen completed the job, which included adding more than 700 diamonds to the eagle’s head, pear-shaped diamonds for eyes, and affixing the Atocha Star — an emerald recovered from a 400-year-old shipwreck off the Florida Keys — between the eagle’s talons.
Taffi Fisher, a member of an American treasure-hunting family that uncovered the shipwreck, said the gem was the “cream of the crop.”
She said the family sold the Atocha Star to Shore in 2009 at a discount because they liked that it would be going toward an “exciting” treasure hunt and a good cause.
Shore says he put in more than $800,000 of his own money into the project. He says he used the court settlement from the 2004 car accident and his inheritance, maxed out his credit cards, and re-mortgaged his home.
For someone who started off not knowing what he was doing, Shore pulled it off, Peters said.
“He actually did the impossible, lined up the right craftspeople, and it was managed very well.”
“When you’re almost killed in a car accident, you know what? It impacts you,” he said. “When you see your little niece growing up without her mom, you know what? It impacts you.”
I will not stop. Either the show will be cancelled or I’ll be doing this for three or four more years.But in the months after his accident in July 2004 and his sister-in-law’s death the following December, Shore was pre-occupied with trying to get on The Apprentice.
A March 2005 article in the Abbotsford Times headlined “He Never Quits” documented Shore’s multiple attempts to get on the popular reality show.
“In August, he went to Texas for an audition,” the paper reported. “Then, five weeks ago, he went to Vegas. A week later it was Boise, Idaho (he ended up driving after missing his flight), and a week after that Shore drove to Seattle with eight friends and family members in tow.”
“I will not stop. Either the show will be cancelled or I’ll be doing this for three or four more years,” he told the newspaper.
Shore even hired 10 actors to accompany him to an audition in Chicago. “They made me look like a rock star,” he wrote on his website.
Shore never made it on the show and as the rejections piled up, he set his sights on launching a book- and online-based treasure hunt.
Each chapter is filled with clues and ends with 20 trivia questions. Players are invited to submit their answers online. The first person to complete a chapter is flown to a city where, with a video camera in tow, they follow directions to claim the prize, a silver eagle. Once all chapters are completed, competitors vie for the ultimate prize, a lavish golden eagle or $1 million cash. (To date, five players have received silver eagles.)
In early 2010, with everything in place, Shore started making the rounds on TV to promote the treasure hunt.
He figured he would be able to raise money for breast cancer through book sales — the goal was a million copies — and donations to his charity, Hunt for the Cause Foundation.
Shore even flew to Los Angeles to try to get on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, but it didn’t happen. Nor did he make it on Dragons’ Den, despite hiring a Vancouver marketing consultant to help him deliver his pitch.
Initially, Shore declared 20 per cent of gross sales would go to breast cancer research. That changed to 100 per cent of the net proceeds because, he says, people were calling him “cheap.” (He still considers 20 per cent of gross sales to be generous when most authors get only one to three per cent.)
To date, Shore says he has achieved book sales in the “thousands” — well below expectations.
Filings with the Canada Revenue Agency show that from 2010 through 2015, Hunt for the Cause received $3,125 and spent $3,988 ($2,458 went to management and administration and $1,530 went to “other” purposes).
(Lee Houskeeper, a publicist for the event, says event organizers agreed to have Shore participate because the eagle was a “dazzler.” When Shore arrived, he looked to meet potential investors for his treasure hunt charity. “I just told him that wasn’t the purpose. If he came down to help breast cancer, then he came down to help Friends of Faith, not himself,” Houskeeper recalled. Shore, he said, was a “sideshow” and not the main draw.)
All told, Shore estimates he has helped raise about $20,000 for breast cancer research with some of it going to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (Hunt for the Cause appears in the foundation’s 2010-11 annual report among donors who gave $1,000-$4,999.)
It’s a sliver of the audacious $100 million he had originally set out to raise. “Obviously, that was not realistic,” he now says.
He touted the eagle variously as “one of the 10 largest solid gold statues created in the last 500 years (2010 promotional video),” the “6th largest solid gold statue created in the last 500 years (treasure hunt website),” the “third largest gold statue in the world (Golden Eagle website),” the “largest diamond-encrusted, solid-gold statue ever made (WGN TV interview),” and the “largest solid-gold sculpture of its kind (2012 promotional video).”
Shore says all those descriptors are based on his own research at the time.
How he would use the proceeds also changed over time.
In late 2010, Shore told Breakfast Television in Nova Scotia he wanted to sell the eagle for $8 million. He said $1 million would go to the winner of the treasure hunt and $7 million would go to breast cancer research.
“Wow, that would be great,” the news anchor says.
The website, thegoldeneagle.ca, put the price tag at $5 million. Visitors were told $1 million would go to the treasure hunt winner, $1 million would go to a charity of the buyer’s choice, and the balance “would go to promoting the contest and paying expenses.”
Shore now says the eagle is worth about $7.5 million. (A figure of $9 million he quoted in May was an error due to a rushed calculation, he says.) If the eagle is found and a buyer comes forward, he says he would set aside $1 million for the treasure hunt winner and put $1.5 million into starting an annual cancer-benefit concert. He would consult professionals to decide what to do with the rest.
“There’s very limited physical evidence for us to work with. It is a challenging case for the investigative team,” Sgt. Brad Cooper said.
Shore says it is a “reasonable assumption” he approached Murphy, the motivational speaker, at the church that night because he was seeking a buyer or fundraising partner.
He would not identify the woman who was with him. He has previously said he was accompanied by a “designated security person.”
In an interview on CKNW radio last month, Shore was grilled by host Justin Wilcomes (known as Drex) about why he had carried the eagle in a backpack and so close to its decoy.
Shore said he couldn’t discuss “security protocols.”
Drex wouldn’t relent: “I’m not getting a straight answer from you.”
It’s a high-profile thing and I don’t expect everybody to understand … how hard I was hit, or that I suffer from a concussion or that I was dragged down the street by a vehicle.Shore tried again: “What my security protocols are, are what they are. I take what I do from what police forces suggest.”
(Shore says security consultants — including the FBI and RCMP — had advised him to conceal the eagle in a non-descript way.)
“Can you see why some people are having a hard time buying this story?” Drex said.
“I fully understand.”
“Why do you think they’re having a hard time?”
“It’s a high-profile thing and I don’t expect everybody to understand … how hard I was hit, or that I suffer from a concussion or that I was dragged down the street by a vehicle.”
Shore’s supporters say there is no way he could be involved.
“I guess when you’re out there exposing yourself … you do things that so-called normal people don’t do, you’re going to be judged,” says Martin Chow, who has served on Shore’s charity. “I think a lot of it has been unfair.”
“If you knew all the details, it wouldn’t make any sense” for Shore to be in on it, Peters says.
Roger Lintott, who solved the treasure hunt’s first chapter, wrote on Facebook that Shore was the most genuine person he knew. “I hope they can get this eagle back and that it goes on to make a lot of money for breast cancer research.”
Fisher, however, fears the worst.
“It’s heartbreaking because you know these unique pieces … they probably get melted down,” she said.
Shore, who is a lieutenant in the naval reserves and led a campaign last year to build a memorial in Chilliwack to honour Royal Air Force airmen who died in a 1945 crash, says he’s just trying to live by his father’s credo.
“My father bred into me very clearly that community service is the rent that one should pay to live in an amazing community.
“As a person of integrity … this whole theft thing, if I were to have done it, is way over the line. It’s completely stupid. My father would look down on me and be disgusted,” Shore says.
He adds any insurance payout wouldn’t come close to what he’s invested.
Besides, days before the theft, he’d received a call from a potential buyer. (The eagle had been on display at a downtown Vancouver art exhibition.)
“I’ve read about other people doing things for publicity and stuff like that,” he says.
“People end up going to jail. It’s a crime, OK? Why would I want to commit a crime and potentially go to jail?”
Art dealer faces fresh questions over Picasso theft after images of works found on his laptop
The pictures included two gouaches by Picasso depicting her mother, Femme se Coiffant and Espagnole à l’éventail, both dating from 1957 and together believed to be worth tens of millions of pounds.
Thomas appeared in court back in November but did not receive any formal charges. He has now been summoned for renewed questioning after investigators found photographs of the missing works on his laptop.
Judge Isabelle Rich-Flament reminded Thomas that he had previously stated he had never seen the pictures before. On July 6, she placed him under judicial supervision for “breach of trust, fraud, concealment and laundering” which caused damage to Hutin-Blay.
Transporting the WorksIn her complaint last year, Hutin-Blay said the works had been entrusted to freeports magnate Yves Bouvier for storage but were subsequently sold to the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev without her permission. She also claimed that Thomas had taken possession of the works after being hired to transport them.
While Thomas and Bouvier have denied the accusations, Monaco-based Rybolovlev has since surrendered the works to French authorities.
Earlier in 2015, Rybolovlev made a series of separate legal claims against Bouvier alleging that the so-called ‘king of the freeports’ had overcharged him for paintings over a prolonged period including the sales high-value works by Mark Rothko and Amadeo Modigliani.
Rybolovlev also reportedly paid $127.5m to Bouvier for Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi which had previously been sold in a private treaty deal brokered by Sotheby’s for a sum thought to be between $75m-80m.
After 40 Years, The Search Continues For Rockwell Painting Stolen From NJ Home
The Cherry Hill Police Department is working in conjunction with the FBI Art Crime Team to find the stolen Norman Rockwell painting. On the anniversary of the theft, authorities are asking for the public’s help.
The FBI Art Crime Team was started back in 2004 to focus on art and cultural property crimes.
Officials say the painting was taken from a home on June 30, 1976.
The FBI says the piece of work in from 1919. Officials say it has a few names including “Boy Asleep With Hoe,” Taking A Break,” and “Lazybones.”
They describe the painting as oil on canvas. It’s dimensions are about 25 inches by 28.5 inches.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the FIB’s Philadelphia Division at 215-418-4000.
A Canoga Park man was arrested in connection with the theft of a trailer containing $250,000 in artwork by Matisse and Chagall, police said Tuesday.
Robert Michael Slayton was taken into custody Thursday on suspicion of grand theft, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. He was released hours later on $70,000 bail.
Detectives found the stolen trailer in Slayton’s backyard in the 7700 block of Farralone Avenue in Canoga Park, police said. The trailer was stripped.
Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail recovered more than $120,000 in stolen art.
But not all of the stolen art has been recovered.
Los Angeles police art investigators said the 24-foot-long, rectangular 2005 Haulmark trailer and roughly $250,000 in precious cargo disappeared Nov. 20 from an industrial park in Chatsworth.
Two in court over alleged art theft from Billy Connolly’s former neighbours
Amateur antiques dealer gets jailAn amateur antiques dealer has been jailed after he was caught with 57 stolen antique books, including an extremely rare King James Bible.
Andrew Shannon, aged 51, was previously jailed for damaging a €10m Monet painting at the National Gallery in December 2014.
Shannon, of Willans Way, Ongar, Dublin, pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of the books at his home while knowing or being reckless as to whether they were stolen on March 3, 2007. He was convicted by a jury last February.
Judge Petria McDonnell sentenced him to one year in prison with the final six months suspended.
Shannon was previously sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final 15 months suspended for damaging the Claude Monet painting. He had denied the charge but was convicted following trial. He moved to appeal his conviction in December of last year but judgment is still awaited.
Shannon’s 35 other convictions include theft and burglary.
The court heard that the 57 stolen books had originated in the library of Carton House in Kildare, the historical family seat of the FitzGerald family.
Detective Garda Des Breathnach told Maurice Coffey, prosecuting, that in November 2006 the owner of Carton House reported that the books had been stolen after they were put in storage during the restoration of the country house.
The “distinctive books” were later found “openly on show” in the house of Shannon in March 2007. Shannon was arrested in November of the same year.
Counsel said the books were “an antique gem” and included a 1660 edition of the King James Bible. There was an agreement at the trial that the total overall value of the books was €6,500.
Shannon told gardaí he purchased these books at a fete in the Midlands in 2002.
John Fitzgerald, defending, said his client suffered from a heart condition and asked the court to take this into account.
Judge McDonnell said that Shannon trained as a French polisher and was an amateur antiques dealer who had a “propensity based on previous convictions of acquiring things.”
A third 'Pink Panther' will stand trial in Dubai in connection with the sensational heist where a gang stole Audi A8s, jewellery and watches worth Dh14.7 million.
Once the world’s richest and most influential dealers, the family is trying to fight off a half-billion dollar tax bill.
Still, life must be lived. Wildenstein parted with $1.2 million worth of old masters at a Christie’s auction in New York earlier this year, and he still has the Manhattan town house he bought for $32.5 million at the end of 2008, though, according to recent press reports, that’s on the block, too. In Paris, where the tax trial will be held, he has the family apartment, though for now it’s been legally seized and the furnishings are under seal. He still goes out in his double-breasted suits to mix with the godfathers of French finance, drawing admiration for keeping up appearances. They know it’s but for the grace of the feared fisc—France’s equivalent of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service—that they themselves aren’t explaining offshore trusts and Picassos in vaults to the taxman. After all, Wildenstein is still one of them: the one who sold his Gulfstream IV to then-Lazard Chairman Michel David-Weill back in 2003; who banks with Rothschild, as his family has for decades; who sustains the Wildenstein Institute, a temple to art history whose catalogues raisonnés for the most important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries are so exhaustive that a work by Monet would be worthless without a so-called Wildenstein index number.
“Nobody’s done as well as the Wildensteins in terms of cash and power and, in a way most important of all, respectability,” says art historian John Richardson. “Nobody.”
“When you were super rich and wanted to show off, you’d go to Wildenstein’s. You could tell everyone back in Chicago, ‘Oh, I was in Wildenstein’s the other day. I’m thinking of buying a Raphael.’”
Photographer: Helmut Newton/Maconochie Photography
The family’s business runs on secrets—so fiercely kept that Wildenstein has said he didn’t learn about the family’s financial machinations himself until the death in 2001 of his father, Daniel. When it came time to settle the estate, Guy and his brother, Alec, claimed their father had a net worth of €40.9 million, or about $45 million. To cover the resulting estate tax bill of €17.7 million, they gave the French Republic—Nicolas Sarkozy, then president of France, was a close friend of the family—a set of bas-reliefs by Marie Antoinette’s favorite sculptor. Lovely as the reliefs were, this turned out to be a true let-them-eat-cake moment, tossing crumbs to the French public while, French prosecutors claimed, the Wildensteins were keeping a towering confection of property, art, cash, and investments for themselves. In the month of Daniel’s death alone, the government uncovered a veritable airlift of art, with $188 million worth of paintings moved from the U.S. to Switzerland.
One painting stayed where it was. A Wildenstein-owned Caravaggio hung in a gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Known as The Lute Player, it was worth tens of millions of dollars, quite possibly more than the entire declared estate. French prosecutors would soon conclude there had to be more like it in the family vaults.
After making an appearance before a judge one morning last January, Wildenstein lurked silently in a corridor outside a criminal courtroom at the Palais de Justice, wrapped in his tan overcoat. He stood behind a lawyer who did all the talking about the unpleasant legal business, which is expected to culminate in a trial later this year.
He had already told his story in the glossy Côte d’Azur beach read Paris Match a few months before. The last time a member of the insular Wildenstein clan made use of the mass media was the first time most Americans heard of the family: In the late 1990s, Guy’s sister-in-law, Jocelyn, courted publicity from New York magazine and Vanity Fair during a divorce from Alec; allegations emerged of Russian models, pet leopards, five-figure laundry and dry-cleaning bills, and Jocelyn’s disfiguring facial surgery, which was, according to Alec, her ongoing attempt to look more like a cat.
“We have always been very discreet people,” Wildenstein told the French magazine. “My father was not worldly, I am not, to the point that almost no one knows what my wife looks like.” (Worldly, of course, is different from global; Wildenstein is a French citizen, born in New York, who educated his children at the Lycée Français on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Ivy League schools.) He was so down to earth, Wildenstein claimed, that despite being president of the family business, Wildenstein & Co., since 1990, he was in no position to have hidden the family’s fortune from the French government, as he’s charged with doing.
“My brother and I were clueless,” he said. “My father never spoke of his business. He would not come to ask me for advice to manage his fortune or dispose of his property while he was alive. I knew he had the trusts, but he never informed me of detail.” Through a lawyer, Wildenstein declined to comment for this article.
Photographer: AP Photo
In 1870, Nathan, the founder of the Wildenstein dynasty, left his native Alsace for Paris, where he soon switched professions from hemming pants to hawking paintings and opened his first gallery, on the Rue Laffitte. The art world was in transition: For centuries, the only people who bought and sold oil paintings of any quality were the aristocracy of Europe; there were marriages to arrange, mistresses to flatter, and châteaux and castles to fill with whimsical landscapes and frolicking nymphs. But by the end of the 19th century, that same aristocracy was at the tail end of a 200-year-long decline, ground down by industrial and political revolutions.
The old world’s demise coincided with the rise of the new: Flush with almost unimaginable wealth, American millionaires like the Rockefellers, Fricks, and Guggenheims were eager to buy what the old aristocracy was desperate to sell. Nathan, and then his son, Georges, became the middlemen, arriving cash-in-hand to empty châteaux of masterpieces and then, in turn, sell them. For the best of these works, the next step was inevitably for them to end up in the great museums of the U.S.
Take, for example, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Two Sisters, a lively portrait of two elegantly dressed young women currently on view in Gallery 615 of the Met. First in the possession of the Marquis de Veri, a prolific French art collector, it bounced to another marquis, then to a collection in Sweden, next to the consul general of Russia, and then, in 1916, to the Wildensteins. Their gallery held on to it for two years and then sold it for $194,000 to American coal-mining magnate Edward Berwind, whose family later gave it to the Met. It was just one of many. Berwind, for one, bought another picture, by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, from the Wildensteins that year for $228,000.
In 1903 the Wildensteins opened a satellite gallery in New York; in 1905 they moved their Paris gallery to 57 Rue La Boétie, an ornate mansion designed by Charles de Wailly, who also designed the Paris Odéon. By 1925 there was a Wildenstein gallery in London, and the family was selling artworks for several thousand times the average U.S. annual income. In 1915 they bought the Château de Marienthal, one of the largest private houses in Paris; a few decades later they moved their New York gallery to a five-story mansion on East 64th Street, then bought another mansion a few doors down as the family residence.
Photographer: Alan Davidson/The Picture Library
In many ways, the Wildensteins’ influence peaked in 1990, the year Guy became president at Wildenstein & Co. and unveiled the Caravaggio that would end up on the Met wall. Long thought to be a copy, the painting was an old master, according to Keith Christiansen, then curator of European paintings at the Met. The news was rolled out with a 50-page catalog and a Met exhibition, A Caravaggio Rediscovered: The Lute Player. A New York Times review called the painting’s authenticity irrefutableand noted that the work had been placed on “long-term loan” at the museum.
Left unsaid was the windfall for the Wildensteins. The Lute Player’s newfound status shifted its estimated value from thousands of dollars to somewhere just shy of priceless. Lists of the most valuable paintings in private hands put its current value at up to $100 million, though the dearth of top-level Caravaggios at auction means assessing its true price is impossible. All of this speculation would be academic—the painting was on loan to a museum, after all—if the Wildensteins hadn’t almost immediately borrowed against the work’s value. While the Caravaggio appreciated in the Met, the family invested the painting’s value as it saw fit.
Yet just as Guy, then already 55 years old, was finally easing into the leadership of his father’s business, the business changed. “Now the big money is largely in modernist art,” Richardson says. “And the old master department side of the business, which was their main thing, is not doing at all well.” By the late 1990s the family began to fragment, and its art dealing, at least publicly, began to subside. They were less in the art business than in the being-rich business. And then the Wildenstein women turned the tables.
Judging by his reaction, Alec wasn’t expecting his wife to return home on the night of Sept. 3, 1997. Jocelyn had been safely far away at the 75,000-acre Wildenstein ranch in Kenya (the one with the elephants and white rhinos, where Out of Africa was filmed). Arriving at their Manhattan town house, she found 57-year-old Alec with a 19-year-old woman. Alec, furious at the intrusion, brandished a semiautomatic pistol while holding a towel around his waist. Jocelyn called the police, and Alec spent the night in jail. The ensuing divorce, played out in the New York tabloids, was just a preview of how the family’s finances would be exposed following the patriarch’s death four years later.
In October 2001, Daniel, who had battled cancer, fell into a coma. His second wife, Sylvia, sat vigil by his hospital bed until his death on Oct. 23. Two weeks later, she signed away her rights to her late husband’s estate. According to Sylvia, her stepsons—Guy and Alec—had told her the taxes would bankrupt her if she didn’t. It wasn’t until two years later that she hired a lawyer. She eventually filed a lawsuit against Guy and Alec claiming, among other things, that she was bilked out of her inheritance and that the family was sitting on trusts and real estate worth not millions of dollars, but several billion.
The French tax authorities took notice and began looking more closely at Daniel’s estate—and came to believe that they, too, got lowballed.
As French prosecutors would later learn, simultaneous to the Wildensteins’ claim in court that Daniel’s estate was worth no more than $45 million, the family’s representatives were negotiating to borrow $100 million using $250 million worth of art as collateral, according to correspondence on the deal from a Cayman Islands unit of Coutts & Co., known as the Queen’s bank because Elizabeth II is a client. The proposal called for the Wildensteins’ Delta Trust to pledge a mix of pieces by artists from diverse periods. (The works in the trust included, in addition to paintings from Pierre Bonnard and Fragonard, a Picasso sketch of Guy and Alec’s grandmother, Madame Georges Wildenstein, from 1918.) In exchange, Coutts would supply the cash and invest it on behalf of the Delta Trust. The deal wasn’t completed, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
In 2005 the Paris appeals court voided the inheritance agreement Sylvia had signed and ordered a full inventory of the family’s properties, ranging from homes in New York and France to the Kenyan ranch, trusts, racehorses, and art. Amid the upheaval, Alec died in 2008. Sylvia died next, in 2010. That left Guy, known as the more diligent brother—he dutifully showed up to work at the New York gallery every day and, perhaps just as important, never made headlines for marital infidelities—to bear the full brunt of the French government’s investigation.
The French fiscal authorities notified the remaining Wildenstein heirs in 2011 that their audit had found taxable assets totaling €615.7 million—more than 10 times what the family originally declared. That tally included 19 Bonnard paintings valued at €64.9 million that had been stored at the Geneva Free Ports & Warehouses (held in a trust named after Sylvia) and €281.3 million of paintings held by the Delta Trust. Yet even this figure is modest compared with what the tax authorities would ultimately produce. The Delta Trust alone, they now say, has a value of $1.1 billion.
This time around, the tax bill won’t be covered by the donation of bas-reliefs. The French government issued a proposition de rectification that demanded an additional levy of €469.4 million, including interest and penalties. Later the figure was lowered to about €448 million.
On April 9, 2015, investigative judges in Paris indicted Guy and other defendants, including Alec’s widow (he had remarried) and son and several advisers to the family, on charges related to the handling of Daniel’s estate. Along with the $188 million art airlift, investigators claimed a further $850 million worth of paintings inside the trust were dispersed around the world, with most in Switzerland and bits scattered in Paris, London, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and other cities, the indictment says.
The Wildensteins, who maintain the validity of their original tax claim, asserted in court that the assets held in trusts weren’t legally Daniel’s to take at will. Instead, they belonged to the trusts and therefore shouldn’t count for estate taxes. Prosecutors countered that the trusts aren’t truly independent, pointing to evidence that the Delta Trust became a source of bounty for Guy and Alec, to whom dozens of artworks totaling tens of millions in value were distributed from 2001 through 2004. It’s preposterous, prosecutors asserted, to claim that no one actually owned paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Millions of visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago have admired Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day, from 1877, one of the most famous paintings of the 19th century. The Wildensteins sold it to the Art Institute in 1964.
The Met has its own list of masterpieces connected to the family. Walk up the grand main staircase, and you’ll come to the entrance of the immense European Paintings galleries, a labyrinth of rooms with dark oil paintings in heavy gilded frames. Close to half of the section’s 44 galleries have at least one painting with Wildenstein provenance; Gallery 615 alone has seven that were once owned by the family.
Photographer: Michel Euler/AP Photo
Wildenstein art at the Met isn’t just old masters. When Walter Annenberg, the publishing billionaire, donated 50 impressionist paintings to the museum in 1991, the New York Times estimated their total value to be “roughly $1 billion.” Twenty-seven of the 50 were purchased from the Wildensteins or passed through their hands, including a stunning green-and-white still life,Roses, by Vincent van Gogh.
All told, at least 360 objects in the Met have a Wildenstein provenance. They include oil paintings, drawings, watercolors, sculptures, tapestries, and even gilded mirrors. Taken alone, they would constitute a world-class museum.
One work, however, would be missing from this hypothetical mini-Metropolitan: In 2013 the Wildensteins quietly removed The Lute Player from the Met’s walls. The long-term loan had been terminated. Outsiders speculated that with Daniel and Alec dead, the heirs besieged by lawsuits, and the art-dealing business a shadow of its former self, the prestige of having a $100 million painting hanging in a museum had ceased to outweigh the security of having a $100 million painting in the family vault. Where that vault might be, exactly, is a matter of speculation.
—With Gaspard Sebag
Burne-Jones painting stolen from a cottage in West SussexA painting by Edward Burne-Jones was among the items taken in two burglaries at the same property in Linchmere, near Haslemere last month.
In the second theft, 40 pieces of silver cutlery and two silver candlesticks were taken.
The incident took place between June 17-20.
Det Con Pippa Hannard of West Sussex police said they want to trace a blue people carrier – possibly a Vauxhall Zafira or similar – seen in the area on June 11-12.
Anyone with information is asked to phone 101, quoting serial 797 of 08/06 concerning the painting theft and 813 of 20/06 concerning the silver theft.