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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Sunday Art Crime News


Stolen Masterpiece Discovered: ‘Fisherman’s Daughter’ Returned to France After 90+ Years

Missing for more than 90 years, the beautiful and enigmatic “Fisherman’s Daughter” is finally on her way home to France.

The Jules Breton painting was stolen from the Douai Beaux Art Museum in Northern France by German troops during the First World War and its fate was a mystery that haunted the art world for nearly a century.

Then last year, there was a break in the case. French officials and Interpol were alerted that the painting, valued today at about $150,000, had been imported by an art dealer in New York. The painting was recovered, but the mystery was not yet solved. Officials discovered the painting had been heavily restored. Was this “Fisherman’s Daughter,” the authentic realist masterpiece, or a skillful fake?

Art experts, curators and historians from France and the United States were called in to examine the painting and investigate its long and clandestine history. After a close examination of records and documentation, both in the United States and in France, and visits to museums and key witnesses, the story of the painting emerged.

It was indeed the same painting stolen from the Douai museum in 1918 – the authentic “Fisherman’s Daughter.”

The back story investigators discovered about “Fisherman’s Daughter” theft turned out to be a engaging yarn.

It was discovered that during the German occupation of the northern part of the country. German troops confiscated artwork from the Douai Beaux Art Museum and sent the artwork to Mons, Belgium, and then to Brussels.

In 1919, the Belgian government organized the return of the French collection to France. However, “Fisherman’s Daughter” was not among the works.

No one is certain, but apparently the painting was stolen from the Belgian government prior to the collection being returned to France.

No one knows what happened to the painting after that, except for the fact that it was professionally restored. The painting was apparently in private hands recently, then turned up being imported to an art dealer in New York last year.

Today, U.S. officials returned the masterpiece to the French people at a ceremony in Washington attended by the French ambassador, ending the nearly century-long art mystery.

“Returning a painting to a museum is a significant contribution to the celebration of our cultural heritage and a gift to all future visitors who will enjoy the work of art, but it is also yet another symbol of Franco-American cooperation,” said French Ambassador to the United States François Delattre. “We are celebrating today a gesture of friendship by the United States toward the French Republic.”

The American portion of the investigation was led by a little-known office inside the Department of Homeland Security — the Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Unit, based in New York.
The unit plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork. The agency specializes in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen.

“As the foremost agency investigating the plundering of cultural property, we are pleased to return a piece of French heritage that was stolen during World War I,” said ICE Director John Morton. “We remain committed to combating cultural heritage crimes, which are one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border illicit activity.”

Since 2007, the ICE Art and Antiquities Unit has repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 22 countries, including paintings from France, Germany and Austria; an 18th century manuscript from Italy; a bookmark belonging to Adolph Hitler and cultural artifacts from Iraq, including Babylonian, Sumerian and neo-Assyrian items.

Stolen Heirlooms Recovered

A NUMBER of heirlooms which were stolen from the Earl of Chichester’s Salisbury home in 2002 have been recovered.

Thieves broke in to Little Durnford Manor on June 17 and stole property worth £1million, which included fine china and porcelain.

Following a complex investigation that has led to auction houses across Europe items continue to be found and returned.

A French Ormolou gold clock and a Louis XV porcelain and Ormolou Meissen mounted clock have been found with the help of Europe’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.

And negotiations are ongoing to secure the return of a pair of Meissen elephants mounted on gilt bronze candelabra from a dealer in Germany.

Police had already recovered four antique snuff boxes after being alerted by a trader in London shortly after the burglary.

And in December 2009 a rare candlestick taken from the burglary had been put up for sale at an auction house in London, expecting to reach £50,000.

As a result of police intervention the candlestick was removed from the auction and its return is currently under negotiation.

DS Nigel Porter of Wiltshire Police said: “This is a complex and detailed investigation and our inquiries are ongoing. I am delighted we were able to help recover such important heirlooms.”

The Earl of Chichester said: “There is a shady side to the antiques trade which is not easy to penetrate and it is especially gratifying to see that even nine years after the event stolen artworks can still be recovered.”

Fourth raid at Haslemere family-run jewellery shop

Thieves have targeted a Surrey jewellers for the fourth time this year.

In the latest raid, Objets D'Art, in High Street, Haslemere, was ram-raided by thieves using a 4x4 vehicle. It caused £4,000 damage in addition to stolen stock.

Owner Angela French said she felt she could not rely on police to help protect her business.

Police said the town continued to enjoy a relatively low crime rate.

The shop was targeted twice in June, with the thieves taking £20,000 worth of silver in the first raid.

The second attempt was a failure, as was a third raid in July.

Mrs French said the after the first burglary, it took 25 minutes for the police to arrive.

'Lack of cover'

She praised the officers who had helped her, but she said they were constrained by a lack of support.

"I don't feel I can rely on the police at all," she said.

"We've been moaning about the lack of police cover in Haslemere because we feel we've been abandoned.

"I'm really angry. Every time someone comes into the shop you're suspicious."

Police said four men forced their way into the shop after using a vehicle to smash open the front door.

'Extremely unfortunate'

They are believed to have made off towards Chiddingfold, possibly accompanied by a second vehicle.

Waverley Neighbourhood Inspector Tom Budd said: "This break-in is particularly unfortunate for the owners as this is the fourth time the shop has been targeted by thieves this year.

"A number of officers attended the incident, with the first unit reaching the scene within 10 minutes of the call coming in.

"Other officers were dispatched to carry out extensive searches of the area but to no avail.

"While it is extremely unfortunate that the jewellery shop has been targeted for the fourth time, this is not a reflection of other crime being committed in Haslemere, and the town continues to enjoy a relatively low crime rate.

"In fact, the level of crime in across the Waverley borough has seen a 1.9% reduction compared to the same period last year."

Asian art stolen valued at £25,000 from Stroud Auction Rooms

Asian art worth about £25,000 has been stolen from an auction house in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Police believe the thieves used a ladder to get to a window, which they think they then smashed to get into the building.

Among the items taken were a bamboo libation cup valued at £8,000 and a blue and white porcelain figure of a goddess worth £4,500.

No-one from Stroud Auction Rooms Ltd was available to comment on the theft.

A Gloucestershire Police spokeswoman said the items stolen were mainly made from jade but also porcelain and wood.

She urged anyone with information about the theft, which happened some time between 20:00 BST on Tuesday 11th October 2011 and 08:15 on Wednesday 12th October, to contact police.

Gold Necklaces Reported Stolen from College Twp. Antiques Store

Ten 18-karat gold necklaces were reported stolen Thursday from Apple Hill Antiques, 169 Gerald St., State College police said.

The theft was reported to police at 2:30 p.m., according to a police report. Police said someone broke a display-case latch to remove the necklaces.

They included various pendants with man-made stones, according to the police report. The value of the necklaces was not immediately released. The antiques store is in College Township.

In a separate incident Thursday, borough authorities arrested a man found to be in possession of brass knuckles, a prohibited weapon, police said.

The man was initially stopped for being intoxicated and causing a disturbance, according to a police report. Apparently confused, he had been knocking on the doors of a private residence on the 100 block of West Prospect Avenue, police said.

The brass knuckles were found on his person when he was taken into custody, according to the report. He was transported to Mount Nittany Medical Center for treatment related to his alcohol consumption, police said.

His name was not immediately available for publication Friday afternoon.


Art teacher jailed for selling Picasso and Lowry forgeries for £180,000

A rogue dealer has been jailed after engineering a £180,000 scam where he told fine art fakes to galleries across Britain.

Rizvan Rahman, a respected former art teacher, flogged more than 30 forgeries including one by LS Lowry for £35,000 and 13 imitating work by Mary Fedden.

The 40-year-old kept literature entitled Confessions of a Master Forger and The Art Forger's Handbook at his home in Leicester - but maintains that he didn't paint the fakes.

Leicester Crown Court heard how police raided the house in December 2009 and seized 19 paintings - some purportedly by Picasso, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

Gordon Aspden, prosecuting, said: "Between January 2008 and October 2009, Rahman defrauded galleries and members of the public by selling paintings he falsely claimed were genuine and original works of art.

"His motive was to make money at the expense of innocent purchasers and the amount involved was £179,450.

"When some of the frauds were discovered he would express surprise and refund the gallery involved.

"Taking refunds into account his net profit was at least £61,950."

Mr Aspden said in December 2009 police searched his home and third-floor art studio, where they seized 19 paintings from a collection of 168.

He said more than 30 fakes were sold through well known auction houses and respectable galleries.

The court heard how Rahman's cover story was that he had been given the paintings by his father or bought them for his private collection.

Mr Aspden said: "He occasionally produced fake documents as proof of provenance. The forgeries were mainly in the style of post-war British artists including Jack Pender, Mary Fedden, Sandra Blow, Terry Frost and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham."

In interview, Rahman admitted Sothebys was pursuing him for a refund over the sale of a £65,000 George Leslie Hunter work - although he was not prosecuted in relation to this.

He said paintings in the style of world famous artists at his home were nothing more than decorative items he bought for £80.

Mr Aspden said: "The defendant had been dealing in fake works of art on a significant scale."

Rahman sold 13 forgeries of work by Mary Fedden, described in court as one Britain's greatest living artists, whose Royal College of Art pupils included a young David Hockney.

Now in her 90s, she was shown one of the fakes.

"She was less than impressed by the forger's work, saying it was a very bad painting," Mr Aspden said.

Owners of galleries all over the country including Cornwall, London and Uppingham, Leicestershire, were initially taken in by the defendant, but soon became suspicious.

Rahman now faces a proceeds of crime hearing to seize his assets and faces losing his home.

Steven Newcombe, mitigating, said Rahman repaid most of the cash as soon as there was a complaint.

He set up his art dealing business in 2004 and made many genuine sales adding: "It wasn't fraudulent from the outset."

Rahman, a married father of three, who traded under the name of Haslam and Purdy, admitted two counts of fraudulent trading, eight counts of selling false works and two of possessing articles (documents) for use in fraud.

India blinks as art treasures disappear
By Neeta Lal

NEW DELHI - The Indian art world received a hi-voltage jolt recently when two paintings by legendary Russian artist Nicholas Roerich worth US$2 million, earlier filched from the premises of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi, resurfaced at an auction-exhibition in London.

Depicting the incandescent Himalayas, both paintings were a part of a cachet of the prized works of Roerich, a brilliant artist who went to India in 1923 and stayed until his death in 1947.

Ironically, the heist came to light only when London authorities contacted IARI, whose officials were until then clueless about how the works had been pinched from under their noses and smuggled out of the country. The institute is now scrambling to "catch the culprits and bring the works back to India".

The case is just one among countless others of priceless Indian antiques "disappearing" from government offices and museums, with the Indian government seemingly apathetic to theft of priceless heritage, despite the millions of dollars being spent on historical preservation.

Thousands of Buddhist and other antiques are smuggled out of the country each year to museums and private collections overseas. Even the Nobel prize medallion of late Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore wasn't spared when the museum in his hometown, Shantiniketan, West Bengal, was looted in 2004. Along with the medal, Tagore's priceless collections of antique jewelry, watches, paintings, citations and memorabilia were stolen. None was ever traced.

There was a similar uproar to this week's scandal in 2008 when a bronze figurine of the Goddess Parvati worth millions of dollars turned up at a New York auction. The rare antique - crafted in 1400 BC during the reign of King Harihara II - was considered a masterpiece of the Vijayanagar dynasty.

Historically important sites and under-guarded museums in India have been a fertile playground for antique smugglers for decades. In September 2006, 18 antique pieces disappeared from Patna museum in the the Indian state of Bihar while 200 antiques, including rare Jain statues, were recovered from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, the same year as cops nabbed smugglers preparing to leave the country.

Experts blame lackadaisical implementation of laws, the connivance of authorities, inadequate security and the lack of genuine documentation for the rampant theft.

Indian laws define any piece of art that is over 100 years old as "antique". The export and sale of such antiques is banned and punishable by law. However, it has become a thriving industry gnawing at the cultural roots of the country.

"The blanket rule is that all things over 100 years old qualify as antiques, and have to be registered with the Indian government," says Dr Prakash Nene, formerly with the National Museum, New Delhi. "But where are the technically-equipped professionals to undertake such a task? India is seriously deficient in such wherewithal. Besides, antiques are grossly undervalued in government priorities," he says.

"The problem with Indian laws governing antique thefts is that they are ridden with loopholes," says historian Radhika Ramseshan.

He cites the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958 as an example. Under the law anyone caught stealing from an ancient monument or archaeological site can get away with being fined a pittance - a meager 5,000 rupees (US$90) and imprisonment for up to three months or both. Similarly, says Ramseshan, the Antiquities Act 1972 proposes three years imprisonment for such crimes.

"Invariably, lawyers play up discrepancies between the two acts to get the guilty off the hook," she says. "These laws are ludicrous in their punition considering many stolen artefacts fetch far more staggering sums for the culprits. The culprits obviously don't mind paying the paltry fines. "

Art aficionados also partly blame the exponential growth of the Indian art industry. The domestic art market - teeming with talented artists whose works now routinely fetch astronomical prices worldwide - has witnessed remarkable growth in the past decade. Works by Indian maestros like F N Souza, Raza, Tyeb Mehta, M F Husain, Atul Dodiya and Anjolie Ela Menon can fetch prices in the millions of dollars.

The scramble for acquisitions has never been so aggressive. "There's awesome money chasing Indian art. It is a recession-proof industry," says Prateek Goyal, a Mumbai-based art buyer planning to launch a gallery soon. "Fueled by coverage in the global media, everybody wants a share in the Indian art pie," he says.

A report by arts institution OSIAN's Connoisseurs of Art released last June estimated the Indian market would be worth $400 million in 2010.

According to experts, trade in stolen art is the fastest-growing crime in the United States and the third-largest international criminal activity. Reports estimate some 30,000 pieces of art are stolen per year in Italy, with the 6,000 taken in France costing insurance companies some $3 billion and $5 billion per year.

Experts say art insiders are often involved in these illegal operations, as they have the technical knowledge and contacts to link with a demand.

Delhi-based art curator Shreya Juneja says museum employees are also usually hand-in-glove with the thieves.

More than anything else, the illicit trade in stolen antiquities is able to flourish with the connivance of dealers, collectors and museum curators, says Shreya. "They form a powerful lobby to dissuade the government from taking any punitive action. Besides, government bodies - like the Archeological Survey of India [ASI] and the National Crime Record Bureau - have little synergy on the issue. This makes non-compliance easier."

The problem isn't isolated to India. Heritage theft is also rampant across Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Iran, Pakistan and African countries.

In a more high-profile case of international art theft, India's former colonial masters Britain is home to numerous Indian artefacts, with ancient Indian art smuggled out of the country appearing in the catalogues of prestigious auction houses. India and Pakistan have been asking the British government for decades to return the purportedly cursed Kohinoor diamond, which is included in Britain's crown jewels.

The architecture of art theft, say experts, is different from other crimes as the items are relatively small and can be easily smuggled in or out of countries. Aggravating the problem is that most thefts are never even reported to the police.

"Victims of art theft fear that if the theft is publicized, other thieves will try to capitalize on their lack of security. Many also believe that publicity about the theft will have a domino effect on their sales," elaborates Goyal.

India also suffers from a lack of a proper bookkeeping. There are fewer critics, curators and catalogues than in the West, as well as no indices and or inventories. No inventory exists for Roerich's works in India and the Central Bureau of Investigation has found that several other works by the legendary painter are lying around the IARI in a state of neglect.

Given paltry state budgets for museum security, staff can hardly be blamed. Security measures like sophisticated CCTV cameras and other electronic surveillance equipment rarely feature in government's budgets.

One step forward would be following America's lead and creating an art theft department. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Art Theft Program is located at FBI headquarters in Washington DC. Agents are coached in art and cultural property investigations and assisted in art-related investigations worldwide with foreign law-enforcement officials.

Delhi could also plug legal loopholes to put pressure on auction houses abroad. Since many stolen antiquities find their way into the storerooms of international auction houses, it is critical that the Indian government use its international influence.

It is also a well-known fact that auction websites sell Indian antiques while keeping the sellers' identities private. This anonymity offers the perfect camouflage to culprits while making it simultaneously difficult for investigators.

Conservators say the real problem with India is an insouciance towards the country's rich history. Add porous laws and laughable budgetary allocations for art preservation and it is hardly a mystery why the jewels of Indian heritage continue to fall into the wrong hands.

Neeta Lal is a Delhi-based journalist.

Ex-exec's trial on AGH art theft delayed

BEVERLY — The trial of the former Beverly Hospital vice president charged with orchestrating a $500,000 bribery and kickback scheme — and stealing antiques and paintings, including art work that had been displayed at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester — has been delayed until February.

Paul Galzerano, 59, a former Groveland resident, had been set to stand trial on Nov. 9 on bribery and larceny charges,.

But, during a hearing Friday. his attorney, Scott Gleason, told a Salem Superior Court judge that he had underestimated how long the trial would take.

Gleason told Judge Timothy Feeley that he had anticipated the trial would take about a week.

"Quite frankly, I was dead wrong," Gleason told the judge.

He said the volume of evidence in the case, which involved three contractors who later admitted paying bribes or kickbacks to Galzerano, was more than he had anticipated and now believes the trial could take up to three weeks. And he's already scheduled a vacation for mid-November, he said.

Assistant attorney general Margaret Parks, who is prosecuting the case, agreed to the delay, which was approved by Feeley.

The new trial date is Feb. 27.

Galzerano was overseeing a $55 million Northeast Health System renovation project at Beverly Hospital when he allegedly coerced contractors to take part in a variety of schemes, including submitting doctored invoices to cover the expenses of work that was actually done at his Groveland home and paying Galzerano's personal bills.

Galzerano is also charged with stealing more than $200,000 worth of antiques and paintings from the hospitals, items that he told co-workers were in storage during the renovation.

Borja and Tita tussle over Baron Heinirich von Thyssen’s money

LEGACIES cause even more family rifts than money and Spain’s extremely rich Thyssens are no different from anyone else.
Borja Thyssen, adopted 31-year-old son of the late Baron Heinrich von Thyssen, was left an annual income of $300,000 plus three payments of $1.5 million to be handed over at five-yearly intervals.
His inheritance, agreed after fierce infighting inside the extended Thyssen family, is administered by Borja’s mother, Carmen Cervera, Baroness Thyssen.
Borja, say those close to the family, has cash-flow problems and wants to control his fortune himself.
Now 68, the Baroness remains Tita to those who remember her as a beauty queen and then an actress who after two advantageous marriages met Heinrich von Thyssen in 1982 and eventually married him.
Borja, fruit of Carmen’s relationship with Spartaco Santoni, was immensely spoilt by his mother and adoptive father. However, since his 2007 marriage to Blanca Cuesta, a model five years his senior who was then five months pregnant, his relationship with his mother veers between farce and tragedy.
Their ups and downs, reconciliations and ruptures of the triangle, to which must be added the young couple’s two children, are notoriously well documented, but at the heart of the conflict lies Borja’s inheritance. Tita refuses to comment. “That’s something we don’t discuss. It was a decision we all took and I keep strictly to what was agreed,” is all she will say.
Borja’s camp is less tight-lipped. “We want an overall agreement spelling out that Borja owns assets to which he does not have complete access. It’s an administrative problem,” explained a source close to the family. Last May Borja tried to take matters into his own hands by removing two pictures from the Carmen Thyssen collection in Madrid, temporarily on loan to the nation.
The pictures – a Goya and a Giaquinto worth €7 million –were his, claimed Borja who was politely but firmly invited to leave the Thyssen Museum.
Lawyers are now attempting to repossess the pictures but the last word goes to the Baroness. “It’s all mine. Exclusively mine. Letting lawyers take money is something else. Borja doesn’t realise what he’s getting into,” she said.




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