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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Hotter Than July 2014

Isaak Levitan Paintings Stolen from Resort-Town Museum

Levitan's Water Margin Pond
Five paintings by 19th century landscape painter Isaak Levitan have been stolen from the Levitan House Museum in Plyos, a picturesque and elite resort town on the Volga River about 230 miles northwest of Moscow where the painter lived and worked.
According to a police statement, the intruders entered the house museum around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of August 5. They lifted five of Levitan’s paintings from the exhibition hall.
Levitan was one of the most significant and celebrated Russian landscape artists. Fond of naturalistic and poetic depictions of forests and countrysides, Levitan was known for introducing the genre of the “mood landscape.” His body of work includes some 1,000 paintings, drawings, and sketches, most of which are housed at Moskow’s State Tretyakov Gallery.
“Thieves penetrated into the museum through a window last night and stole five of Levitan’s paintings, including Roses, A Quiet Pool, and A Quiet River,” Svetlana Shmelyova, head of the regional government’s Culture and Cultural Heritage Department, told Interfax-Ukraine. Shmelyova said the paintings were worth 77 million rubles, or roughly $2 million.
Opened in 1972, the Levitan house museum in Plyos is the artist’s only “house-museum” in Russia. Levitan first visited Plyos, also known as the Pearl of the Volga, in 1888. He allegedly moved to the dacha when money from his painting began coming in. While there, he completed 23 paintings and about 200 drawings, studies, and sketches. The town, with its riverbank dotted with small boats and yachts, has in recent years become Moscow’s answer to the Hamptons for the city’s rich and famous and is a favorite summer spot of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana.
The police have ascertained that two people were responsible for the theft, but no arrests have yet been made.

Man gets 3½ years in prison for $5M violin theft

FILE - In this combination file photos provided by the  Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office is Salah Salahadyn, right, and Universal K. Allah, left, both of Milwaukee. Salahadyn and co-defendant Allah, suspects in the theft of a $5 million Stradivarius violin taken from a Milwaukee concertmaster, are due in court Thursday, July 24, 2014. Allah has pleaded guilty to felony robbery and Salahadyn is expected to change his not-guilty plea. Photo: Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, AP / Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office
FILE - In this combination file photos provided by the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office is Salah Salahadyn, right, and Universal K. Allah, left, both of Milwaukee. Salahadyn and co-defendant Allah, suspects in the theft of a $5 million Stradivarius violin taken from a Milwaukee concertmaster, are due in court Thursday, July 24, 2014. Allah has pleaded guilty to felony robbery and Salahadyn is expected to change his not-guilty plea. Photo: Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, AP 
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Milwaukee man who provided the stun gun used in the theft of a $5 million Stradivarius violin in January was sentenced Thursday to 3½ years in prison.
Universal K. Allah, 37, pleaded guilty in May to being party to felony robbery, a charge with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. His attorney and family asked for leniency, noting that Allah loaned the weapon but didn't participate in the attack.
Milwaukee County Judge Dennis Moroney was not moved. He told Allah that being party to the crime makes him just as culpable as the man who carried out the attack, especially since Allah knew his acquaintance planned to use the weapon to steal a rare musical instrument.
"You knew what was going on. You knew he was not capable of getting a gun, he wasn't eligible to get a gun. Yet you helped him get armament to hurt another human being," Moroney said, anger evident in his voice. "You're not exactly a Boy Scout in this operation, let's be frank."
The instrument, which is almost 300 years old, was missing for nine days before police recovered it in good condition. Moroney said the crime was an attack not only on the concertmaster from whom it was taken but on the Milwaukee community as a whole.
Before sentencing, Allah apologized to the court, the violin's owner and the concertmaster to whom it had been loaned.
"I just want to humbly apologize to you for making this mistake," Allah said. "This is a total setback within my life. I plan on changing my life, changing everything from this point on."
Moroney seemed more influenced by the statement of Frank Almond, the concertmaster who was attacked with the stun gun Jan. 27 in a parking lot after he finished a musical performance. Almond said he wasn't seeking revenge or retribution, but that a severe penalty was "critical."
Almond said he was lucky he didn't suffer a career-ending arm or wrist injury when he crumpled to the icy pavement that night. He was also alarmed to learn how closely the perpetrators had been stalking him and his family for years.
"They knew where I lived, they knew the names of my children and other details of my day-to-day life," Almond said.
Moroney ordered Allah to pay restitution to Almond to cover about $3,500 in lost wages, $400 in violin repairs and about $140 for his ambulance bill.
The other man charged in the attack is Salah Salahadyn, who court documents describe as the mastermind who'd been plotting for some time to carry out his "dream theft" — snatching a Stradivarius from a musician in broad daylight.
Salahadyn's public defender, Alejandro Lockwood, had requested a second plea hearing, a step that often indicates a plea deal has been reached. But the Thursday hearing was postponed after Lockwood asked to be allowed to withdraw from the case.
Lockwood provided little explanation in court except to say that Salahadyn didn't agree with his decision, and that Lockwood had a conflict of interest. He recommended that Salahadyn get an attorney who wasn't a member of the public defender's office.
The violin's owner has remained anonymous. But she filed a victim-impact statement extoling the virtues of the nearly 300-year-old instrument, calling it a direct link to history.
"It is, after all, an amazing work of craftsmanship that in the right hands is capable of producing matchless, exquisite sound that expresses every emotion," her statement said.
Many Stradivarius violins, crafted by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari, are owned by private collectors who lend them to top violinists to be played in symphonies. Experts say a Stradivarius violin deteriorates if it's not used but remains in good condition when played regularly.
Experts estimate 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain, or about half of what the master produced. Although they can be worth millions of dollars apiece, they're rarely stolen because they're catalogued so well that a thief would have a hard time selling one.

Tired of selling guns and drugs? Try art theft — another profitable criminal endeavor.

Vermeer’s oil on canvas “The Concert” is shown in a photo provided by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The painting is included on a list of several works of art stolen from the museum in a brazen robbery on March 19, 1990. (REUTERS/Gardner Museum) The empty frame from which thieves took “The Concert,” on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 2010. 

When you watch “White Collar,” USA’s successful show about master forger and art thief Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and the FBI agent tasked with criminal-sitting him, it’s easy to get drawn in by Caffrey’s charm, wit and disarming good looks.
In fact, that’s the point. Sure, Caffrey’s a criminal — but he’s not violent, his crimes don’t really seem to hurt anyone and when he does commit them, it’s for the right reasons, no? Besides, how awful can he be? He’s a criminal informant, tracking down and foiling lesser thieves with bigger guns and smaller brains.
“White Collar” makes for entertaining television. But in the real world, stealing and forging art amounts to big, big business with a small, overstretched group of people tasked with policing a black market trailing only weapons and drug dealing in the amount of money it nets.
WHITE COLLAR Episode 416
Matt Bomer, left, as Neal Caffrey in an episode of “White Collar.” 
A new Newsweek piece by Kris Hollington examines the world of art crime and the people fighting it with a look at a recent conference called “Fakes, Forgeries, and Looted and Stolen Art.”
Among the revelations? There’s a 63-year-old Max Ernst forger named Wolfgang Beltracchi who doesn’t sound much different from Caffrey. He spent 35 years ripping off Ernst and convincing experts his fakes were the real deal — fakes that sold for millions. After fooling an Ernst authenticator and expert with 58 forgeries, Beltracchi eventually ended up in prison — if you can call it that. It’s more like camp; he gets to go home during the day. Art detectives still haven’t tracked down all of the ersatz Ernst works, and Beltracchi claims hundreds of them are on display the world over.
What really casts a shadow over the art world though — much more than tales like the one of the Middle Eastern aristocrat who coughed up $60 million for a collection Faberg√© eggs that all turned out to be Fauxberg√©s —  is the breathtaking amount of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. It is next to impossible to communicate the scale of just how much Adolph Hitler’s minions pilfered. Much still hasn’t been recovered, let alone returned to its rightful owners.
Instead, art was hoarded by people like Cornelius Gurlitt, who died in May, leaving investigators to discover a trove of more than 1,400 works in his Munich apartment worth in excess of $1 billion. Gurlitt’s father was an art collector with Nazi ties held and questioned by the Monuments Men, U.S. military art detectives charged with hunting down what the Nazis stole from Jews. Gurlitt, who never paid taxes or registered with the German healthcare system, was unemployed. He lived off the sale of the paintings, thanks to dealers unconcerned with his collection’s provenance.
In Gurlitt’s possession was at least one painting that had been part of the collection of Paul Rosenberg, a Paris art dealer forced to flee to New York. His collection was stolen by the Nazis, and he spent his life trying to track down his possessions–a mission that has been continued by his granddaughter.
A reproduction of a painting by French painter Henri Matisse titled Seated Woman.
A reproduction of “Seated Woman” by French painter Henri Matisse at a press conference in Augsburg, Germany. 

She was able to find one of her grandfather’s paintings, Matisse’s “Seated Woman/Woman Sitting in Armchair.” They finally got Gurlitt, who initially tried to sell it to them, to agree to return the painting, but he died. When Gurlitt and his billion-dollar stash were discovered, he signed an agreement with the German government agreeing the stolen work would be returned to descendants of the Nazis’ victims. However, Gurlitt’s will conflicts with the government agreement — and left the art, including Rosenberg’s, to the Kunstmuseum in Switzerland, which apparently has the right of first refusal. The museum has not publicized its decision yet.
The Nazis would have deemed one of the works Rosenberg was able to flee with “degenerate.” Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” which Rosenberg sold to the Museum of Modern Art, where it still hangs — across from one of four versions of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” “The Scream” was never returned to Rafael Cardoso, great-grandson of Hugo Simon, the painting’s original owner. Simon consigned the painting to a Swiss gallery because of Nazi persecution, Cardoso said.
Wrote Hollington:
Cardoso refused compensation offers from the consignor, Norwegian shipping magnate Petter Olsen, stating that his only issue was a moral one: ‘That the legacy of those who were wronged should be remembered and respected.’
The sale went ahead regardless, and The Scream was sold for a record-breaking $119.9m to New York billionaire Leon Black, buying it for New York’s Museum of Modern Art in May 2012 – which has yet to add the painting’s full history to the display.

Helly Nahmad Under Scrutiny For Modigliani Stolen By The Nazis - ArtLyst Article image

Helly Nahmad Under Scrutiny For Modigliani Stolen By The Nazis

Back in February 2011 we reported that the disgraced international art dealer Helly Nahmad was in possession of a $20m painting by Amedeo Modigliani, Seated Man with a Cane (1918) that had allegedly been stolen by the Nazis from Oscar Stettiner, a prominent Paris gallerist. In 1939. Stettiner escaped Paris leaving the painting behind. The work was confiscated by Marcel Philippon, who was appointed by the Nazis to sell the Stettiner property.

Nahmad is now being sued by relatives of the descendants of Oscar Stettiner the original owner of the masterpiece. Nahmad is currently serving a prison sentence of 366 days as punishment for his involvement in a Russian mob linked high-stakes gambling ring, he was, needless to say, unavailable for comment. Nahmad was arrested in 2013 as part of an inquiry into illegal gaming promoted as private parties for high net worth individuals including film stars, professional athletes and bank bosses.

Lawyers for the Nahmad family have stated that they never owned "Seated Man with a Cane" by Modigliani. The billionaire New York art dealing family's head David Nahmad recorded in court papers stating the painting was owned by the International Art Center (IAC) and that the “Helly Nahmad Gallery have never owned the painting. However lawyers for Philippe Maestracci, are claiming Modigliani’s Seated Man with a Cane, is owned by an offshore company used by the Nahmads as a cover for their interests in works of art, most of which are  kept in an art storage facility, in tax free Geneva.

The Nahmads purchased the work at Christie’s, London, in June 1996 for $3.2m. The painting has been publicly displayed at museums and galleries around the world. A Christie’s catalogue states as provenance that the masterpiece belonged to Roger Dutilleul a Paris collector who sold it to J. Livengood, in Paris, around 1940 to 1945, however holes in the provenance have now appeared, including the exhibiting of the picture at the Venice Biennial in 1930. In November 2008, the work was consigned by the Nahmads to Sotheby's, where it was went unsold in a high profile sale. Sotheby’s raised the possibility that the work was stolen by the Nazis at which time the Nahmads allegedly moved the painting to Switzerland. Richard Golub, the Nahmads’ lawyer, called these claims “totally false”.

Left Seated Man with a Cane (1918) Center photo: Helly Nahmad (Courtesy Patrick McMullan) Right Amedeo Modigliani