A Funny Thing Happened…

History can repeat itself endlessly to our amusement or dismay. Years ago, the movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was nearly a cult classic and people would start stories by saying, “You know, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…” to indicate how life has a way of sidetracking you from your best laid plans. Yes, well, as a famous Scots writer once declared, “the best laid plans of mice and men.” Life has a way of turning your plans to mush because God has a sense of humor. Or I think He does.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a pretty long-winded way to say after several detours, roundabouts, U-turns and just plain dead ends, I have arrived at the place where I began. Absolutely battered, bruised, and well-worn, but nonetheless still able to laugh that I wanted to write about history, I wanted to write stories that gripped people’s hearts, maybe change their lives, but at least make them feel better. Back in the day, people would claim in horror about the starving artist, writer, dancer, actor, what have you. Few people would encourage a woman, in particular, to write her way through life. So I went to college to become a history teacher.

Mind you, women writers who published potboiler romance novels made actual money. Women who wrote historical fiction made money. Women who wrote inspirational or devotional books made some money. None of that mattered. Women went to college to get a teaching or nursing degree so they could support themselves if necessary. Our mothers and grandmothers had firsthand knowledge of being war widows, or women left in the lurch by philandering husbands. They wanted their daughters to be more independent, which meant occupations that were deemed appropriate for women. Teaching. Nursing. Maybe math or science, if you must. But stable, honest work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers weren’t really considered to the epitome of stability. Never mind about Flannery O’Connor or Harper Lee. So, I trotted off to get that teaching degree. But life is funny. And a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I took classes and studied and then fell in love. I got married, not hitched to a classroom. And with children and one thing after another put the whole idea about writing books on the back burner. Note, it was an idea that was still on the stove, simmering away.

History teachers, people with PhDs in history, were tending bar. That option slid down the drain. Journalism used to be the first draft of history, so I could combine two loves: history and writing. It was a happy relationship as long as I was in school. In real life, jobs were scarce and disappearing like a puff of smoke in the wind. Life was changing rapidly. And so was I.

Now we are in a new time and the itch to write a book about love, or books about love in another time and place, beckon me to the computer every day. Years of reading interesting facts and emotional tomes have left me with a full attack in my mind. I am eager to put all that knowledge or fun to work on behalf of keeping you, dear reader, entertained.

That is the real reason to do all this writing. You readers are what make writers sit in the chair and by hand or by typing toil away over words, paragraphs and plot lines. Without your devotion, there might not be much point to all of this. Some people write to amuse themselves and that’s fine for them. But you want more tales of the heart. Tales of how boy met girl and it changed the course of a nation. You want a happily ever after and to feel good when the book ends. You want to think about the course of true love instead of the traffic jams. I don’t blame you…I want the same thing.

That means we are embarking on this journey together and I hope you enjoy it. I have left some recent posts on this site because all that material about art thefts, Nazi looted art, restitution of artwork to Jewish families, and the underground world of using stolen art as currency is part of a work in progress. I promise you’ll read about it someday.

In the meantime, I intend to share all manner of interesting tidbits with you about art, art history, music, and dance. These topics interest me and I think you’ll like characters who work and play and live in these areas. I know little about engineering, except that engineers are creative problem solvers, so I won’t be writing books about engineering. My heart lies in the arts and we can enjoy ourselves with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My wish is for you to have fun, enjoy the books, and feel that it was worth your while to read. I look forward to meeting you and knowing if I helped you have some fun.

Have a happy week!

Art Thefts, Pork Bellies and Big Money Deals

 

While you take the time to read this article, someone somewhere in the world is buying or selling stolen art. Every day is another opportunity for the thieves to increase their wealth while unscrupulous collectors add another work to their possessions. While these sales are illegitimate, unscrupulous and harmful to the art world, there are people behind the scenes trying to stop the transactions.

Van Gogh Vase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The arts as represented especially by paintings and sculpture top the list of things most easily stolen and sold underground to collectors. I wish we didn’t have to refer to them as collectors because I would prefer to call them criminal collectors. Or maybe just criminals. It seems that they shouldn’t be respected by calling them collectors. They live by their own rules with little concern for the long-term consequences of their criminal activities. What matters to them is an addition to their hoard of artworks that won’t be seen by the public.

Simon Houpt wrote The Museum of the Missing in 2006. The book is about stolen artwork and begins begins with a foreword by Julian Radcliffe, the chairman of the Art Loss Register, a world-wide organization based in London. The Register maintains a database of stolen artwork that is continually updated. Radcliffe notes, “Art theft has become a global problem.” He says, “It is a crime that affects all of us. Nearly half of all items recovered by the Art Loss Register are found outside the country where they were stolen. Great amounts of money are involved, there are links to organized crime, and the lost pieces of our cultural heritage are irreplaceable.”

Museum Room
Depicting Missing Artwork

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Houpt posits the theory that politicians are reluctant to spend money on retrieving the stolen items because most people don’t place a high priority on recovery. If people are ignorant of their heritage and history, they are not likely to think about the ramifications of the theft of art. It’s not that people actually dislike their heritage, but they might be among those who have never had the opportunity to learn about art and music.

As fewer schools teach classes in art and music, as the study of history is watered down or distorted out of recognition of the truth, people are not exposed to the importance of cultural items and historical significance. People who have never really listened to classical music might not appreciate Bach or Mozart, just as they missed the beauty of Renaissance Italian paintings or the French Impressionists.

My point here is not to belittle people who have little or no exposure to the arts. And this is not the article for a diatribe on the curriculum of public schools, although what is taught does affect the attitudes that people develop at an early age.

When I grew up we studied art and music from elementary school through college. I graduated with my undergraduate degree from a teacher’s college where our core curriculum included studying art, music and humanities. It was a shared belief in our nation at that time that well educated people meant people who were exposed to various expressions of our creative nature. Since that flew out the window some time ago, sadly we see the result is a lack of concern for our heritage in western society.

The Concert by Vermeer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The question for us to examine is why is there so much art theft? Art has become the currency du jour of the criminal underworld and terrorist groups. Art is easier to obtain (by stealing, naturally) than diamonds. Most of it can be made portable by cutting the paintings out of their frames and rolling them up or packing them into shipping cartons with other items. Art work can be held in escrow while transactions are being completed or stored safely in numerous places in the interim. Naturally the stolen work escapes the roving eyes of tax collectors so there will never be a public record of art for cash or weapons.

The fact that art prices have risen astronomically, to say the very least, makes all thefts that much more tempting. When the Masterpieces of art fetch millions of dollars each, people are much more willing to take extraordinary risks to obtain that work. Ergo, art has become a commodity not unlike pork belly futures. (I couldn’t resist a silly comparison to lighten up!) Art for dollars, or something more dangerous like weapons. A new methodology has entered the criminal world.

Art thefts and sales weren’t invented in the 20th century, of course. But the idea of trading a stolen Picasso or Caravaggio for a shipment of weapons brought a new seriousness and sinister atmosphere to the trades. It also brought in a higher level of policing. Stolen goods were one thing; swapping stolen art for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles or fissionable material was a completely different situation. Now the intelligence services and security services have joined the local law enforcement constabulary in trying to find, track and capture the thieves, dealers, buyers and anyone else involved in the supply chain.

As Sherlock Holmes would say, the game is afoot. And it has become quite the game of risk worldwide. So far there is nothing to dissuade the thieves, so the loss prevention must happen at the site of the artwork exhibits. Sadly, that has been ineffectual many times. The thefts continue, the sales continue, and the weapons change hands so the worst among us can kill and destroy the best among us.

This is a moral problem on a huge scale. This criminal activity is the fourth highest ranking crime worldwide. Yes, fourth. I will continue to talk about this aspect of art theft in future blogs. Enjoy the paintings in your local museum and think what you would be missing if they were stolen.

 

 

New Ruling Favors Jewish Families and Art Restitution

A landmark ruling on March 30, 2017 favored Jewish families against German holders of stolen art. The families claimed their artwork was stolen by the Nazis as part of the action taken against all Jewish people in Germany and other countries. As the Nazis investigated the financial and art holdings of Jewish families, they confiscated everything of value from silverware, china, artwork, priceless musical instruments, jewelry, money and furniture. Eventually the Nazis took the homes, offices and other real estate owned by Jewish families.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above, Portrait of A Young Man, by Raphael,  is still listed as missing.

A United States District Court in Washington, DC, found for the descendants of Jewish families who were robbed of their possessions by Nazis. The Germans claim that the artworks and other items were not sold under duress by the owners; their contention is that the owners wanted to sell.

The reason the decision is so critical is that it is the first decision by a court to allow descendants to sue the Germans and others under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The collection names in the lawsuit is currently held in the Bode Museum in Berlin, Germany. Germany claims the Guelph Treasure collection, valued at about $227 million dollars, was purchased legally. The claimants dispute that, saying the portion of the collection that went to Hermann Goering was obtained illegally.

The Germans contend that the Limbach Commission decided in 2014 that no lawsuits could be litigated later. They contended that the sale was proper. The US court disagreed, agreeing with the claimants that the Nazi actions of taking property without compensation is in violation of international law. Since the end of World War II, German officials have insisted that the owners of the artwork and other items willing sold their treasures to individuals. Historic documents, survivors and their descendants dispute this claim, resulting in descendants filing lawsuits in Europe and the United States to return the items stolen by the Nazis to their families.

Jeweled Crucifix from the

Guelph Treasure Collection.

The collection is currently housed in the Bode Museum in Berlin.

Below,

Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimpt, a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

The film Woman in Gold told the story of Maria Altmann’s lawsuit to have her aunt’s portrait, painted by Gustav Klimpt, returned to her family. The Altmann family, who lived in Vienna, had all of their property stolen by Nazis prior to Maria’s parents being shipped to a concentration camp and killed. Klimpt painted several portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria’s aunt. The portrait in Austria that was the center of Maria’s lawsuit hung in the family’s living room. After winning her suit, the painting was eventually returned to her. She in turn sold it to Ronald S. Lauder, son of Estee Lauder the founder of the cosmetics company. Ronald Lauder opened the Neue Galerie, a nonprofit art gallery in New York city, and hung the painting in his gallery.

The lawsuit filed by attorneys in February, 2015, against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage, stated that international law was broken and the Europeans had no claim to stolen property. The court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs will no doubt bring more publicity to the question of stolen artwork. Millions of dollars in artwork, stolen from Jewish families and others, remains in hiding or is being sold on the black market today. As more judgments are called in favor of plaintiffs it will be interesting to see if the art really is restored to its rightful owners or if it will disappear into the great maw of underworld criminal syndicates.

The problem of stolen artwork continues every day. In this blog I will share new information as it becomes available. The blogs will cover different aspects of the loot stolen by Nazis and still circulating the globe illegally and under the radar. All the artwork stolen by Nazis is still capturing the imaginations of people everywhere. It is a giant business that keeps law enforcement officers, gallery and museum owners, and affects art sales to both reputable buyers and scoundrels.