Treasures, Antiquities and Art Historians

 

Treasures, treasures everywhere, nor any art to hang up on the walls. With my apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge on his epic 1797 poem The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. That is an epic poem due to its length; stolen art is epic in its quantity, quality and the length of time between theft and retrieval. If there is a retrieval. It keeps all those art historians on their toes. Whether it is stolen paintings, antiquities swiped from war torn countries, sculpture that sneaks out under cover of dark, the art history folks keep their eyes opened for all these items.

And, of course, the police. I subscribe to a few blogs that relate in some fashion to art, art history, stolen art, recovering said stolen art, and so on. The information available to read on these topics is a mountain that is hard to scale when you dawdle along as I seem to do. I literally cannot keep up with all the articles that land in my inbox. I can only imagine what art curators must deal with daily. In order to be on the lookout for stolen art, one must first know what is missing from homes, galleries, museums, transportation hubs and private viewings.

The latest blog that caught my eye was from the ARCA blog. ARCA stands for Art la di da and so on find out what this means. The blog highlights the Italian police, known as the Carabinieri, who diligently chase down all the lovely and irreplaceable artworks stolen from Italian soil. The Italians have a finely-honed police art squad, if you will, completely dedicated to the successful return of all stolen items. Italians take art as seriously as food, water and wine. Italians are rightfully proud of their heritage from music to paintings to sculpture to architecture. Their art curators authenticate so much work every day, curate it, and help sell it legally to buyers and collectors, you would think they don’t have time to deal with thefts of art. But all those art thefts are exactly what ruins their galleries, museums, all public buildings, and private collections.

Fabrizio Rossi Luogotenente presso Arma dei Carabineri Photo: UNESCO

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Italian Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale publishes bulletins to inform the public about stolen art because it has proven to help to curb art theft and trafficking. Brigadier General Fabrizio Parulli, the Carabinieri TPC Commander said in the 38th edition of the bulletin:

“We believe that what has been stolen must not be considered as lost forever. On the contrary, we regard it as held hostage by offenders who can and must be defeated by the Italian and the international police force, together with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage Activities and Tourism, the art dealers and all the citizens.”

Clearly you should never steal from the Italians because they will run you to ground in order to retrieve their artwork!

This year the group sponsored a conference entitled “Art Held Hostage” for people who work in law enforcement, academia, galleries, museums, auction houses and the art market. The conference included descriptions of all the artwork stolen this year that has yet to be recovered. There is no end to the work, apparently, for people trying to gain back the works that are a major component of cultural heritage.

Museum of the Missing bySimon Houpt. The book details stolen artwork that has not been recovered.

The problem is obviously not unique to Italy, or even Europe. Art thefts, artifacts and antiquities thefts, criminal networks and willing buyers operate on every continent. Whether it is a Chinese Ming vase, a pre-Columbian artifact from South America, a painting from the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, thieves are working everywhere, under all conditions, to unlawfully earn a buck.

This brings me to what is going on with the characters in my own work. All this information is just so juicy. Unfortunately, I am not writing a definitive academic work on the nature of art and antiquities thefts. My work must curtail all that exploration into dark corners and pick something manageable. It’s been fun to read, ponder, and look out the window. But now it’s time to decide what must actually make its way into a story that is believable to you, dear readers, and entice you to continue reading. So, alas, you won’t be reading all the latest from the world of criminal art sales. There will be fun information, chases to catch the thieves, and many moments of love and longing. These books are, after all, about romance, not just skullduggery and shenanigans.

A little sneak peek might be in order here. One of my characters in one of the books is a woman who owns an art gallery. She tends to specialize in nineteenth century American painters, especially those who paint landscapes. That idea has led me to some very pleasure time spent on the website of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Their website could hold you captive for hours. There is so much to view from their collection. Naturally, I kept viewing and viewing. But viewing isn’t writing, said the inner voice. So, I reluctantly left the website to return to writing.

What I learned was so interesting I decided to share some of it with you in these blogs. The other aspect of all this viewing is to share actual photos of the artwork that has caught my attention. You will also get to see some magnificent examples of American painting. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. So, I will share pictures for your entertainment and edification. Mostly for the entertainment.

My hope is you find all these tidbits intriguing enough to stay around and read. You need something positive in your day, which viewing art can provide. You need a puzzle to solve, which reading about art thefts, antiquities stolen, and the hair pulling of art historians can provide. Sounds like a good mix we can enjoy together.

Have a wonderful week. I hope this inspires you to go online and find artwork you like and learn something about it. Happy viewing and reading!

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!

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.

Art Thefts and Museums

Over twenty-five years ago, two men dressed as Boston police out smarted the security guard on duty at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston. They convinced him to let them inside the building (the first no-no) then leave his post (second no-no) where he had access to the only alarm (museum’s no-no and incredible dereliction) then call the only other guard on duty (third no-no for guard, second for museum) and then they got tied up with things. Literally. In the basement.

The thieves made off with 13 nearly priceless works of art. With no backup security (museum’s third no-no) the crooks had ample time to get away. The guards weren’t discovered until museum employees reported for work the next day. Hindsight tells us what’s wrong with this picture, and what a picture it is.

As I write this it is March 2017 and we have none of the art returned to the museum. It is now sadder and wiser, as are other museums. But the truth is that the art thefts continue, as do the threats of theft. The thefts aren’t transpiring solely at the museums. Thieves make off with work from galleries, exhibitions and private collections. The works include paintings, sculpture, porcelain objets d’art, jewelry, items of historical value and so forth.

All this combined effort at elaborate thefts and concealment help point out why tracking down Nazi looted art is still so difficult. Clever thieves are interested in payment not producing goods to return to rightful owners. As I have written before, art theft is the fourth most lucrative money making scheme worldwide. Unfortunately, we frequently make it easy for criminals to gain access to artworks and then fail to catch them later.

Here are photos of the items stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum. All these are in a document on their website. The photos are property of the museum.

Enjoy looking at the photos. And if you should run across one of these precious items…call the FBI Art Squad. They will be delighted to hear from you.

Art Theft Recovery Gets a Boost

 

Restoring Nazi stolen art to the rightful owners might be more successful thanks to a new law. The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 will allow one standard to be applied to the statutes of limitations used in recovery. Recovering the stolen art was more strenuous because of the myriad laws and limitations imposed upon claims.

The laws favored the defendants in lawsuits, allowing them to keep artwork that had been stolen in World War II. The rightful owners were forbidden from making a claim, even though they had the provenance to prove the art belonged to them. Families who were victimized by the Nazis had little or no recourse to possess what was once a family treasure.

Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimpt

Part of the difficulty arose from the claims of the survivors of the Holocaust who were stripped of their documentation, or the family members of those who had died in the Holocaust. Without the correct paperwork, countries were loath to begin the arduous process of legal battles that often reverted to he said, she said style arguments. How does a child describe the now dead Nazi officer who stole the artwork from his parents? You can see the difficulty in positively identifying the stolen treasures. This argument ensued even when there was clear documentation to buttress the claim. Many Europeans, in particular, appeared to want the past to stay dead and buried rather than admit culpability in the wholesale looting of billions of dollars in art theft.

Recent estimates claim that upwards of 20 percent of European art was whisked away by the greed of the Nazis. The new law will allow people more time in which to file a claim for ownership after they have located their stolen art. This law under-girds a formerly weak agreement, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art, that is a treaty signed in 1998 by 44 countries. The reality is that most governments did little or nothing to ensure the art would really be restored to its rightful owners.

The new law gives teeth to the treaty and pushes reluctant countries in the right direction of restitution. There is some irony in the fact that the Europeans are being forced to recognize the claims to stolen artwork from Jewish people while they simultaneously refuse to help Israel exist as a nation.

It seems that some things never change. Antisemitism has raged across Europe for hundreds of years. And on the foundations of the old death camps the old hatred arises.