Category: Looted art

Italian case against antiquities dealer ends

January 19, 2012 |  1:30 pm

The trial of Robert E. Hecht Jr., the alleged mastermind of an international black market in ancient art, ended with no verdict this week when a three-judge panel in Rome found the time allotted for the trial had expired.

Hecht, a 92-year-old Baltimore native now confined to bed at his home in Paris, has cut a wide swath through the art world since the 1950s, supplying museums and collectors around the world with some of the finest examples of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art.

“I have no idea of where an object was excavated,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “It could have been excavated 100 years ago, it could have been excavated an hour ago.”

Throughout that colorful career, Hecht has been dogged by allegations that his wares had been recently looted from archaeological sites and smuggled out of their homeland. It was a claim he never directly denied while maintaining his innocence of the Italian charges, which focused on an alleged conspiracy among dealers he considers rivals.

The ruling brings an ambiguous end to a sweeping investigation that traced relics looted from tombs in Italy through a network of smugglers, dealers and private collectors before appearing on display at museums in the United States, Europe and beyond.

Continue reading »

Supreme Court won't hear looted-art claim against Norton Simon

June 27, 2011 |  3:35 pm

CranachAdamEve The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday decided not to take up an appeal from Marei Von Saher, who is trying to wrest a prized, 480-year-old “Adam and Eve” diptych by Lucas Cranach the Elder from the Norton Simon Museum, where the paintings have hung since the 1970s.

“We will continue to fight … until justice is achieved,” Von Saher said in a statement issued Monday by her attorney, Lawrence Kaye.

The Connecticut resident had hoped the Supreme Court would clear a procedural roadblock as she tried to prove that the paintings -- looted from her father-in-law, the noted Dutch-Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, when he fled the Nazi invasion of Holland in 1940 -- should return to his family because they never received proper recompense.

The Norton Simon’s position is that “Adam and Eve” were included in a settlement the heirs agreed to with the Dutch government in 1952 -- and that Von Saher, who sued in 2007, waited far too long to file a claim, the statute of limitations having long run out.

It's the statute of limitations issue that the Supreme Court declined to hear.

Continue reading »

Monster Mash: Chinese government still quiet about Ai Weiwei; Austrian museum to return Klimt painting

April 22, 2011 |  7:50 am


Without a trace: The Chinese government is remaining silent concerning the whereabouts of artist Ai Weiwei, who was imprisoned earlier this month. (Los Angeles Times)

Restitution: An Austrian museum is returning a Gustav Klimt painting to the descendant of its original owner, a victim of the Nazis. (Reuters)

Opening up: The producers of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" talk frankly about their decision to revamp the troubled Broadway musical. (Associated Press, via ABC News)

Settling down: The Southern California Institute of Architecture -- better known as SCI-Arc -- has paid $23.1 million for the downtown L.A. facility it has been using for close to 10 years. (Los Angeles Times)

Out: Kate Whoriskey has left her role as artistic director of Seattle's Intiman Theatre, which is canceling its season and laying off its staff due to money problems. (Playbill)

Defaced: Vandals have left their mark on the concrete-and-steel structure that will be the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. (The State News)

Prison: A court in Egypt has sentenced five officials to jail in connection with the theft of a Van Gogh artwork last year. (Reuters)

Impediments: A long-planned Smithsonian museum dedicated to Latino heritage faces budgetary and political hurdles. (New York Times)

New leader: The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has appointed a German academic and curator as its new director. (BBC News)

Canceled: On the heels of complaints, the Army has scrapped a $600,000 public-art project that would have included placing a sculpture of a fairy riding on the back of a giant toad near a Defense Department facility. (Stars and Stripes)

Also in the L.A. Times: Columnist Hector Tobar on the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes downtown; the first Little Tokyo Design Week will kick off in July.

-- David Ng

Photo: Demonstrators in Hong Kong show their support for artist Ai Weiwei. Credit: Kin Cheung / Associated Press


Getty 'goddess' gets a brass band welcome in Sicily

March 22, 2011 |  3:55 pm


Pomp met circumstance the other day in the small, eastern Sicilian hilltown of Aidone, Italy, when a brass band greeted a truck bearing crates holding the "Cult Statue of a Goddess," the larger-than-life-sized acrolithic sculpture that was once a centerpiece of the Getty Villa at the edge of Malibu. The sculpture is the most important antiquity returned to Italy in the Getty's 2007 restitution agreement over looted art.

Now known to locals as the "Aidone Venus" and disassembled into pieces for safty in the move, the sculpture will eventually be reassembled for display in the Aidone Archaeological Museum. Last December, 16 silver-gilt objects returned by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art also went on view at the museum. Like the cult statue, the silver is believed by many to have been looted more than 30 years ago from an archaeological dig at a nearby ancient Greek settlement.

Because the Sicilian region is earthquake-prone, the Getty also provided the special seismic-base built for the statue during its years of display in Los Angeles. (The base allows the massive stone figure to move in case of a tremor.) The Getty bought the sculpture in 1988 for $18 million.

For more on the return of "Cult Statue of a Goddess" to Italy, click here.


Baroque Court hearing coming over a Baroque painting looted by Nazis

Charges dismissed against ex-Getty curator Marion True by Italian judge

Getty announces venture with Italian museum




-- Christopher Knight

Court hearing coming over a Baroque painting looted by Nazis

March 7, 2011 |  2:31 pm

StrozzipaintingAn Italian criminal court is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday in Milan in a case involving a Baroque masterpiece looted from a private collection in Florence during World War II.

The hearing is just one taking place among three -- count 'em, three -- suits underway in criminal, civil and administrative jurisdictions in the tangled tale, as my colleague Jori Finkel recently reported.) Missing for nearly 70 years, the stolen painting turned up on the Italian art market last summer. An export license allowing the painting to leave the country has been denied.

The facts around how Bernardo Strozzi's full-length figure of St. Catherine of Alexandria, painted circa 1615, was looted by the Nazis are not in dispute. The picture had been seized from its expatriate American owner in 1942 by the prefect of Florence under anti-Jewish "racial laws" issued by the Italian fascist regime.

That was bad enough. But now the story is marked by an appalling irony.

The Italian government spent several years in noisy litigation, retaliatory threats and indignant international public relations campaigns over what officials said were antiquities looted from Italian archaeological sites and housed in several American museum collections. Among those museums was the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, which agreed in 2007 to send back 40 disputed objects to Italy.

And who is the American heir to the Florentine collector whose looted Strozzi painting is now being tied up in tortuous Italian criminal, civil and administrative hearings?

Continue reading »

Italian courts deny American heir an export license for Baroque painting of St. Catherine looted by Nazis

February 25, 2011 |  1:15 pm

Strozzipainting Philippa Calnan, a former director of public affairs at the Getty, is now making news herself. After being reunited with an early 17th-century painting by Italian Baroque master Bernardo Strozzi that had been looted by the Nazis from her family's villa in Florence, the Beverly Hills resident was denied an export permit by Italian courts for the work.

She first learned about the whereabouts of the painting two years ago from Sotheby's Milan office. They had received the work on offer from a potential consignor and identified it through research as looted. Shortly after speaking to Sotheby's, she says she received a call from art-loss specialists with the Carabinieri, or Italian state police, inviting her to look at the painting in a back room at the auction house.

"When I first saw the painting, tears welled up in my eyes," says Calnan. "It's a big and very beautiful painting, and I almost felt the presence of my grandfather coming down from above and saying: 'Now it's up to you.' "

Click here for the full story on her quest to recover the painting.

--Jori Finkel

6a00d8341c630a53ef0148c84e7c35970c-500wi J. Paul Getty's J.M.W. Turner masterpiece is final as sale clears final export hurdle

Jewish banker's heirs sue Hungary for return of looted art

Getty Museum ready to buy J.M.W. Turner masterpiece for $44.9 million -- if Brits won't match the price

Getty's prized purchase to stay in England -- at least for now


Image: St. Catherine of Alexandria by Bernardo Strozzi. Courtesy Philippa Kalnan.

Monster Mash: James Franco looks likely for Broadway; warning on looted Egyptian artifacts

February 3, 2011 |  7:51 am

Franco Twice the star power: James Franco is looking likely to star alongside Nicole Kidman in the fall Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth." (BroadwayWorld)

Crisis situation: International museums are on high alert for looted artifacts from Egypt. (Reuters, via Art Daily)

Mona Luigi? A group of Italian researchers claims that the model for Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" might have actually been a man. (Agence France-Presse)

Money's flowing: Despite its recent censorship controversy, the Smithsonian Institution saw a banner year in terms of fundraising for fiscal 2010. (Washington Post)

International dispute: A legal case involving Jewish documents held by Russia has turned into a diplomatic feud over loans of artworks to American museums. (New York Times)

Can't catch a break: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra -- already suffering from a protracted musicians strike -- has a new problem on its hands after creditors called in a $54-million loan that the symphony cannot pay. (Detroit News)

Abrupt departure: Andrew D. Hamingson has resigned as executive director of the Public Theater in New York after only 2-1/2 years. (New York Times)

Pop artifacts: Items that belonged to the late actress Farrah Fawcett are headed to the Smithsonian. (Los Angeles Times)

World premiere: Sanaa Lathan will play the title character in the new play "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" by Lynn Nottage at Second Stage in New York, starting April 6. (Playbill)

Windfall: The Virginia Opera has received a $500,000 challenge grant from an anonymous donor. (The Virginian-Pilot)

Also in the L.A. Times: Music critic Mark Swed on the late composer Milton Babbitt; Orange County's Soka University is planning a fall debut of its new concert hall.

-- David Ng

Photo: James Franco arrives at the 17th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday in L.A. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Monster Mash: Egyptian Museum secured; porn at CTG; Pasadena Playhouse dumps Furious Theatre

February 2, 2011 |  8:11 am

Egyptian Museum

Safe... for now: Troops secure Egyptian Museum, home to the King Tutankhamen collection and thousands of priceless antiquities, after looters strike. (Los Angeles Times)

Amicable divorce?: Pasadena Playhouse evicts resident company Furious Theatre. (Los Angeles Times)
Any burning questions?: Culture Monster hosts a live chat with playwright Neil LaBute today at 1 p.m. (Los Angeles Times)

Porn at Douglas: Center Theatre Group commissions a musical about the sex trade industry. (Los Angeles Times)

Guess we're not a blog: Bloggers -- yes, bloggers -- get the first peek at the upcoming Broadway musical “Book of Mormon,” by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. (Guyism)

Cheap labor: Tommy Tune is working on a new musical based on the rise and fall of Studio 54 with the help of college students who weren’t even born during the rise and fall of Studio 54. (Vulture)

Free admission: Google unveils Art Project, which lets you stay at home and visit museums around the world. (Los Angeles Times)

Getting into the habit: Tony winner Victoria Clark (“The Light in the Piazza”) has been tapped to play Mother Superior in Broadway’s “Sister Act,” which had its start at the Pasadena Playhouse. (Playbill)

Wanna buy a muse?: Pablo Picasso’s “La Lecture,” a portrait of his muse Marie Therese Walter, goes on sale at Sotheby’s in London next week. (BBC)

Keeping it (mostly) pure: Italian culture minister vows to minimize mega-ads on the Coliseum even though Tod’s shoes is sponsoring its conservation. (The Art Newspaper)

The big debate: Rahm Emanuel and other Chicago mayoral candidates on the Windy City’s biggest issue: Their favorite architectural landmark. (Chicago Tribune)

Um, where’s Klimt’s Adele?: Who were the 10 most influential artist muses of all time? Here’s one list. (Flavorpill)

And in the Los Angeles Times: Christopher Knight just loves the Charles Garabedian retrospective in Santa Barbara; Charles McNulty has some issues with “Death of a Salesman” in San Diego; a Supreme Court justice rules on Hamlet’s sanity.

--Lisa Fung

Photo: Troops surround the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. Credit: Chris Hondros / Getty Images

Monster Mash: Ovation Award winners announced; Sarah Palin 'battle hymn' becomes an online hit

January 18, 2011 |  8:59 am

Ovation Honored: The winners of the Ovation Awards for the 2009-10 season were announced Monday, with the Geffen Playhouse and Fountain Theatre bringing home the most trophies. (Los Angeles Times)

Catchy: A new song called the "Sarah Palin Battle Hymn" -- set to the music of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" -- has become an online hit. (Alaska Dispatch)

Authoritative: CNN's Anderson Cooper will lend his voice as the narrator for the upcoming Broadway revival of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," starring Daniel Radcliffe. (Playbill)

In the works: The city of Helsinki, Finland, has enlisted the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to produce a concept and development study for a potential new Guggenheim Museum in Finland. (World Architecture News)

Guest star: Anne Hathaway says she will perform music from the musical "Rent" on an upcoming appearance on Fox's "Glee." (Playbill)

Resolved: New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs said it was satisfied with updated advertising for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" that more clearly indicates its preview period. (New York Times)

Online initiative: The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation has unveiled a digital archive providing access to materials related to the 35th president’s time in office. (Washington Post)

Long road home: A Renaissance-era painting that was looted by Nazis in Holland and that eventually landed at Rutgers University is being returned to a Los Angeles-based descendant of its original owner. (Cherry Hill Courier Post)

Poor taste: A painting depicting soccer star David Beckham being crucified has spurred a police investigation in England. (Daily Mail)

For the kids: Dolly Parton is working on a new stage musical for children. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Endurance test: A violinist in India has attempted to set a record by holding a 50-hour recital. (Oneindia)

And in the L.A. Times: Theater critic Charles McNulty reviews "Circle Mirror Transformation" at South Coast Repertory; rare Ansel Adams photographs are on display in Palos Verdes.

-- David Ng

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times


Former Getty antiquities curator Marion True speaks out about her five-year trial in Italy

January 5, 2011 |  5:18 pm

6a00d8341c630a53ef0134882a8fe4970c-320wi The high-profile trial of Getty antiquities curator Marion True, charged by the Italian government with conspiring to traffic in looted art, ended last year on Oct. 13 after the statutes of limitations for her alleged crimes ran out. But the fear that this trial instilled in museums across the nation about acquiring antiquities persists, as do questions about True's history with her co-defendants, antiquities dealers Robert Hecht and Giacomo Medici.

This month, True published a statement in the Art Newspaper to rebut some of the "distorted and slanderous allegations" against her. In the process, she reminds readers of one of the great ironies or tragedies of the five-year, 43-session trial: Before the investigation, True's department at the Getty had a reputation for being one of the few museum teams on the better side of best practices in a fast-changing playing field, in which foreign governments often label works as looted after the fact of their sale or export instead of before.

In her words: 

An employee of the Getty Museum for 23 years, I had been working for much of that time with Italian colleagues in the Ministry for Beni Culturali — Mario Serio (former director general), Adriano La Regina (former superintendent of the Imperial Fora), Pier Giovanni Guzzo (superintendent of Pompeii and Herculaneum) in particular — to find new ways of building collections at the Getty beyond market purchases... And from 1987, at the request of Getty president Harold Williams, I worked with legal counsel to formulate an acquisition policy for antiquities that called for direct notification of the ministries of Mediterranean countries when purchases were proposed, and requested any information or objections to acquisitions under consideration. The policy also demanded that the ministries have immediate notification of objects acquired and, most importantly, the return of any object that could be proven to be illicitly excavated or smuggled. At the time this policy was the most stringent among major US museums, and was strengthened in 1995 with the requirement that any object proposed for acquisition be published as something known to the scholarly world before 1995.

The Art Newspaper has Marion True's full statement online.

-- Jori Finkel


Charges dismissed against ex-Getty curator Marion True

Photo: Marion True leaves a court in Rome in 2005. Credit: Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters


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