April 29, 2017

Auction Alert: Christie's New York and the Guennol Stargazer

Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism,  Nabi Avcı 
Jussi Pylkkänen, global president of the auction house Christie's has indicated that at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, his firm will apply precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old female sculptor the "Guennol Stargazer."  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary 60-day hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted. During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD is confirmed but not collected. 

As spoken about in Dr. Sam Hardy's blog, the Guennol Stargazer is a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  The object first kicked up a fuss when Özgen Acar wrote of his concerns about the object's origins in Hurriyet Daily News.


An investigative journalist, Acar has crusaded for the return of Turkey's cultural patrimony for decades.  He is probably most famous for his dogged quest for the repatriation of the Metropolitan Museum's Karun Treasure, alternatively known as the Lydian Hoard, a name given to 363 Lydian artifacts that once belonged to a courtier of King Croesus of Lydia dating back to the 7th century B.C.E., originating from the Uşak Province in western Turkey.  In the case of the Guennol Stargazer, Acar openly questions the licit or illicit origin of the idol and its legitimacy in the New York auction house's April sale, in light of stringent Turkish antiquity laws.

This 60 day status will allow the Turkish government the opportunity to put forward evidence to convince the consignor to voluntarily forfeit the ancient idol, or if necessary, facilitate a court order of restitution.

Not a great start to Christie's Classic Week

In advance of the auction, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism,  Nabi Avcı learned of the upcoming sale of the Anatolian Kilia sculpture and contacted the country's cultural representatives through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Turkish embassy in Washington DC and the country's New York consulate. The Turkish authorities wanted to ensure that any potential buyer was completely aware that the idol was likely looted from Turkey. 

In a battle for hearts and minds - whose outcome will affect ancient art connoisseurs worldwide, the ministry also took out a full-page advertisement depicting the idol in the New York Times discouraging the collecting community from purchasing items that irretrievably damage a tangible link to the past.


In that open letter, pictured above, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey stated: 

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey extends its appreciation to the institutions and individuals that have helped to repatriate lost artefacts to the Anatolian origins.  

We thank the Dallas Museum of Art for returning the 194 A.D. “Orpheus Mosaic” to promote an international cultural exchange of art and ideas in 2012.  

We thank the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston which in 2011 returned part of the 1,800-year-old sculpture “Weary Herakles” that was excavated from the Turkish site of Perge. 

And we thank all the private collectors, auction houses and universities for returning 4272 pieces of cultural heritage, including marble pieces, ancient coins, marble inscriptions, amphoras, statues, and a Roma-era bronze horse harness piece.  

The good faith shown in each instance is an example of how countries and cultural communities can work together to preserve the archaeological record. 

The trade and sale of cultural assets are governed by international conventions and domestic legislations, like UNESCO’s global “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export,and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” in 1970, as well as Turkey’s national Asar-1 Atika Regulation of 1884 that prohibits the export of any newly-found or yet-unearthed artwork.  

In the spirit of cultural cooperation, we embrace continued collaboration with the arts community to discover the archaeological context of such historic works, and have good faith that any current or future custodians of Anatolian relics will likewise work with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism to return such pieces to their ancestral homes. 

The Business of Ancient Art for the Modern Collector

Christie's biannual auctions in London and New York offer some of the world's finest ancient art, but as the stakes for the art market go higher with each sales cycle, one has to question why auction houses prefer the potentially customer embarrassing "identified as illicit" by an academic, country or journalist approach rather than simply conducting more intensive research into an ancient object's background before accepting a piece for an upcoming auction.

Bidding for bidders and it's about the money.

With plenty of money earmarked for Christie's April 28, 2017 ancient art sale coming from the best name purchasers, it's not a mystery why auction houses and antiquities dealers spend inadequate time worrying about a smudge-free pedigree when sourcing eye-poppingly priced antiquities for collectors. 


When an antiquities collector is willing to fork out $14 million for a purchase, you follow them around like a puppy, catering to their desires because you know in the end the auction house is going to make some decent money out of the sale. To achieve those "record prices" specialists spend significantly more time getting to know their collectors, listening to what they are interested in buying and what they already own, than they do researching where an ancient object came from and whose clean or dirty hands it passed through before arriving to its current consignor.

In the high-stakes art world with high commissions at stake, auction houses focus on wooing and wowing their customers in advance of potential purchases, not pointing out the holes in their consigned object's collection history. The market's focus is on the next bang of the auctioneer's gavel.  It's not on highlighting the murky backwaters an object may have passed through on its way to the auction block.

An auction house's competitive advantage in the marketplace rests as much on their knowledge of their big ticket buyers and sellers as it does on knowing where to source the objects these collectors want.  When someone is willing to offer $14 million for tiny object, an auction house or antiquities dealer will bend over backwards to get one for them.  

Given all of that, we shouldn’t wonder that the auction houses and antiquities dealers behave the way they do.  The bigger question haunting the ancient art market is how do we change the paradigm of "I don't care where it came from, it's pretty and I want it" to "I want something pretty, but I absolutely do care" and I won't buy anything without an ironclad well-documented provenance.

We do it by changing the minds of the collector. 

Collecting ancient art can be an extension of a personal passion, a status symbol or a piece of cultural currency but it also serves as a defacto calling card for the current-day purchaser's own collecting ethics. Deep-pocketed collectors can and should demand that their source dealer or auction house examine and not hide the provenance of the trophy works they are interested in acquiring.  They should also not discount the unacceptable buying and selling habits of the fading old guard of the art market.

If buyers behave conscientiously, the market will be forced to change its practices to keep up with their connoisseur clientele's ethically motivated demands. If only because it is the auction house’s job to know and to cultivate the sale of objects which their customers crave. That demand is what pushes the selling price past the guarantee.

If the antiquities art market really wants to clean itself up, it may be forced to accept in the not too distant future, that the priciest bombshells from the final “hammer price” tabulations may not simply be the rarest and most compelling, historically significant work of art, but also and equally importantly the one that hasn’t funded a war, or destroyed the archaeological record in a source country.

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 20, 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - , No comments

Repatriation: The Cleveland Museum of Art returns WWII looted bust of Drusus Minor to Italy

Sometimes the repatriation of a looted object is a long time coming. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 the Cleveland Museum of Art and Italy's Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo - MiBACT announced with great public fanfare and press releases that an agreement had finally been reached for the transfer of a marble portrait head representing Drusus Minor (Drusus Julius Caesar, 13 B.C.E.-C.E. 23) back to its country of origin.

The object was part of a group of sculptures excavated in the 1920s that had been displayed in the Civic Museum of Sessa Aurunca from 1926 until it went missing some 70+ years ago at the end of the Second World War.  It is speculated that the object was taken by military personnel, perhaps in search of war mementos.

When the museum first announced the object's acquisition in 2012 they made no mention of who the marble head was purchased from, nor what the purchase price was.  

Seeking to establish an exception to the AAMD's Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art the cached version of the now removed AAMD website object information page listed the object's details and collection history as follows:

Object Title:  Head of Drusus Minor (13 B.C. – A.D. 23)
Measurements:  H. 35 cm
Creation Date:  probably after A.D. 23 and likely before A.D. 37
Credit Line:  Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund
Museum Name:  The Cleveland Museum of Art
Culture:  Roman
Country of Origin:  Algeria
Object Type:  Sculptures
Materials / Techniques: Marble
Provenance Information: Fernand Sintes before 1960; sold at auction at Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu Paris on September 29, 2004, lot. no. 340, unknown purchaser; Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A.(2004); sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012.
Exhibition Information:  No Data
Publication Information:  Piasa, Paris, Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu, Archéologie, 28–29 Septembre (Paris 2004) 74, lot. no. 340. Phoenix Ancient Art, Imago, Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture, (New York 2007) cover, III.

Section of the AAMD Guidelines relied upon for the exception to 1970: 

Cumulative facts and circumstances - Explain why the object fits the exception set forth above: The Cleveland Museum of Art has provenance information for this work back to the 1960’s, but has been unable to obtain documentary confirmation of portions of the provenance as described below. The work was sold at public auction in 2004 when it first appeared on the art market. The work was initially identified and published as Tiberius, but was later (after 2007) recognized as a likeness of his son, Drusus Minor. A certificate of origin was issued dated the day after the auction by Jean-Philippe Mariaud de Serres (deceased 2007), who assisted the prior owner and consigner, Fernand Sintes. The certificate stated the sculpture came from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Sintes of Marseilles; that the sculpture had been in Mr. Sintes’s family for many generations; that the family’s name was Bacri; and that they had lived in Algeria since 1860. The museum contacted Mrs. Sintes who confirmed on behalf of herself and Mr. Sintes that Mr. Sintes’ grandfather, Mr. Bacri, had owned the sculpture; that Mr. Sintes inherited the sculpture from his grandfather; that Mr. Sintes brought it from Algeria to Marseilles in 1960; that he had inherited it from his grandfather prior to bringing it to Marseilles; that the sculpture was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 2004; and that they had worked with Mr. de Serres. The portrait, monumental in scale and of great historical importance, belongs to a major category of Roman imperial portraiture not otherwise represented in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Drafted by the the Association of Art Museum Directors and adopted by the AAMD member institutions in the US, Canada and Mexico, the AAMD guidelines, set standards by which member museums should conduct due diligence when acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.  These guidelines serve to discourage member museums from purchasing antiquities unless solid collection histories prove that the object was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970, or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.

Filling in the gaps on one repatriated object's collection history 

Through the dedicated work of multiple researchers, archaeologists, and lawyers in Italy, France, the UK, the US and Poland, we know the following:

The French auction house's website recorded that the sculpture was sold as lot. 340 to an anonymous buyer at a Hôtel Drouot auction in Paris on September 29, 2004 for €324,000. 

The Cleveland Museum of Art acquired the ancient Roman portrait of the son of Emperor Tiberius 8 years later, from Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealer with galleries in Geneva and New York, whose has been discussed with recurring frequency on the Association's blog.

An image of the Drusus Minor bust graces the cover of the 2007 edition of the Phoenix Ancient Art catalog Imago, dedicated to four hundred years of Roman portraiture.  This cover photo can be seen in the screenshot taken from the dealer's eTiquities website below. 


It is unclear if the bust remained in the Aboutaam brothers' inventory from its 2004 purchase until its eventual purchase by the museum in 2012.

The museum's 2012 purchase was made possible from a credit line tapping the Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund.  Iron, coal, and shipping magnate Leonard C. Hanna Jr. was an avid art collector, theatergoer, and patron of the arts. At his death, Hanna left a bequest of of $34 million USD to the Cleveland Museum of Art making it the best-endowed art museum in the United States.  Income from the Hanna endowment fund is restricted to the purchase of art.

Sessa Aurunca, Remains of the theatre (scavi 1925–1926)
Image Credit: Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania
In the October-December 2014 Bollettino D’Arte, produced by Italy’s Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, author Giuseppe Scarpati deduced that documentation stored in the Neapolitan archives of the Superintendence Archeologia della Campania, included previously unpublished photos which catagorically confirm that the object was originally discovered between 1925-1926 in Italy when Amedeo Maiuri was excavating the Gagliardella district of Sessa Aurunca, near the site's theater.

The black and white photos found in the Naples archives were taken in 1926. Contact find records of the documented measurements for the ancient marble head, also match records from the Cleveland museum's ancient art collection. 

Image Credit Top Left and Bottom, Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania, 1926
Image Credit Top Right: ARCA
In a still earlier Italian article, published before the museum's purchase, by the Italian Societá Nazionale di Scienze Lettere ed Arti Napoli, Volume LXXV 2008-2011,  Scarpati had already documented the find images, as well as site diagrams by Sergio Cascella whose documentation reconstructs the zone of the the excavation find spot, the theatre at Sessa Aurunca.

With all this documentation, transfer of the object by the Cleveland Museum of Art back to Italy was clearly the only appropriate resolution.

But will the museum will be reimbursed by Phoenix Ancient Art?

At the time of this article, William Griswold, the museum's director at the Cleveland Museum of Art declined to comment on whether his museum would be reimbursed by the Aboutaams. 

And if the museum is not reimbursed? 

According to a 2014 US government, there are upwards of 35,000 museums in America.  But how many museums employ dedicated provenance researchers to conduct research, to trace an object's history of ownership, and to clarify the circumstances surrounding the potential costly acquisition of an artwork or an antiquity with illicit or looted origins?

In 2016 Cleveland Museum of Art was named the second best museum in the U.S. by Business Insider magazine, just one step behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Perhaps given the diplomatically touchy nature of repatriating looted objects, which necessitates both parties drafting tedious carefully-agreed upon press releases about how wonderful one another is, museums might be wiser to invest in more personnel with solid provenance researching backgrounds to vet objects before their purchase.

In the long run, provenance researchers are cheaper than having to forfeit a pricey accessioned treasure, not to mention,  museum directors aren't subjected to those cheesy photo opportunities with cultural attachés wearing diplomatically-pasted-on grins.

Food for future purchasing thought

A statement from the ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods states: 

Might be worthwhile to re-read this suggestion before signing a check for that new must-have acquisition.  Failure to engage in due diligence causes institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art  to suffer at their own hands.

By:  Lynda Albertson


References accessed and interviews used for this article


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ARCA internal research data

Avvocatura dello Stato and the Procuratore Aggiunto dello Stato, Italy

Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo

Stefano Alessandrini, consultant to Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo and the L'Avvocatura dello Stato - Italy. 

Paul Barford, http://paul-barford.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Sergio Cascella - https://www.academia.edu/2199517/Un_ritratto_di_Tiberio_da_Sessa_Aurunca_ritrovato_RAAN_LXXV_2008-2011_pp._345-368

David Gill, http://lootingmatters.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Giuseppe Scarpati - https://www.academia.edu/24236780/IL_RITRATTO_DI_DRUSO_MINORE_DAL_CICLO_STATUARIO_GIULIO_CLAUDIO_DI_SESSA_AURUNCA


Rick St. Hilaire - http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.it/2017/04/drusus-head-revisited.html

April 7, 2017

CCTV footage released of suspects who stole two iconic Māori paintings in Auckland, NZ

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
CCTV footage released by Auckland City Police shows blurry images of two men, wearing bandanas, black gloves and dark sweatshirts involved in the smash and grab burglary at Parnell’s International Art Center last Saturday.  

According to eyewitness testimony, a stolen Ford Courier ute (utility vehicle) drove up Parnell Road between 3:30 and 4:00 am on April 01, 2017 to the front of the gallery, where it then turned and reversed into the plate glass window at the front of the gallery allowing access to the artworks. 

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
One suspect exited the ute at or near the same time a second vehicle, a white 2016 Holden Commodore, pictured below, arrived driven by an accomplice.  Both men then entered the gallery through the broken window and made off with two iconic Māori portraits of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure, by Gottfried Lindauer. 

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
Lindauer, a Czech-born Kiwi artist painted in the the late 19th and early 20th century.  He is famous for painting detailed portraits of Māori in customary Māori attire, often with pounamu toki ornaments. 

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure was painted in 1884 and is valued at $350,000 - $450,000 NZD.  It shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and she is wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring. 

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was also painted in 1884 and has the same estimated value.  This portrait shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. 

Earlier this week a third Gottfried Lindauer portrait, of Chief Renata Kawepo sold for $227,000 at Dunbar Sloane, New Zealand's leading and largest auctioneer of fine art and antiques showing the value of this artist's portraiture. Previously, the highest price paid for a Lindauer portrait sold was $198,000.

Any information on the thieves or the white 2016 Holden Commodore should be reported to Auckland City Police on (09) 302 6832, or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 3, 2017

Art Theft Alert: What the Guardian later called a “garden variety ram-raid”


What the Guardian later called a “garden variety ram-raid” happened around 4.00 am on the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2016. In a tree-lined upmarket street close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand, a vehicle, later recovered by police at the scene, smashed the plate-glass front window of the International Art Centre in Parnell.  A sign written on the window had proclaimed that an “Important and Rare Art” auction was to take place a few days later.  A second vehicle was reportedly seen leaving the scene shortly afterwards.

Displayed in the gallery’s window, and taken during the raid, were the intended centrepieces of that auction: two companion portraits, painted by Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, entitled Chieftainess Ngati-Raure and Chief Ngati-Raure.

The auction house selling the works had valued them in the run-up to the auction at around NZ $350,000 - $450,000 each. Local art world figures expressed dismay at the thefts, characterising Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.” Immediate and extensive publicity both in New Zealand and elsewhere would seem to ensure that a legitimate mainstream sale or disposal of the artworks appears unlikely.  



Within 24 hours media reports tentatively drew a possible link with earlier and speculative internet chatter expressing anger that the portraits of two ancestors were being offered for sale rather than returned to the descendents of the sitters, but in the hours and days after the raid, little is known for certain and the works remain missing. 

Any information can be relayed to New Zealand Police in Auckland Police on:
00 64 9 302 6832 

or anonymously to the New Zealand Crimestoppers tip-line: 
0800 555 111

By Judge Arthur Tompkins