Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Theft of Art

Stolen? How would you find out?

I stumbled across this blog yesterday, and I think it is a brilliant subject for a blog:

While 2010 began with a number of art thefts, there have been some notable recoveries already as well. A Pissarro print titled “Le Marché aux Poissons” (pictured at right; source: Interpol) was returned to the Faure Museumin Aix-les-Bains, France from where it had been stolen in November 1981. The US Attorney’s Office’s press release is a fascinating, must-read for those interested in learning more about the process through which stolen art that is purchased under the guise of “good faith” is recovered by its original owner.


According to documents filed in the case,


The painting was stolen by Emile Guelton who walked out of the Faure Museum in Aix-les-Bains, France, with the work under his jacket. The museum guard and another witness provided descriptions of the thief to French law enforcement authorities, but no one was apprehended at the time.


…..In 1985, Guelton came to an art gallery in San Antonio, Texas, and asked the gallery owner, Jay Adelman, to sell Le Marché for him. Sharyl Davis, who was using space in the art gallery at the time, purchased Le Marché for $8,500. In early 2003, Davis consigned Le Marché to Sotheby’s New York for a May 2003 auction in which Sotheby’s estimated the auction price range to be from $60,000 to $80,000. When Sotheby’s asked Davis for provenance information about the print, Davis could only remember the man who consigned Le Marché to the San Antonio art gallery as “Frenchie.” Davis asked for “Frenchie’s” real name from Adelman, who told her it was Guelton and that he was from Paris. That information appeared in the auction catalog with an image of Le Marché.


…..Just before the auction, French federal law enforcement officers learned that Le Marché was at Sotheby’s. Based on the information in the auction catalog, the French officers located, contacted, and interviewed Guelton. Guelton confirmed that he knew Adelman, was living in Texas in 1985, sent a container of artwork from France to the United States in 1984, and sold Adelman paintings. The French officers, using a prior arrest photo of Guelton, created a six-person photo array, which they showed to the Faure Museum guard in October 2003. The guard recognized the photo of Guelton as the thief (US Attorney Southern District of NY. “Jury Finds Pissarro Artwork to be Forfeitable” 12 July 2010)…


The Pissarro work was forfeited under the National Stolen Property Act, which prohibits the transportation and sale of stolen property in interstate or foreign commerce. Certainly, this case raises a number of issues related to buyer/seller due diligence and statutes of limitations.


Impressively, the Faure Museum guard was still able to recognize the thief after two decades. According to Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art Database and archived news articles, another work, Renoir’s “Buste de Femme,” was taken from the Faure Museum on the same day as the Pissarro. Are French authorities any closer to finding this work, or will they have to wait until the current owner attempts to sell it?

There are countless pieces of valuable art that are floating through the ether, being chased or tracked by law enforcement. These stories make the mainstream media on rare occasion, such as when “The Scream” was stolen or when a piece worth millions has been stolen. Art Theft Central is a place where you can get the details on some of the more basic cases of art theft.

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