Despite every best effort, many museums have made acquisition mistakes in the past and unwittingly accessioned works of art that were stolen from storerooms or plundered from archaeological sites. No museum should deaccession an object without having a justifiable reason for doing so. If, however, an investigation turns up looted antiquities in a museum collection (for example, if photographs show an object shortly after it was illicitly removed from the ground, or if its provenance documentation was demonstrably forged), then a museum has an obligation to redress the break in the chain of that object’s ownership in some way. Usually such a resolution is achieved through a financial settlement with, or physical return to, the country of modern discovery. Museums hold their collections as public trusts, and no museum should wish knowingly to retain stolen property on behalf of the public.
Instead, on the instructions of a second dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payments to seven separate personal bank accounts, the prosecutors said. The first dealer then shipped the items marked as clay or ceramic tiles to three Hobby Lobby sites in Oklahoma. All of the packages had labels falsely identifying their country of origin as Turkey, prosecutors said.
Scion of a wealthy family, Francis Morland was one of Britainís most talented young artists, a contemporary of David Hockney and Peter Blake and a leading figure in the 1960s New Generation movement. At the same time he lived a remarkable secret life, as the biggest dope trafficker in the UK. He stuffed his abstract sculptures full of cannabis to ship to the American market, moved yachtloads of hashish to Europe and, years before Howard Marks, became the countryís first major drug baron.
It didn't seem to calm him down. Maybe he was claustrophobic, or just upset at the prospect of getting stuck in customs? Celian was starting to feel bad for him; he gently put him in the box and said in a softer tone : "Take it easy there buddy. I've worked in a post office before, I can handle it. I'll make sure you're delivered in no time! oh and don't worry, I won't tell anyone about your tastes in music..."
To be sure, not every work of art legitimately on the market has an extensive paper trail; however, every work of art that was recently looted will certainly lack documentation. Diligent buyers should be attuned to those gaps, particularly for high-value objects, and do their best to verify anecdotal information through independent research. Even if there is no specific record of a work of art, its ownership history may be supported by circumstantial evidence, such as the collecting habits of previous owners, the provenance of comparable objects, or the recollections of trusted experts in the field.
Bonhams and Christie’s were also forced to pull smaller objects from their March sales this year, after they were alleged to have passed through the hands of two notorious antiquities smugglers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Both had been convicted of trafficking in looted objects, for which Medici was sentenced to 10 years in prison and paid a 10m euro fine – the largest ever imposed for such a crime by Italian prosecutors. Polaroid photos of an immense cache of objects in his Swiss warehouse apparently identified a second or first century BC jug offered for £4,000-£6,000 ($6,700-$10,000) at Christie’s, and a third century pottery pyxis (cosmetic pot) offered for £3,000-£5,000 ($5,000-$8,400) at Bonhams. Earlier this year, the US government seized a $4m (£2.4m) ancient Roman statue in a New York warehouse – it too had passed through Becchina’s hands.