Uncovering a stolen object offers a museum the valuable if bittersweet opportunity to examine its past collection practices. Pinpointing exactly how that object slipped through the cracks can help ensure other stolen objects will not slide by in the future. While there is no failsafe way to avoid mistakes completely, there are concrete steps that can be taken to increase diligence before an acquisition is made. In particular, museums should draw a distinction between objects that are securely documented and those that are ‘said to be’ from a particular collection. Many of the objects Wiener sold, now under investigation, supposedly came from private European owners but had no real paper trail. Some of the sculptures that both she and Kapoor handled, which are alleged to have been stolen, were accompanied by signed declarations that they were outside their countries of origin before 1970. These attestations are now believed to be false. Verbal and written statements do not carry the same weight as documentation in an exhibition catalogue, sale record, or archival material.
One of the toughest cases to crack for the group was that of the Alingana Murthy from the Ball State Museum. In July 2015, the group broke the story of the Ball State University Museum of Art’s acquisition of the Chola Bronze Alingana Murthy – Shiva embracing his consort Parvathy. This exquisite piece of art, at least a millennium old, was ‘acquired’ through Subhash Kapoor’s smuggling network.
I'm not going to bullshit you. Single shipments from Russia were between one and three million, which in the 60s was a lot of money. And these were regular trips-twice a month. It was raining money so I made my base in Beirut. Moneywise Beirut was a free banking market, so you could exchange a million dollars completely open on the square and no one would ask any questions. Of course you had to play the cat and mouse game with Interpol.
Simon accumulated a significant private art collection which included works of the Impressionists, Old Masters, modern and native art. In the 1960s, he spent $6 million on artworks – an inventory of slightly less than 800 objects – and real estate – a building at 18 East 79th Street – from the Duveen Gallery in Manhattan, which specialized in old masters. Scholars including the critic Clement Greenberg and the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Theodore Rousseau studied the Duveen purchases for Simon and were able to identify numerous misattributions. Simon ended up selling much of the collection and only kept around 130 objects, primarily paintings, a handful of sculptures, a few porcelains, and a cape purportedly worn by Charles IV of Spain. However, his collection holds three autographed Rembrandt paintings, considered highly important works of Rembrandt in Southern California.
The story came to a partial resolution last month, when the Hungarian government announced that it had acquired seven of the 14 pieces from the heirs of Peter Wilson for €15m (£12.4m). As for the Northampton part of the cache, its fate remains mysterious: Lord Northampton divorced his fifth wife in 2012 with a secret settlement said to be worth £17m: it is not known if she received part of the hoard in the deal.
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..."
The Italian and other governments are becoming far more aggressive in seeking the repatriation of looted antiquities. Italy in particular waged a long legal battle against Getty curator of antiquities, Marion True, for acquiring illicitly exported pieces, although the case finally exhausted the statute of limitations. And in recent years numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries. These include the famed Etruscan Euphronios krater (wine bowl) dating from 515 BC and which was bought by the Met in 1972 for $1.2m. It turned out that this had also been handled by Medici, and the museum gave it back to Italy in 2006. Just this month, the Getty said it was returning a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament to the Greek Dionysiou monastery – from which it had disappeared more than 50 years ago.