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.
As one of the first of his significant corporate moves, Simon sold Val Vita to Hunt's Foods in return for a controlling interest in the combined business. By 1943 he changed the company's name to Hunt Food and Industries and ran it with strict cost-controls and an unorthodox approach to marketing. During and after World War II, Simon focused on product visibility. Uncharacteristically for a food company at the time, he acquired full page advertisements in Vogue and Life magazines with full-color photos of Hunt's ketchup bottles and tomato sauce cans. His aggressive advertising ensured the company's slogan "Hunt for the best" was prominent. His marketing strategy worked, and by 1945 Hunt Foods became a household name and one of the largest food processing businesses on the West Coast. Hunt's is now part of ConAgra Foods, Inc..
In 1969, his son Robert Simon committed suicide. Leaving Donald (Norton's other son), Lucille, and Norton shocked. In 1970, he and his wife Lucille Ellis were divorced. In 1971, he married actress Jennifer Jones, the widow of David O. Selznick. He retired from active involvement in his business in 1969. He accepted appointments to the University of California Board of Regents, the Carnegie Commission on the Future of Higher Education, the boards of Reed College (in his hometown of Portland), the Los Angeles Music Center, the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, and the Institute for Advanced Study.
Morland was heir to a Quaker dynasty and lived a gilded youth: his father was a renowned physician and his mother was a key figure in modern art, friend of George Orwell and Henry Moore. At 6ft 3in tall, good-looking and well-connected, he skied for England, had a beautiful wife and children, a London des-res, a farmhouse in Malta and the world at his feet.
He hasn't given many interviews over the past six years, but I managed to track him down for a chat. After learning I did a bit of unlicensed boxing before becoming a journalist, Michel took a liking to me, as he is a fighter himself. He once had so many contracts on his head that Scotland Yard detectives allegedly placed bets on how long he had left to live before he was murdered by a hitman.
It was, but things changed later when I went to the Jos Plateau in Nigeria. I saw these incredible Nok terracotta heads that they bury in the graves for their ancestors. They were potentially million-dollar pieces and I was there to buy them. But then I met the people-the Jos Plateau is very cold at night so we sat around campfires-and they hardly had anything to eat, yet they sit up all night to protect their ancestor's culture from vultures who want to come and dig and steal and kill to get the terracottas. That touches your heart. You can't deal with those things. You don't want to have people dying for art. It was all just a game, but then I was on top of that hill and suddenly confronted with reality. If that doesn't change you, you aren't a human being.
Morland came out to find his profits had gone. Old friends shunned him and the family firm went bust. So for the next thirty years he became a professional smuggler, plying his trade across the Mediterranean, shifting tons of hash from Berber tribesmen to gangland heavies and alternating between periods of sudden wealth and bleak incarceration. In 1980, 1990 and again in 2000 he was caught and jailed for long terms. Now he lives in ‘pretty good poverty’ teaching pottery classes. This is his amazing story.
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.
In 1972, Simon bought a tenth-century South Indian bronze Nataraja, or dancing Shiva, from New York dealer Ben Heller for $900,000. The Indian government declared that the statue had been stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and smuggled abroad. Although Simon was quoted (New York Times, 12 May 1973) as saying that he had knowingly bought smuggled art ("Hell yes, it was smuggled. I spent between $15 and $16 million in the last two years on Asian art, and most of it was smuggled") he vehemently denied the quote (Los Angeles Times, 13 May 1973), declaring that the work had been legally imported into the United States. In the same Los Angeles Times article, he stated, "As a collector deeply and emotionally involved in art, I deplore the rape of art treasures of any country." In 1976 Simon reached an amicable agreement with the Union of India whereby he agreed to return the Nataraja. In exchange, the Indian government agreed that Simon could keep and display the bronze in his museum for nine years first.
With the growing profits from Hunt Foods, he began buying stock in other undervalued companies with growth potential, many of which were still undervalued following the loss of confidence in equities after the Great Depression. He diversified through acquisition into well known businesses such as McCall's Publishing, the Saturday Review of Literature, Canada Dry Corporation, Max Factor cosmetics, the television production company Talent Associates, and Avis Car Rental, through his holding company Norton Simon Inc. (Norton Simon Inc. was formed in 1968 through the merger of Hunt Foods, McCalls Publishing and Canada Dry Corporation.) Many of these businesses had extensive interests outside the United States. Norton Simon Inc. was later acquired by Esmark in 1983, which merged with Beatrice Foods the next year. Beatrice was sold to ConAgra in 1990.