ArtCrime

Portrait of Diana Vreeland stolen from Chelsea Hotel

A painting of the legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland by artist Bradley Theodore was taken from the lobby of the Dream Downtown Hotel in New York earlier this week. The thief, who was drinking at the hotel bar, paid his tab at 2:45 am, then grabbed the portrait and absconded. However, at around 7 pm the next day, a parcel containing the painting was delivered to the hotel by an anonymous messenger.

New evidence in stolen Picassos case

Art dealer Olivier Thomas has been placed under investigation once again as new evidence has emerged in the ongoing investigation into stolen Picasso paintings. Last year, Picasso’s stepdaughter Catherine Hutin-Blay accused the dealer, who’s associated with former Freeport head Yves Bouvier, of stealing three works from her. Hutin-Blay alleged that three paintings, including two works by her stepfather that she had entrusted to Bouvier for storage, had been stolen and surreptitiously sold to Dmitry Rybolovlev without her consent.

Thomas was detained by French authorities in May of 2015, and the Brigade de Repression du Banditisme, a special unit of the French Ministry of the Interior, took over the investigation. But Thomas evaded formal charges in his first appearance at court on 9 November, 2015. Back then, he insisted that the works in question “meant nothing to him” and that he had never seen them before. He then emerged from the judge’s office as assisted witness. However, the investigation was still ongoing at the time.

Now, investigators who seized and searched his digital devices, found photos of the disputed artworks on his laptop that he had apparently taken himself.

Thomas was placed under investigation once again on July 6, in Paris by judge Isabelle Rich-Flament for “abuse of trust, fraud, concealment, and laundering” to the detriment of Hutin-Blay.

The judge had summoned Thomas for renewed questioning, and reminded him of his insistence that he had “never seen these pictures” before. The Justice maintained that Thomas had seen the works on multiple occasions, and that his feigned confusion is the crux of the problem.

Gallery operator indicted for counterfeiting Lee Ufan's works

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Prosecutors have indicted a 66-year-old gallery operator on charges of forging artworks made by renowned South Korean artist Lee Ufan. The suspect, identified only by his surname, Hyeon, is accused of receiving some US$1.1 million in 2012 for producing and selling three fake art works.

Hyeon allegedly received an offer from an unidentified antique dealer to fabricate Lee’s works in 2011, in return for 50% of the profits.

The investigation is still under way as the suspect testified that he created some 50 forgeries together with another accomplice, whose identity was withheld.

Spanish court rules not to extradite suspect in art fraud

A Spanish court has ruled that one of two brothers charged with perpetrating an art swindle valued at US$33 million should not be extradited for trial in the United States.

Spain’s National Court cited health reasons for deciding to halt the extradition of Jose Bergantinos Diaz, 60, who was arrested in April 2014 on a warrant issued by a New York district court. He is wanted, along with his brother Jesus Bergantinos Diaz, for passing-off fake art as the work of renowned painters such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The court has already ruled that Jesus Bergantinos Diaz can be extradited.

The Bergantinos Diaz brothers are charged in the U.S. alongside Pei Shen Qian, the Chinese artist who allegedly painted the works in New York then fled to China.

Picasso vase worth US$30K stolen from art gallery

An Owl vase made by Pablo Picasso was swiped from a Manhattan gallery, police said Tuesday. The 10-inch ceramic piece is estimated to be worth about US$30,000. Chelsea’s ACA Gallery noticed that it was gone May 10, but a police report wasn’t filed until Monday.

Belle Baruch paintings returned after 13 years

For 13 years the whereabouts of the paintings of Belle Baruch and her beloved horse, Souriant III, had remained unknown. The paintings had been stolen in 2003 from Belle’s house at the Hobcaw Barony Foundation, a 16,000-acre property, near Georgetown.

On April 29, Ivy Auctions of Laurens returned the Sir Alfred Munnings painting of Belle on her prized horse, Souriant, along with other missing artwork to the Hobcaw Barony Foundation. With a total value exceeding US$2 million, three Munnings paintings and several other pieces of valuable artwork, including a number of Havell Audubons reported stolen in 2003.

A brush with the law: forger turns fine artist

He spent time in prison for forgery, but now David Henty has found a better use for his artistic skills. He’s discovered a talent for copying the works of geniuses like Van Gogh and Picasso. David, from Saltdean in Sussex, denies his paintings are fakes, but not everyone agrees. Ebay, for example, has banned him, as Malcolm Shaw reports.

The $80 Million Art Con

When one of the oldest and most respected art galleries in America, the Knoedler Gallery in New York, closed its doors abruptly in 2011, the art world was stunned. Not because the gallery closed, but by the discovery that over the course of 15 years, the gallery and its president, Ann Freedman, had sold millions of dollars in forgeries to wealthy collectors.

Stefan Simchowitz settles lawsuit with artist

Controversial art collector/dealer Stefan Simchowitz and Dublin dealer Jonathan Ellis King have settled their ongoing legal case with Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. The terms of the settlement, which was reached on May 4, are confidential, but all parties will cover their own legal fees.

The battled stemmed from Mahama’s claims that Simchowitz and King were selling inauthentic artworks in his name. The dealers sued on a number of counts, including breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, commercial disparagement, and unfair competition.

It is hard to overstate the gravity of the Castelvecchio art thefts

Le Opere Da Non Perdere’, reads a link on the Museo di Castelvecchio website. And if you click through, a gallery displays images of 20 works that must not to be missed on a visit to the museum in Verona. Except six of these highlights can no longer be accounted for. They were among the 17 paintings stolen from Castelvecchio on the evening of 19 November, making for a bleak roll-call of losses: Pisanello, Madonna of the Quail; Jacopo Bellini, Penitent St Jerome; Mantegna, Holy Family with a Saint; Gian Francesco Caroto, Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Child’s Drawing; Rubens, Lady of the Campions; Hans de Jode, Seaport.

Opere da non perdere. Works not to miss. And works not to lose, either. It is hard to overstate the gravity of this theft for both the museum – one of the finest civic collections in northern Italy – and for an Italian museum sector that has, under the recent reforms of culture minister Dario Franceschini, been tasked with putting its house in order.

How not to sell stolen art

Art dealer Kenneth Hendel recently found himself in a sticky situation: He was in possession of stolen art. The Florida-based dealer purchased a painting by Picasso after it failed to sell at auction. After the purchase, Wilma “Billie” Tisch, the rightful owner, discovered the painting’s whereabouts and demanded its return. Hendel claims that he is now the rightful owner. The dealer is confident that he will not be forced to return the work because he is working under the assumption that Florida law protects his purchase. He claims that “the piece belongs to the last person who purchased it if it has passed through at least two people since the theft.” This is simply not true.

While it is true that certain aspects of the law in Florida are more forgiving towards current possessors than would be the case under New York law, there are major misconceptions in Hendel’s analysis. There is no law, in any state, that allows someone to gain title over a work after it has passed through a requisite number of exchanges. In fact, a work can be sold by a hundred dealers and yet still belong to an original owner.

Picasso works stolen from German collection

Several artworks, including 11 lithographs by Pablo Picasso, were stolen from the corporate collection of Portigon AG, a financial services company from North Rhine-Westphalia.

Portigon was formed in 2012 as the legal successor WestLB, the Western German state Bank. A spokesperson for the company confirmed the theft this past Friday in Düsseldorf.

Gallery worker pleads guilty in Afghan girl theft

Art studio employee Bree DeStephano pleaded guilty to stealing photographs from renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry, reports the Daily Local News. McCurry is best known for his June 1985 National Geographic cover Afghan Girl, an image of a young woman with haunting green eyes take at a refugee camp a year earlier.

DeStephano was arrested in June 2015 and accused of stealing $655,000 worth of photos from McCurry. Her guilty plea included three third degree felony charges: theft, conspiracy, and criminal use of a communication facility. DeStephano confessed in an affidavit taken by Chester County Detective Martin Carbonel, the lead investigator in the case.

Italy retrieves three works looted from Tuscan villa by the Nazis

Italian authorities have recovered three 15th-century paintings looted by Nazi troops from a Tuscan villa during the Second World War. The works—a Madonna with Child attributed to Cima da Conegliano, the Trinity by Alessio Baldovinetti and the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple by Girolamo dai Libri—were unveiled on 18 April at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, where they have been temporarily assigned for safekeeping.

In 1939, a year after Italy introduced its anti-Jewish racial laws, the Fascist government under Benito Mussolini created an agency to acquire, manage and resell property confiscated from the Jews. Its remit was extended to enemy citizens after Italy entered the Second World War in alliance with Nazi Germany in 1940. Known as EGELI, the organisation took possession of the assets of prince Félix of Bourbon-Parma, the grand duke of Luxembourg, in August that year. Among them were the paintings from the prince’s art collection at Villa delle Pianore in Camaiore, Tuscany.

Wendy Whiteley: 'It's definitely a fake'

The widow of renowned Australian artist Brett Whiteley didn’t tell Sydney Swans chairman and investment banker Andrew Pridham he had a huge $2.5 million fake hanging on his wall because she wanted to be sure before she broke the bad news.

But when she was shown a second painting attributed to Whiteley, Orange Lavender Bay, in the back of a truck by an art dealer at her Lavender Bay home in 2009, she was adamant.

It’s a fake, it’s definitely a fake,” was Wendy Whiteley’s response, she told the Supreme Court of Victoria on Friday, in Australia’s biggest alleged art fraud case.

Former director of scandal-beset Knoedler Gallery breaks her silence

In 2009, two years before news of the Knoedler Gallery’s US$70m sale of fake Abstract Expressionist paintings began to emerge, Ann Freedman resigned as director. Two years later, the venerable gallery closed down and the lawsuits against Knoedler and Freedman began to flood in. Five settled. The first to reach trial, brought by the collectors Domenico and Eleanore De Sole, also settled its claims against Freedman on 7 February (and against Knoedler shortly afterwards), just before she was set to take the stand in the New York courtroom. Her testimony had been eagerly anticipated, not least because she has never given her view of the unfolding scandal and her involvement in it. Until now.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper in an exclusive interview, her first in several years, she summed up the situation thus: “There has been a lot of misunderstanding.” We spoke to her in her sun-filled gallery on the Upper East side, FreedmanArt, which she opened in 2011. “Looking back, there can be things I didn’t see at the time… Could I have done some things differently? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. I don’t have an answer sitting here. I will at some point probably.”

Nazi-looted Dutch Old Master pulled from auction

Vienna’s im Kinsky auction house has removed Portrait of a Man, a painting by Dutch Old Master Bartholomeus van der Helst, from its April 12 and 13 sales. The lot was pulled at the request of the French government, which believes the painting was looted by Nazis, according to Agence France-Presse.

The painting was once part of the collection of Adolphe Schloss, a Jewish art collector who lived in Paris. The Nazis seized the collection in April 1943 after invading France, and earmarked Portrait of a Man for the planned the Führermuseum in Linz. The canvas was recovered by Allied forces following the war, but was reportedly “stolen from an Allied art collecting point” afterward, the Art Newspaper notes.

The 10 most-wanted missing or stolen paintings

A long-lost work thought to be by Caravaggio has been discovered in a leaking attic in Toulouse, France, where it had sat untouched for more than 150 years after an ancestor, who as an officer of Napoleon’s army, brought it to the country. The discovery – which could be worth €120 million – is being heralded as a “momentous occasion” by experts. But while the Caravaggio is an incredible find, there are still dozens of rare and valuable paintings missing in the world. Here are the top 10 most-wanted, according to the Art Loss Register.

FBI seizes art and documents from Santa Fe dealers

FBI agents carried paintings, documents and a computer last week from the homes of two Santa Fe art dealers under investigation for possible fraud, court documents show, as artists claim they have not been paid for work the duo has sold and buyers allege they have not received pieces they purchased.

Search warrants unsealed in federal court Friday indicate investigators are trying to track down paintings claimed by several artists and buyers who say they have struggled for years to recover works that rotated through galleries jointly owned by Saher Saman and Marji Hoyle.