Friday, November 17, 2017

Gordon McLendon and Fritz Bürki

The returns from the J. Paul Getty Museum have included Apulian pots that were given by Gordon McLendon in 1977 (Inv. 77.AE.14–15). 

Some of McLendon's gifts were derived from Fritz Bürki:
a. Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Baltimore painter. Inv. 77.AE.112. Acquired from Bürki in 1977.
b. Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Baltimore painter. Inv. 77.AE.113. Acquired from Bürki in 1977.
c. Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Patera painter. Inv. 77.AE.114. Acquired from Bürki in 1977.
d. Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Patera painter. Inv. 77.AE.115. Acquired from Bürki in 1977.
e. Apulian bell-krater, attributed to the Patera painter. Inv. 77.AE.116. Acquired from Bürki in 1977.

Note that these Apulian pieces moved almost directly from Bürki to the museum via McLendon.


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Friday, November 3, 2017

Persepolis Relief Seized in New York

A fragment from one of the Persepolis reliefs has been seized at TEFAF in New York (James C. McKinley Jr, "Ancient Limestone Relief Is Seized at European Art Fair", New York Times October 29 2017).

The relief was recorded at Persepolis as late as 1936 (see here). It was acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Art in the 1950s from Frederick Cleveland Morgan. (It is not clear how it moved from Persepolis to Montreal.) The relief was stolen from the museum in September 2011, and recovered in Edmonton in January 2014. The insurers apparently sold the relief to Rupert Wace Ancient Art from whose stand at TEFAF the piece was seized.

It is not clear why the relief was not spotted from the archive photographs when it formed part of the collection in Montreal. It can only be assumed that the dealer assumed that there was no problem with the history of the relief fragment.

The relief was clearly removed after the 1930 legislation (see here) that would have made its export illegal.


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Friday, October 27, 2017

Greece issues statement over marble funerary markers

Source: Christos Tsirogiannis
The Greek authorities (The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport) have issued a statement over the two marble funerary markers that were on sale in London by Jean-David Cahn [press release, 26 October 2017].

The statement makes it plain that the Greek authorities are seeking the return of the objects to Greece (Οι εν λόγω ελληνικές αρχαιότητες διεκδικούνται ήδη από το Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού, το οποίο θα συνεχίσει τις προσπάθειες επαναπατρισμού τους αξιοποιώντας κάθε πρόσφορο μέσο).

We can only presume that the Swiss authorities will want to avoid any damaging legal process that will explore the sale of this material.

Can we also presume that the Greek authorities will be reopening the investigation into the three objects in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University?




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Thursday, October 26, 2017

"The Greeks are the rightful owner"

Marble funerary markers on display in London
Source: Christos Tsirogiannis
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has been interviewed by The Times over the marble lekythos and the marble loutrophoros that were being offered for sale in London by Jean-David Cahn (Jack Malvern, "Expert attacks sale of 'stolen' Greek vases", The Times 24 October 2017). 

On the left (no. 237), the history of the lekythos is given as "Formerly Swiss art market, October 1977". I understand from Dr Tsirogiannis that the lekythos was listed by Gianfranco Becchina on 5 September 1977. Was this information known to Cahn? The lekythos is listed as co-owned by Becchina and George Ortiz.

On the right (no. 239), the history of the loutrophoros is given as "Formerly Swiss art market, October 1977".

These two funerary markers are almost certainly from a cemetery in Attica, and Tsirogiannis is right to suggest that "the Greeks are the rightful owner", especially if there is no documentation relating to their movement from Greece to Switzerland.

More troubling is the role of the Art Loss Register. If the ALR was not able to identify the markers in a photographic database, they needed to say that very clearly. But perhaps they did. But Malvern tells us, "The Art Loss Register said that it was considering its position on the vases." Why does the ALR need to reconsider? Does it think that it gave misleading advice? Does the ALR need to reconsider all its advice relating to recently surfaced antiquities?

We presume that Cahn has now had time to contact the Greek authorities to arrange their return.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What does "mint provenance" mean?

Marble loutrophoros from the Becchina archive.
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
The identification of a marble lekythos and a marble loutrophoros that had formed part of the stock of Gianfranco Becchina raises concerns about how the history of the objects was recorded.

The dealer, Jean-David Cahn, states:
In the past few years, the gallery has been rethinking its acquisition policy, pinpointing quality as well as provenance even more. Our profile is then to provide/show quality pieces with a strong expertise and mint provenance.
Were these two pieces offered with the information that they were linked to Becchina? What sort of due diligence process had been conducted by the gallery? Had the gallery contacted the Greek authorities to check that the objects had not been removed from the country illegally?

A "mint provenance" would provide the full, documented and authenticated history of the object from when it left the ground to the point of its present sale.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Michael C. Carlos Museum under renewed scrutiny

Left: image from Becchina archive.
Right: larnax in Michael C. Carlos Museum
Objects in the Michael C. Carlos Museum are under renewed scrutiny after the latest Becchina appearances of archaeological material from Greece in London. The museum has let the case go unresolved for 9 years; the story was broken in the Greek press more than 10 years ago.

There are three items: a Minoan larnax, a pithos, and a statue of Terpsichore.

It is about time that the curatorial team at the Michael C. Carlos Museum offered to return the items to Greece.

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Becchina and the Funerary Markers from Greece

Marble loutrophoros from the Becchina archive.
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
Cambridge-based academic, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified two Attic funerary markers that have surfaced on the Swiss market (Howard Swains, "Looted antiquities allegedly on sale at London Frieze Masters art fair", The Guardian October 22, 2017). The items feature in the Becchina archive.

The marble lekythos and loutrophoros were displayed by Swiss-based dealer Jean-David Cahn at the Frieze Masters art fair in Regent's Park in London.

It appears that the items are being offered on behalf of the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt. They had apparently formed part of the stock seized from Becchina's warehouse in Switzerland. (For more on this see here.)

Strangely the Swiss authorities are claiming that the Italian authorities have given permission for the material to be sold. But these two items are objects that were created in Attica for display in Attic cemeteries. They are from Greek, not Italian, soil.

The key question is this: did the Swiss authorities as well as Cahn contact the Greek authorities to check that the sale was acceptable? If the answer to this is no, then there has been a major breakdown in the due diligence process. Any responsible dealer would have known that they need to contact the Greek authorities for objects that would have been found in Greek funerary contexts.

This makes the statement from James Ratcliffe, counsel for the Art Loss Register sound ridiculous: “If [the Italians] are not reclaiming it, it’s then in this grey area where legally it’s seemingly OK ... As far as [the Swiss] were concerned, they were selling with good title. Now if that’s not the case, and information has emerged that’s contrary to that, then quite clearly that’s something we would say changes our view.” But if the two funerary objects came from Greece rather than Italy, then Ratcliffe's statement reflects his apparent lack of understanding of the reality of the situation.

Cahn is not unfamiliar with handling material from Greece. Items include the statue of Apollo that had been looted from Gortyn on Crete, and another Attic marble lekythos.

Incidentally, the Becchina archive also includes images of a Minoan larnax from Crete now in the Michael C. Carlos Museum. This case is currently unresolved.

These two ex-Becchina items are now toxic. The Basel authorities and Cahn would be best advised to arrange for them to be returned to Greece before the Greek authorities make a formal request and with it all the associated publicity.



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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Looting of archaeological sites in East Anglia

BBC Look East 17 October 2017
BBC Look East has covered the problem of looting on archaeological sites in East Anglia (October 17, 2017). The report covers the problem of illegal metal-detecting on the site of Great Chesterford, the response from the police (including PC Andy Long of Essex Constabulary) and landowners, as well as from metal-detectorists. Police will be installing cameras at key sites, as well as deploying drones to identify criminal activity.

The message that needs to get through is that archaeological contexts are being lost, and key pieces are not being reported.

The programme is available here for 24 hours.

BBC Look East 17 October 2017
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Friday, October 13, 2017

Further statue from temple of Eshmun, Lebanon seized in New York City

Bull from temple of Eshmun, Lebanon.
Source: ARCA
ARCA (and other sources) has commented on the seizure of a second statue from the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon that had formed part of a New York private collection. The figure is holding an animal: a calf, sheep or goat. The collector is reported in the legal papers as Michael Steinhardt.

The marble bull's head that was also seized in New York is due to be returned to the Lebanon in the next two weeks.

Christos Tsirogiannis has established that the Beierwaltes, through whose hands the bull passed, were clients of Robin Symes. Is this the source for the bull?

And if so, did Symes handle the other statue?

And what other material removed from Lebanon could have passed through this route?

Postscript
Colin Moyniham, "Couple Drops Lawsuit Over Disputed Antiquity", New York Times, October 13, 2017: "The calf bearer sculpture passed though some of the same hands as the bull's head, according to the letter. It too had been excavated at Eshmun and was stolen from the Lebanese Republic, prosecutors said. It was then sold in 1996 by Mr. Symes for $4.5 million to the Beierwalteses, who later sold it to Mr. Steinhardt, Mr. Bogdanos wrote." The bull's head was purchased for $1 million in 1996.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Stonehenge and the National Trust

Stonehenge (c) David Gill
Stonehenge is part of one of the most important prehistoric (and historic) landscapes in England. A members' resolution has been presented to the National Trust AGM on Saturday (21 October 2017) that aims to protect and preserve the integrity of the UNESCO World Heritage site in the face of the proposed tunnel construction.

Members of the National Trust can vote on the resolution on-line here. Details of the resolution can be downloaded here.

The Heritage Journal lays out some of the concerns here.



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