Trump’s Paris art “shopping spree” caused staffers a headache and lessons to learn about checking provenance

President Donald Trump went art shopping in the US ambassador’s residence in Paris during a trip to France in November 2018, Bloomberg news has revealed.

Trump was scheduled to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery for fallen Marines. He is said to have cancelled the event at the last minute because his helicopter was grounded by rain and the Secret Service would not drive him to the Belleau Wood cemetery. Trump is reported to have used the opening in his schedule to order that a number of pieces on display in the official residence of US Ambassador Jamie McCourt be loaded onto Air Force One for return with him to Washington.

Ambassador McCourt did not object to the removal of the pieces although he is reported to have been startled. In response, Trump said the art would return to the envoy “in six years” towards the end of his potential second term in office. As the art is US government property, its removal was legal but the President’s spontaneous souvenir-shopping is said to have caused a headache for White House and State Department staff.

Located in the 8th arrondissement and dating to 1842, the historic Hôtel de Pontalba serves as both the Ambassador’s residence and the flagship of the State Department’s ‘Art in Embassies’ global visual arts program. The cultural diplomacy program is stated to play ‘a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy through a focused mission of vital cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and dynamic artist exchange’.

The works Trump brought back with him to the White House included a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, a bust of Benjamin Franklin and a set of silver figurines of Greek mythical characters. After examination by White House curators, it turns out the President may not have got all that he bargained for. The Franklin bust was deemed to be a replica and the portrait a copy of the original by Joseph Siffred Duplessis.

As for the sculptures, according to London-based art dealer, Patricia Wengraf, the figurines are “20th century fakes of wannabe 17th century sculptures” created by Neapolitan artist Luigi Avolio and of little value. Trump’s entire handpicked selection of works is valued at approximately US$750,000 (£563,978). This demonstrates the importance of checking provenance, and in particular attribution, when buying, or in Trump’s case, selecting, art.

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