German research fund to uncover stolen art in private collections

The German government has announced a €3.4 million (£2.95 million) national fund to subsidise provenance research into privately-owned artworks, which may have been looted during World War II. The decision marks a departure from previous arrangements, which were used to fund research into works held by German museums and libraries. It was prompted by the 2013 discovery of the Gurlitt art trove of which five works have been identified as looted or sold under duress. A further 153 works in the hoard are suspected of being stolen.   Continue reading

Stubbs’ painting mistaken as copy quadruples in value

A painting previously thought to be a copy of a work by celebrated English artist George Stubbs has skyrocketed in value after it was reattributed to the artist himself.

‘Two Hacks, the property of Henry Ulrick Reay Esq of Burn Hall Co. Durham and their blue-liveried groom in a landscape’ (1789) depicts a groom exercising a pair of horses. It sold for US$215,000 (£177,000) at Christie’s New York in June 2016 with the attribution “After George Stubbs”. The vendor, the Huntington Library in California, had once considered the painting to be a genuine work by Stubbs. Later, in what art historian and BBC Fake or Fortune? team member, Bendor Grosvenor, has called “one of the biggest deaccessioning blunders of modern times” the library decided it was a later copy of an authorised painting held in the Ambrose Clark collection in America and offered it for sale.  Continue reading

London dealer sued over paintings owned by Mussolini’s Finance Minister

The son of Benito Mussolini’s finance minister is suing a London art dealer over the sale of two 16th century Dutch portraits by Anthonis Mor from his father’s collection.

Count Giovanni Volpi di Misurata is suing Old and Modern Masters Ltd for breach of a partnership agreement entered into in 2014, which allowed the dealer to sell the works in exchange for €1.5 million (£1.3 million) and a 50% share of the sale proceeds. The claim was filed in the High Court in London last year but the documents were not made publicly available until this week.

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Billionaire hits back over refusal to sell Old Master

The US billionaire who declined to sell a rare Old Master painting to London’s National Gallery has hit back at critics who he says have “battered” him over his decision.

‘Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap’ (1530) by Pontormo, real name Jacopo Carrucci, was temporarily barred from export in December 2015 after it was purchased by Blackstone asset management group partner, J Tomilson Hill. The bar was enforced by the former Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, to allow time for a UK buyer to match the asking price and save the painting for the British nation.

After a monumental campaign led by the National Gallery in which it successfully raised £30,618,987 to purchase the work, Hill rejected the Gallery’s offer. In reaching his decision, he cited the £8 million loss he would suffer due to the post-Brexit devaluation of the pound against the US dollar.

Accused of reneging on his agreement with the National Gallery, Hill staunchly defended his refusal to accept its offer. “There have been some false statements … I didn’t renege. I always had the right to say no”, he told the Guardian. Hill also dismissed the suggestion that he flouted export rules and denied reports that the painting’s original owner, the Earl of Caledon, sold it to him off the National Gallery’s wall.

Hill is correct that an applicant for an export license must confirm whether he is in principle willing to accept a matching offer, but is not bound to do so if an offer is made. However, this can, as in this case, lead to a huge amount of wasted effort in raising funds if an applicant rejects the offer. This has led to calls for reform to the current export system. In January this year, the Director of UK charity Art Fund, Stephen Deuchar, called for the rules to be strengthened to prevent an exodus of art and cultural treasures from the country as a result of “gentleman’s agreements”.

The ‘Young Man’ remains in storage in the UK.


Historic art recovery law gets day in court

A new US art restitution law is being put to the test by the heirs of a Holocaust victim to recover two watercolours by Egon Schiele.

‘Woman in a Black Pinafore’ (1911) and ‘Woman Hiding Her Face’ (1912), which have a combined estimated value of US$5 million (£4.04 million) are said to have been among 449 artworks confiscated by the Nazis from the collection of Fritz Grünbaum during World War II. An Austrian Jewish entertainer, Grünbaum was murdered at Dachau concentration camp in 1941.    Continue reading

Nazi-looted art returned to Poland

Artworks looted by the wife of a Nazi governor during World War II were returned to the Polish government by her son at a ceremony in Krakόw on Sunday (26 February).

A painting of Potocki Palace, an engraving of Renaissance-era Krakόw and a map of 17th century Poland were returned by Horst Wächter, the son of SS Gruppenführer Otto Wächter, the Nazi governor of Krakόw. The pieces were handpicked by Wächter’s mother, Charlotte, who plundered the departments of the National Museum in Krakόw to decorate the new headquarters established by her husband at Potocki Palace and the Wächter family’s wartime home in Austria. Continue reading

Gurlitt treasures returned to rightful owners

Two works from the Gurlitt treasure trove of art have been restituted to the descendants of their Jewish owners.

A painting by Camille Pissarro and a drawing by Adolph Menzel are two of four works to have been returned to their rightful owners since investigations into the collection’s questionable provenance began in 2012. A German government team tasked with researching the Gurlitt collection have suggested that a further 91 artworks are suspected of being looted from, or sold under duress by Jewish families fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.   Continue reading

Nation loses Old Master painting after pound plummets

London’s National Gallery confirmed on Thursday (16 February) that it lost the bid to acquire Pontormo’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap’ (1530).

One of only 15 surviving portraits by the Italian Old Master, real name Jacopo Carrucci, it was sold to US hedge fund owner, Tom Hill, by the Earl of Caledon in 2015. In December 2015, it was temporarily barred from export by the former Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey who was concerned to help save the painting for the British nation. With the export bar in place, the National Gallery set to work raising the £30,618,987 necessary to match the sale price.  Continue reading