Looted/Stolen Works

This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room

“This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room”

by Craig Gilmore via “LA Times”

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Two agents from U.S. Homeland Security’s ICE unit arrived at my door in September looking for a Polish lady — not a person, but a painting: Melchior Geldorp’s “Portrait of a Lady.” She had, they informed me, been looted by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw.

Unsure if these gentlemen were indeed who they claimed to be, I didn’t invite them in. But I knew exactly what they were seeking: My partner, David, and I had purchased this very portrait — ostensibly the work of a different artist — a decade earlier from a major auction house in New York. 

Upon their leaving, I stood dumbfounded, holding a packet of information about the alleged provenance of our painting. After calling David at work to drop this bombshell, I began a Googling frenzy, eventually bringing me to Poland’s Division for Looted Art website. Seconds later I was gawking at an old black-and-white photo of our beloved lady, a beautiful portrait painted on oak panel in 1628. Tears welled in my eyes with the realization that, without question, if this were true we needed to do our duty and get her safely home.

Being an opera singer, I was among a group of vocalists on a government-sponsored tour of Israel some years ago. During a visit to a community center for Holocaust survivors I was asked to sing. The emotion of being surrounded by people who had prevailed through such unimaginable horrors was overwhelming, and I found myself unable. Excusing myself, I attempted to make up for it by spinning several of the ladies around the dance floor — all the while trying not to look down at the numbers tattooed on their wrists. 

Now this memory flooded back to me, and I found myself once again in tears, hyper-aware of how Nazi atrocities affect us still to this day.

The toll of World War II in Poland — including the deaths of 6 million Poles, Jews, and other outcasts, including homosexuals — is unimaginable. Being gay men, David and I feel a personal connection with these losses and are conscious of how political shiftings can lead to vulnerability. This, added to the knowledge that Poland’s LGBTQ community is still in a struggle for its basic rights, has weighed heavily on our minds. 

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The Librarian Who Saved Timbuktu’s Cultural Treasures From al Qaeda

“The Librarian Who Saved Timbuktu’s Cultural Treasures From al Qaeda”

by Joshua Hammer via “Wall Street Journal

Abdel Kader Haidara with ancient family-owned manuscripts, Timbuktu, Mali, 2007.

For custodians of the ancient heritage of the Middle East and North Africa, the recent rise of Islamist extremist groups has posed a dire challenge. Since its seizure of the historic Iraqi city of Mosul in early 2014, Islamic State has pillaged and demolished mosques, shrines, churches and other sacred sites across the region. The group continues to launch “cultural cleansing” operations from Tikrit to Tripoli.

In this grim procession, there have been occasional victories for culture over extremism, like the recapture last month of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which may now be restored to something of its previous glory. A less familiar case of cultural rescue features an unlikely hero: a 51-year-old book collector and librarian named Abdel Kader Haidarain the fabled city of Timbuktu, in the West African country of Mali.

The story begins in April 2012, when Mr. Haidara returned home from a business trip to learn that the weak Malian army had collapsed and that nearly 1,000 Islamist fighters from one of al Qaeda’s African affiliates, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, had occupied his city. He encountered looters, gunfire and black flags flying from government buildings, and he feared that the city’s dozens of libraries and repositories—home to hundreds of thousands of rare Arabic manuscripts—would be pillaged.

The prizes in Mr. Haidara’s own private collection, housed in his Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, include a tiny, irregularly shaped Quran from the 12th century, written on parchment made from the dried skin of a fish and glittering with illuminated blue Arabic letters and droplets of gold. His collection also boasts many secular volumes: manuscripts about astronomy, poetry, mathematics, occult sciences and medicine, such as a 254-page volume on surgery and elixirs derived from birds, lizards and plants, written in Timbuktu in 1684. “Many of the manuscripts show that Islam is a religion of tolerance,” he told me.

Mr. Haidara knew that many of the works in the city’s repositories were ancient examples of the reasoned discourse and intellectual inquiry that the jihadists, with their intolerance and rigid views of Islam, wanted to destroy. The manuscripts, he thought, would inevitably become a target.

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Getty Museum returns the Head of Hades to Italy

Sometime between 300-400B.C., an unknown artist in Morgantina, Italy carefully sculpted this terra-cotta replica of the famed god of the Underworld, the feared Hades.  The skull or head itself was carefully sculpted on its own, and later the curly hair and beard were individually added, one curl at a time, just before the final firing in the kiln. Afterwards, it was carefully painted, and some parts of the paint remain such as the red in his hair and the blue in his beard.  This beautiful artifact is an amazingly well-preserved momento of painstaking artistry.

The piece goes by both the name “Head of Hades” and “Bluebeard” and was illegally excavated from an Italian archaeological dig during the 1970s. Afterwards it was sold and ended up at the Getty Museum in the USA.  

According to the Getty Website, the work was initially believed to be a depiction of Hades’ brother, Zeus (known occasionally as Bluebeard).  However, examination of the nearby discovered artifacts and the knowledge that Morgantina worshipped Persephone (kidnapped wife of Hades), they now believe it is actually Hades instead.  The kidnapping of Persephone is thought to have occurred at a lake near the city.  

Long story short, because the work was illegally excavated, it technically still belongs to Italy and was stolen property, meaning the Getty had to repatriate the bust to its nation of origin.  Although the legal exchange happened a couple years ago, the official trade occurred recently when Italian officials arrived to take over possession.  

One of the interesting notes to me is the fact that the Getty has owned this work since 1985 according to their own website. It is unclear why this is only being repatriated now.  

Either way, the work is finally home as Hades returns to his royal lands, protecting the good and punishing the wicked as they pass into his deadly realm.

Resources:

  1. Getty Website
  2. Yahoo! News

How my family recovered a painting stolen by the Nazis and sold it for $2.9 million

“How my family recovered a painting stolen by the Nazis and sold it for $2.9 million”

by Peter J. Toren via “Yahoo! News

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On a warm, humid June evening on Regent Street in London, among the fanciest stores in the world, the international art auction house, Sotheby’s, auctioned the Max Liebermann painting Two Riders on a Beach, for many times the pre-sale estimate to an unknown buyer. The painting, a 1901 scene of two elegantly dressed men riding chestnut horses with the surf breaking behind them, belonged to my great great uncle David Friedmann, and was stolen from him by the Nazis.

I saw the painting in person with my son for the first time the day before the auction. German tax investigators found the painting in the Munich home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of the infamous art dealer to the Nazis, Hildebrand Gurlitt. Two Riders was part of a 1,200-work trove that was found in Gurlitt’s home in Munich, which included some invaluable pieces that had been stored in tomato crates. While a number of the other works were likely also stolen from Jewish owners, the German government has only returned one painting to its rightful Jewish owner other than Two Riders.

The history of the painting, and especially its recovery, represents a story of success, struggle, survival and redemption that many Jewish families have gone through in the last 100 years.

David Friedmann’s family, a wealthy and successful German-Jewish family, owned a 10,000-acre sugar beet farm, that included a distillery for making schnapps and a “castle,” near Breslau, now Wroclaw in western Poland. Friedmann was an avid collector of art, and in addition to Two Riders, also owned works by Camille Pissarro, Gustave Courbet, Jean Francois Raffaelli, and Henri Rousseau, along with a remarkably comprehensive collection of Italian, German and Dutch fine pottery.

Villa Grisebach, the German auction house, also sold from the Gurlitt trove another Liebermann, The Basket Weavers, looted from Friedmann. My father, who vividly remembers Two Riders hanging in a sunroom in Friedmann’s home in Breslau, recalls him as a kindly, though imposing man, who liked to give parties, attended by German intellectuals including the composer Richard Strauss.

My father and his brother were the only members of his family to survive the Holocaust and as a child of a survivor, I grew up listening to my father tell me stories of my family’s German history and the connection to David Friedmann. My grandfather was a prominent lawyer in Breslau, and as dispensation for serving as a Colonel in the German Army in the First World War, he was able to continue to represent Jewish clients even after other German Jewish lawyers could no longer do legal work. On November 10, 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, when Jewish stores and businesses were looted, and Jews were beaten and killed, my grandfather was required to assist Friedmann in “selling” some of his property to the Nazi General Ewald von Kleist. . . . .

 

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US must help protect world’s cultural heritage in Iraq

“US must help protect world’s cultural heritage in Iraq”

by Jabbar Jaafar via “FoxNews

April 11, 2015: In this image made from video posted on a militant social media account affiliated with the Islamic State group purports to show a militant taking a sledgehammer to an Assyrian relief at the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which dates back to the 13th century B.C., near the militant-held city of Mosul, Iraq. The destruction at Nimrud, follows other attacks on antiquity carried out by the group now holding a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria in its self-declared caliphate. The attacks have horrified archaeologists and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who last month called the destruction at Nimrud "a war crime."

Despite having developed advanced technology and having access to a huge reserve of weapons, including jetfighters and drones, the U.S and its allies failed to prevent ISIS terrorists from destroying  and  bulldozing irreplaceable archeological sites in Mosul earlier this year. The sites, Nimrud and Hatra, are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The terrorist group has mocked the American superpower and its allies and succeeding in successfully destroying a part of mankind’s cultural heritage. Statues, artifacts of the ancient  Mesopotamian civilizations have disappeared before their eyes. There was no reaction to that savage act.

If a superpower like the United States fails to prevent the ISIS terrorist group from destroying our cultural heritage sites, sites that are an integral part of the lives of the people of Iraq and the cultural heritage of the entire world, how can it expect to build and promote a strategic relationship with the people of the region where its vital interests lie?

After the catastrophe took place the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, declared that the protection of these archeological sites were not on the military’s list of  priorities.

If a superpower like the United States fails to prevent the ISIS terrorist group from destroying our cultural heritage sites, sites that are an integral part of the lives of the people of Iraq and the cultural heritage of the entire world, how can it expect to build and promote a strategic relationship with the people of the region where its vital interests lie?

This is the second time that top military generals from the United States have disappointed Iraqis in the United States and sapped confidence in their leadership.

The first time happened when coalition forces, led by the United States, entered Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. Military forces only offered protection for the country’s Ministry of Oil, whereas the country’s other governmental organizations, including its financial institutions and the national library — where thousands of invaluable books and manuscripts were set on fire — where left unprotected. Iraq’s national museum was also left vulnerable to burglary and thousands of irreplaceable artifacts and relics were looted and smuggled outside the country.

All of this happened right before the very eyes of the U.S. military which took over Baghdad.  When military leaders were asked why they allowed this to happen they offered the same excuse, “the protection of the cultural establishments is not on the list of our priorities.”

The carelessness indifference of the U.S. military’s leaders has bolstered speculation and rumors —  dating back as far as 2003 — by Saddam loyalists and fundamentalists that American forces occupied Iraq in order to steal the country’s oil wealth along with its other fortunes and serve to its own interests unilaterally.

These concerns and suspicions convinced a lot of ordinary Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq that the U.S. occupation forces must be resisted by force. And that’s what happened. It also led to more than 4,000 casualties suffered by U.S forces in Iraq.

Unfortunately, the same thing happened again this year — in 2015. It is said that history repeats itself. And it did.  . . . .

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