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The former owner of a disputed Caravaggio has lost his battle for compensation from an auction house. Lancelot William Thwaytes sold "The Cardsharps" at Sotheby's in 2006 for £46,000 after being told it was by a follower of the Old Master.

The new owner subsequently insured the painting for millions - after a close friend, an art expert, claimed it was in fact an original Caravaggio. Sotheby's maintains the painting is not by the artist.

Mr. Thwaytes attempted to sue Sotheby's of London, for giving him negligent advice after the new owner had the artwork valued at £10m. Lawyers for Mr. Thwaytes accused Sotheby's of not consulting enough top experts or sufficiently testing the painting before the 2006 sale.

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The court calls them “The Intervenors,” which sounds as if it could be the name of a performance art collective. If that were true, the past few weeks would have been quite a show for the group Save the Corcoran.

The scrappy group of students, staff, faculty and concerned observers dedicated to preserving the nearly 150-year-old museum as an independent institution in the face of a merger with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University see themselves as David fighting Goliath — which makes their recent legal intervention the proverbial sling to the forehead. They won’t find out whether they’ve slain their giant until Aug. 20 at the latest, which makes this week an anxious wait.

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The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington received a surprising setback in court this week when a judge ruled that members of a group opposing the institution's planned takeover deal with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University have legal standing and will be able to have their grievances heard.

On Monday, Judge Robert Okun in D.C. Superior Court ruled that nine members of the group Save the Corcoran must be allowed as intervening parties to the Corcoran's plan. According to the group, the nine include current students, a faculty member and a member of the gallery staff.

Published in News
Monday, 16 December 2013 18:28

Ancient Statue to be Returned to Cambodia

An ancient statue sold at auction will be returned to Cambodia after an agreement was signed by Sotheby’s, the work's consignor and federal officials. The figure, which is believed to have been looted from a temple in the Cambodian jungle, has been at the center of a legal battle for nearly two years.

The 10th century sandstone statue depicting a Hindu warrior is estimated to be worth $2 million and was consigned by its long-time owner in 2011. Following the agreement to return the treasure, lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office withdrew allegations that Sotheby’s and the consignor knew of the work’s troubled provenance before importing it for sale. The consignor will receive no compensation for the statue from Cambodia.

A spokesman for Sotheby’s said the auction house was pleased that “the agreement confirms that Sotheby’s and its client acted properly at all times.”

Published in News
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 18:02

Antiques Dealer Sues Israel

An Israeli antiques dealer who was acquitted in a high-profile forgery case last year is suing the Israeli government for $3 million. Robert Deutsch is claiming that the trial tarnished his reputation and that he has lost a third of his business as a result.

Deutsch estimates that he has lost over $1 million in revenue since he was indicted in 2004. He has also paid $800,000 in legal fees. In addition to his financial woes, Deutsch was kicked out of his university doctoral program, removed from a university teaching job and banned from a major archaeological dig that he was involved with.

Deutsch is suing the Israel Antiquities Authority, its director Shuka Dorfman, the head of the organization’s anti-theft unit Amir Gamor, the Jerusalem District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney Dan Bahat.

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French lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber may have been unable to stop the sale of artifacts belonging to Arizona’s Hopi tribe, but he did gift one object back to the indigenous group. Servan-Schreiber worked pro bono to halt an auction of 70 Hopi masks at Paris’ Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou auction house but was ultimately unsuccessful. The auction garnered $1.2 million despite the legal feud and opposition from people such as Robert Redford.

Amidst allegations of misconduct, the French auction house maintained that the artifacts had been acquired legally from a French collector. However, the Hopis asserted that the masks were ritual and spiritual objects, not meant for selling as art objects.

Servan-Schreiber bought an object known as a “Katsinam” for $9,000. He told the New York Times that, “It is my way of telling the Hopi that we only lost a battle and not the war.” Relatives of the French singer Jules Dassin also acquired a Katsinam at the auction and plan to return it to the Hopis later this year.

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After losing a major court case, Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky will sell a limited edition print of former Soviet Union leader Vladimir Lenin by Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Berezovsky hopes that the sale of Red Lenin (1987) will help him pay off legal bills stemming from the failed court case.

In 2011, Berezovsky brought a civil case in the UK High Court against Roman Abramovich, the owner of the Chelsea Football Club. Berezovsky was a former business associate of Abramovich’s and helped him acquire control of the Russian oil company, Sibneft, in the 1990s. Berezovsky accused Abramovich of blackmail, breach of trust, and breach of contract and claimed that he was threated and intimidated to sell his stake in Sibneft in 2011 for less than its actual value. Berezovsky was seeking $4.5 billion in damages.

Red Lenin will be sold as part of Christie’s Old Master, Modern & Contemporary Prints auction on March 20, 2013 in London. The brightly colored screen print is expected to garner $45,000 to $75,500.

Published in News
Tuesday, 15 January 2013 12:26

Dispute Over Rare Gem Collection Comes to an End

Over the course of 25 years in the 1980s and 1990s, Harry Rodman, a veteran gold refiner from New York City, and Alan Bronstein, a diamond dealer from New Jersey, assembled the Aurora Pyramid of Hope Diamonds, the most comprehensive collection of colored diamonds in the world. Featuring 295 rare gems, the collection became a point of controversy after Rodman died at the age of 99 in 2008.

Last year, Rodman’s heirs hit Bronstein with a lawsuit claiming that they were entitled to Rodman’s half of the diamond collection, which one appraiser valued at $14 million. The case became more complicated as Rodman, who made several wills in the last ten years of his life, was not only Bronstein’s partner, but also his stepfather. The legal dispute recently came to a close when Bronx Surrogate Judge Lee L. Holzman ruled that Bronstein fairly bought out Rodman’s interest in the Aurora Pyramid collection as well as another well-known grouping of diamonds known as the Aurora Butterfly of Peace.  

The Aurora Pyramid of Hope, which is currently on loan to London’s Natural History Museum, has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Bronstein plans to keep exhibiting the collection in museums for the benefit and enjoyment of the public.

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Known for her extravagant shoe collection, one-time Philippine first lady, Imelda Marcos, also accrued an admirable art collection during her late husband’s reign. Marcos’ former secretary, Vilma Bautisa, was indicted on Tuesday, November 20th, on charges of conspiracy, tax fraud, and offering a false instrument for filing, all relating to artworks that had previously belonged to Marcos. 74-year-old Bautista acquired a number of important paintings from Marcos and her husband, Ferdinand, after his regime came crashing down in 1986 after a citizen revolt.

The Manhattan District Attorney hit Bautista, a New York resident, with charges that she was conspiring to sell paintings that were the legal property of the Philippine government. The District Attorney’s office claims that Bautista used false paperwork to sell Le Bassin aux Nymphéas (1899) from Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series in September 2010 for $32 million. The other works in Bautista’s possession are Monet’s L’Eglise et La Seine a Vétheuil (1881), Alfred Sisley’s Langland Bay (1887), and Albert Marquet’s Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said (1946). The four paintings involved in the suit once hung in a Manhattan town house used by Imelda Marcos and her husband.

Two of Bautista’s nephews were also charged but did not appear in court. Bautista pleaded not guilty and was released on a $175,000 bond.

Published in News
Thursday, 15 November 2012 17:10

Met Museum Sued for Consumer Fraud

Two members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are suing the institution for deceiving the public by making patrons think that the suggested admission fees are mandatory. The historically free institution suggests entry fees of $25 for adults and less for seniors and students.

Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson files the suit in state court in Manhattan and said that the museum’s fee policy lacks transparency. They also argued that and that the museum fails to note that the fee is suggested on several of its websites and that it’s only in fine and barely legible print on signs near cash registers. A statute was put in place in 1893 declaring that the Met must remain free in order to continue receiving government funding.

Grunewald and Nicholson commissioned a survey of visitors to the museum and found that 85% of patrons believed they had to pay to gain entry.

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