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Thump
02-28-2012, 01:42 PM
Hiya,

I hope someone can enlighten me. I googled but I must be using the wrong search terms 'cause the wrong things keep turning up :)

My question is: how long does a painting, say from the Renaissance, have to be missing (lost, stolen, badly inventoried) before someone could find it and sell it legitimately (like, to a museum or in an auction)?

My scenario is that the MC, who knows very little about art herself, finds a painting she recognizes as a missing work by one of the Masters from a documentary she saw on TV at a garage sale and buys it. She then goes to have it authenticated and it turns out to be real. I haven't decided yet what painting or artist (ideally, it'd be a real one) but I want her to be recognized as the legitimate owner and not have it confiscated since that would kind of kill the plot...

Any info or relevant links are appreciated :)

Kenn
02-28-2012, 03:25 PM
If it is registered as lost or stolen then it is not the MC's to keep. There are some examples here (there's an interesting one half-way down about a woman who found a painting that had been thrown out with rubbish):
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/antiquesfyi/missingmasterpieces/index.html

If the painting is simply 'missing', then there is a bit of leeway. I recall Coca Cola were on the hunt for some early paintings of children they used as models and were offering to buy them back.

Snick
02-28-2012, 03:37 PM
It depends on whether it is missing or stolen. It miight bepossible to resell a painting that has just not been seen for a few decades, but if it was stolen, then legal title remains with the person from whom it was stolen. If no one is sure how it came to be where it is, then there would be question

Archerbird
02-28-2012, 03:53 PM
If it's reported stolen, she wouldn't be able to sell it at (legal) auctions, nor to museums. Like Snick said, it still belongs to the person it was stolen from.


FBI have their own art theft...thing.

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft

Edit; Another thing is that, the person doing the authentication might tip the authorities to it's whereabouts. If she/he has enough knowledge of the artist to confirm the painting's authenticity, she/he probably knows it's stolen as well.

jclarkdawe
02-28-2012, 06:13 PM
Hiya,

I hope someone can enlighten me. I googled but I must be using the wrong search terms 'cause the wrong things keep turning up :)

My question is: how long does a painting, say from the Renaissance, have to be missing (lost, stolen, badly inventoried) before someone could find it and sell it legitimately (like, to a museum or in an auction)? Never, ever. Stolen art is all registered and can be recovered regardless of how long ago it was stolen. The rightful owner retains title. If it's missing, it depends upon how you mean the term. Some art goes missing because people don't realize they own something famous, but they have legal title. Otherwise, if it goes missing, when found, it reverts to its rightful owner. See US firm forced to return Spanish shipwreck treasure it discovered (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2103972/US-firm-forced-return-Spanish-shipwreck-treasure-discovered-worth-500m-Spanish-military-paying-transit.html)

My scenario is that the MC, who knows very little about art herself, finds a painting she recognizes as a missing work by one of the Masters from a documentary she saw on TV at a garage sale and buys it. She then goes to have it authenticated and it turns out to be real. I haven't decided yet what painting or artist (ideally, it'd be a real one) but I want her to be recognized as the legitimate owner and not have it confiscated since that would kind of kill the plot... Depending upon how clear cut the situation is, it would be placed in safe storage until ownership can be determined (a normal homeowner would not have the ability to protect the fragile nature of many pieces of art). She would be entitled to a finder's fee and these can be some serious money.

For a specific case, you might want to look at Theft of medieval art from Quedlinburg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theft_of_medieval_art_from_Quedlinburg). In general, you might want to look at Art theft - Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_theft). Bottom line is all stolen art is considered an open case and any clues involved regarding it will be investigated.

The Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed in 1990. The FBI still carries this as an active case. Although it is probable that the art work made its way into the hands of dishonest private art collectors, since the original theft there's been no real whisper of it being sold. But there are plenty of art collectors who don't care where their special pieces came from and it's hard to keep track of this stuff.

Any info or relevant links are appreciated :)

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Alessandra Kelley
02-28-2012, 06:25 PM
There isn't a "how long it is missing" that makes stolen art not stolen. Lost or mislabeled art -- well, I don't know the legalities, but it shouldn't be sellable by the finder. It belongs to its original owners, or their descendants.

Heck, even "sold" art can be controversial. Look up the Elgin Marbles. They're really the Greek friezes pried off the Parthenon, which Lord Elgin looted bought for a song from the Turks when they controlled Greece, much to the Greeks' displeasure. They have been stashed in England for two hundred years while the Greeks have tried, again and again, to get them returned, arguing with some justification that the Turks never had the right to sell them.

There is no time limit when looted artwork becomes legitimately yours.

Thump
02-28-2012, 06:28 PM
Thank you all for the info. It does put some obstacles in my way... If I may impose a little longer:

Say it was a painting that people knew, from reports at the time, existed but no one knows what happened to it? Say, it was made in the Renaissance but the painter then turned to other things and it was never reported as sold or purchased or if it was, they lost it in unclear circumstances. Would the painting then belong to the owner or the artist's descendants? What if there aren't any to speak of? How can descendants of someone that far back prove that their ancestor owned and or passed it on to their descendants and therefore they own it now? Is there no "finders, keepers" rule after a while?

Would it be fairly accurate if I said the painting had been passed on for generations in the family who sold it at the garage sale but the current generation had no idea of its true value therefore by buying it from then, she becomes the rightful owner?

This stuff is complicated :-/ And I don't understand a thing about provenance :D

My history of art class was pretty biased towards architecture rather than paint...

Buffysquirrel
02-28-2012, 06:36 PM
Provenance is just the provable history of the object. So much out there is fake that if you can tie down who owned something at a given time, going back preferably to the point when it was made, then it's more likely to be authentic. Plus, if something was owned by someone famous in the past, that gives it more value.

So, for example, if a silver candlestick is in your family now, and there's a story that Great-great-uncle George bought it in an auction in Stockport, say, back in 1889, and you can find a copy of the auction catalogue that lists the item, then that goes to provenance. If there's a receipt from that auction house, even better. If the catalogue lists the seller, and you can trace them, and find the candlestick listed in an inventory of their possessions at an earlier date, you have more provenance. et seq.

As for those marbles...no, not going there.

Alessandra Kelley
02-28-2012, 06:42 PM
Also, Google is maybe not your best bet for this sort of thing. I'd recommend looking through the archives of venerable arts magazines. ArtNews, for example, is good for this sort of thing, and I found free online archives of its pre-1923 issues here. (http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=amartnews)

There have been times when old artworks have shown up oddly. I can't recall how they were resolved.

Dave Hardy
02-28-2012, 06:51 PM
A certain amount of art isn't stolen for sale, but as insurance.

If you are a crook, you can pretty much expect to end up facing a stiff sentence for something or other since it's your line of work.

Selling stolen art may be tricky (or not, depending). But, the art will still have value for the rightful owner (who may well be rather influential), and usually for the authorities of whatever place you stole it from.

So, if you are up against a judge who wants to lock you up, you can bargain for a reduced sentence in return for telling where the art is.

I first heard of this sort of thing from a Czech lawyer. He did criminal law at one point and had a professional thief as a client. This was a guy from "the republic of Valdice and Mirov" (two major prisons in the Czech Republic). The lawyer was preparing to represent him and it wasn't looking good. The thief wasn't too worried, he just told his lawyer "let me handle it." Sure enough, the guy goes into court and tells the judge he can either make a deal for the stolen art, or "let the mice eat it." They made a deal.

jclarkdawe
02-28-2012, 07:30 PM
You might want to look at Finding Lost Art: Picasso Treasure Trove 'Came Out of Nowhere ... (http://abcnews.go.com/International/finding-lost-art-picasso-treasure-trove/story?id=12268538)

Your search approach should be "lost picasso" or "lost monet" or "lost whoever." There are a lot of news stories out there about this type of situation.

But let's say your great-grandfather knew Norman Rockwell and in exchange for fixing the backsteps, Rockwell gave your great-grandfather a picture. You, being an idiot and not knowing a Rockwell from whatever, sell it in your yard sale. Someone buys it and now wants to prove it's a Rockwell. Art appraiser looks at it and says, "Well, it could be." If it's not a known work, then the real fun begins, and you have to start doing a crap load of tracing, such as Buffy describes. Net result is it can take years, maybe even decades, and you might never be able to develop sufficient provenance to satisfy anyone.

You might want to read THE EIGER SANCTION, where the protagonist has a collection of stolen art. The protagonist appears in a couple of other books, and there's some decent stuff about art theft.

And absolutely the best way to go in front of a judge when you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar is to have something even better than cookies in your other hand. Prime example of that is Whitey Bulger.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Thump
02-29-2012, 03:15 PM
Great stuff! Thanks so much for the excellent answers :) I understand things better now.

I need to seriously rethink the plot of my story but that's all for the better. I need to add like, ten years of research so my character can prove she now owns the painting legitimately. Just as well, it brings up some interesting possibilities :)

Linda Adams
02-29-2012, 03:52 PM
There are also some excellent books that will probably be easily available at the library. There was one on what the Getty was doing, where they were buying art with questionable provenances, and what ended up happening. Worth a look so you can get an idea of what a hot topic this is. To find them, try running a search for Getty and New York Met, rather than museum.

Also: The Nine Ton Cat will be a good resource for what goes on behind the scenes at a museum.

Alessandra Kelley
02-29-2012, 04:06 PM
Thomas Hoving, who was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, wrote some excellent books about provenance and authenticity and the sorts of shenanigans a museum gets up to. They're well worth reading.

DrZoidberg
02-29-2012, 04:47 PM
I love that an Italian patriot stole the Mona Lisa in 1911, had it sitting in his home for two years then just walked into a gallery in Florence tried hawking it as if that would be fine and dandy. His defence was that the Mona Lisa shouldn't be displayed outside Italy so that made his theft ok. It didn't pan out and he was arrested and the Mona Lisa was promptly returned to France.

Snick
02-29-2012, 07:29 PM
Even now on rare occasions one reads of a painting by some master is found in an attic somewhere, and the painting had been in the family for more than a century, and so on. Paintings such as that could have been stolen in 1810 and hidden away. Or something that was thought to have been by a minor painter is found to actually have been by a great master.

You might also have it be something that was taken as war lot by the Red Army and missed by the KGB agent, so the soldier brought it back to his home in Russia, where it decorated the living-room wall. The soldier would have legal ownership of the painting.

Alessandra Kelley
02-29-2012, 08:54 PM
The soldier would have legal ownership of the painting.

Nope. Maybe Russia has different laws, but soldiers looting stuff does not make it legal.

There is a related story on the front page of today's New York Times:

Mythic Warrior is Held Captive in an International Art Conflict (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/arts/design/sothebys-caught-in-dispute-over-prized-cambodian-statue.html)

about an ancient Cambodian statue that was almost certainly looted in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge/Vietnam War. The details in this article about provenance are worth looking at. Also note that one solution offered, that a collector buy the artwork and promptly donate it to the place it was stolen from, is not uncommon.

MeretSeger
02-29-2012, 09:17 PM
Looting does NOT make the looter the rightful owner. War does not make people lose the right to their property. This is specific to Nazi confiscation, but there is useful info on international art law here: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1202&context=iplj&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Fsearch%3Fq%3 D%2522Statute%2Bof%2Blimitations%2522%2B%2522art%2 522%2Bstolen%2Bresurface%26hl%3Den%26source%3Dhp%2 6gbv%3D2%26gs_sm%3D3%26gs_upl%3D3405l14642l0l14870 l36l35l0l0l0l0l136l2896l30.5l35l0%26oq%3D%2522Stat ute%2Bof%2Blimitations%2522%2B%2522art%2522%2Bstol en%2Bresurface%26aq%3Df%26aqi%3D%26aql%3D#search=% 22Statute%20limitations%20art%20stolen%20resurface %22

If the work was well-known enough to be in a documentary, it was well-documented. No way she would own it, be able to sell it except to a criminal private collector. Your plot device cannot realistically be a known stolen painting. But you could have her recognize it as a previously unknown work by a Master, then have it authenticated. There would still be problems, like no pedigree, but not impossible like a registered stolen painting. (pedigree, by the way, is somewhat different from provenance)

Theft through war doesn't have a statute of limitations. If a Jewish heir can come up with a family photo of the painting on the wall before the Nazis moved in, the painting goes back to the heir. I just want to emphasize this, in case anyone is ever offered art someone "found" in WWII.

Dave Hardy
02-29-2012, 11:26 PM
Looting does NOT make the looter the rightful owner. War does not make people lose the right to their property. This is specific to Nazi confiscation, but there is useful info on international art law here: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1202&context=iplj&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Fsearch%3Fq%3 D%2522Statute%2Bof%2Blimitations%2522%2B%2522art%2 522%2Bstolen%2Bresurface%26hl%3Den%26source%3Dhp%2 6gbv%3D2%26gs_sm%3D3%26gs_upl%3D3405l14642l0l14870 l36l35l0l0l0l0l136l2896l30.5l35l0%26oq%3D%2522Stat ute%2Bof%2Blimitations%2522%2B%2522art%2522%2Bstol en%2Bresurface%26aq%3Df%26aqi%3D%26aql%3D#search=% 22Statute%20limitations%20art%20stolen%20resurface %22

If the work was well-known enough to be in a documentary, it was well-documented. No way she would own it, be able to sell it except to a criminal private collector. Your plot device cannot realistically be a known stolen painting. But you could have her recognize it as a previously unknown work by a Master, then have it authenticated. There would still be problems, like no pedigree, but not impossible like a registered stolen painting. (pedigree, by the way, is somewhat different from provenance)

Theft through war doesn't have a statute of limitations. If a Jewish heir can come up with a family photo of the painting on the wall before the Nazis moved in, the painting goes back to the heir. I just want to emphasize this, in case anyone is ever offered art someone "found" in WWII.

There was the Quedlingberg Case (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kjqem) here in Texas. Some folks tried to sell art looted by their father during WWII. In this case, it didn't exactly go according to script. The looter's heirs actually were a couple of million up on the deal, then the Justice Department and the IRS got involved.

And just to keep up literary references, Joe Lansdale had his own bizarre take on the affair, "Booty and the Beast." I will say no more, lest I spoiler it in the least. It was a corker. :ROFL: