Landmark

In a Landmark Restitution, the U.S. Returns 200 Looted Antiquities From Top Museums and Private Collections to Italy


Painted jars, marble busts, ceramic figurines, and even an ancient Roman statue reportedly sold to Kim Kardashian are part of a trove of 200 objects confiscated by U.S. authorities that have landed in Italy as part of the largest-ever repatriation agreement between the two countries. The objects were surrendered by museums and private collections across the United States.

The haul, which traveled on a commercial flight to Rome on Friday, is estimated to be worth around $10 million. “For years, prestigious museums and private collectors across the United States prominently displayed these Italian historical treasures even though their very presence in America constituted evidence of cultural heritage crimes,” the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said in a statement.

Around 160 of them are linked to a single antiquities dealer, Edoardo Almagià, a 70-year-old from Rome accused of running a 30-year smuggling operation. Due to statutes of limitations, he is unlikely to face criminal charges. But for Italy, the objects’ return is a victory in its own right.

Pithos with Ulysses, Head of a Maiden, and Baltimore Painter Krater, three of some 200 stolen artifacts the Manhattan D.A. is repatriating to Italy. Photo courtesy of the Manhattan D.A.

Pithos with Ulysses, Head of a Maiden, and Baltimore Painter Krater, three of some 200 stolen artifacts the Manhattan D.A. is repatriating to Italy. Photo courtesy of the Manhattan D.A.

“What is most important is that these very important archaeological findings come back that are part of our culture identity,” Italian police official Roberto Riccardi, who serves in a cultural heritage unit of the Carabinieri, told the New York Times.

Seven of the repatriated artifacts were from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, including a 2,500-year-old wine cup. The San Antonio Museum of Art returned five Greco-Roman jars and plates and a selection of pottery fragments, while the Cleveland Museum of Art turned over three works.

Others came from galleries and private collections in New York City and Long Island. According to federal documents, Kim Kardashian was in the process of acquiring one of the works, an ancient Roman statue, when it was detained at the U.S. border in 2016. (A spokesman for the celebrity later told Midnight Publishing Group News that Kardashian had “never seen this sculpture,” leading to speculation that her ex Kanye West was behind the scuppered purchase.)

Nearly half of the illicit objects were from the Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art at Fordham University in the Bronx. The museum opened in 2007 at the school’s Walsh Library, which is named after alumnus and donor William D. Walsh, who gifted his alma mater his collection of 260 antiquities. He later donated an additional 40 objects to the museum, which has since made modest acquisitions of its own.

Fordham has been forced to turn over a cache of about 100 Greco-Roman artifacts valued at close to $2 million, all but two of which come from Almagià. The museum’s holdings still include some 200 antiquities.

Authorities maintain that Walsh, who died in 2013, was unaware of Almagià’s illicit actions, but news coverage of the museum’s opening noted the potential for looted art.

“It’s a slightly imprudent act on the part of the university, because a lot of it is not provenanced,” Richard Hodges, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, told the New York Times at the time.

For his part, Almagià denied and attempted to minimize the allegations against him when reached by the Times. Investigations into his actions date back to at least 1996. In 2000, he was caught with stolen frescoes from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum at New York’s Kennedy Airport.

He left the U.S. in 2006 and authorities raided his Upper East Side apartment, finding six looted artifacts. An Italian court acquitted Almagià in a 2012 smuggling case, but the ruling acknowledged he had helped illegally move Italian antiquities.

The Manhattan D.A.’s office believes that other museums around the country still hold artifacts once owned by Almagià, so additional restitutions may be forthcoming.

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Don’t Miss These 5 Landmark Works of Canadian Postwar Art Hitting the Auction Block This Month


Candian art history has a unique heritage shaped by thousands of years of artistic creation, early on by the First Nations Peoples, through the development of the Group of Seven—the landscape painters in the 1920s and ‘30s who pioneered a distinctly Canadian Modernism—and later through the embrace of international art movements in the 1960s.

Founded in 2017, Montreal auction house BYDealers wants to share this artistic heritage with a global audience. Having established unique partnerships with significant art dealers throughout the country, BYDealers has centered itself within a singular nexus of expertise—bringing with it a number of sought-after artworks by Canada’s most famous artists.

Many of those works are now being offered in BYDealers’s “Historical and Post-War Canadian Art Online Auction” (May 8–30). The sale’s 68 lots span from the nation’s early Modern art movements up to creations of the recent past—with a particular emphasis on works from the 1960s and ’70s.

Below, we picked out five that you won’t want to miss.

 

Paul-Émile Borduas
Modulation Aux Points Noirs (1955)
Estimate: $400,000–600,000

Paul-Émile Borduas, Modulation Aux Points Noirs (1955). Courtesy of BYDealers.

Paul-Émile Borduas, Modulation Aux Points Noirs (1955). Courtesy of BYDealers.

In September 1955, Québecois artist Paul-Émile Borduas set out from New York for Paris with his daughter Janine. This transatlantic journey inspired the artist’s “simplifying leap,” an idea that would permeate his abstract painting throughout 1956, one of the most prized periods of his career. Modulation Aux Points Noirs (1955) comes from the very first paintings the artist made after arriving in Paris. Here, thick spatula smacks of white impasto are smeared in places to reveal hints of color, while dashes of black—which is emblematic of the series—energetically intersperse the cool-toned surface. 

 

Jean Paul Lemieux
Nu Sur Fond Bleu (1963)
Estimate: $325,200–425,000

Jean Paul Lemieux, Nu Sur Fond Bleu (1963). Courtesy of BYDealers.

Jean Paul Lemieux, Nu Sur Fond Bleu (1963). Courtesy of BYDealers.

Jean Paul Lemieux is regarded as one of the most important Canadian artists of the 20th century, known for his almost folkloric figures set against the backdrop of Canada’s vast landscapes. Nu Sur Fond Bleu (1963) possesses a quiet majesty characteristic of the artist’s best works: the profile figure of a young woman dissolves against a serene blue background with the ethereal impermanence of a dream.

 

Jean Paul Riopelle
Sans Titre / Untitled (1958)
Estimate: $175,000–225,000

Jean Paul Riopelle, Untitled (1958). Courtesy of BYDealers.

Jean Paul Riopelle, Untitled (1958). Courtesy of BYDealers.

Jean Paul Riopelle had an impassioned and almost sculptural approach to paintings—filled with ravines and peaks of paint—that capture the rigor and decisiveness of his technique. This untitled work from 1958 is a prime example. Marked by rigorous smears of colors, Untitled (1958) captures the creative turn Riopelle took in the second half of the 1950s as his mosaic works of 1953 and 1954 gave way to a fierce gesturality.

 

Claude Tousignant
Double 30 (Azo-Cobalt) (1975)
Estimate: $12,000–15,000

Claude Tousignant, Double 30 (Azo-Cobalt) (1975). Courtesy of BYDealers.

Claude Tousignant, Double 30 (Azo-Cobalt) (1975). Courtesy of BYDealers.

With Double 30 (Azo-cobalt) (1975), Montreal artist Claude Tousignant created one of the defining motifs of his career: the circular diptych. This seminal work belongs to a series of tondos and shaped canvases that first earned Tousignant international acclaim. Here, four concentric circles form a reverberating optical illusion, in which, as Tousignant put it, “the confrontation of these pairs of colors—which by their juxtaposition produced, so to speak, a third color.”

Jean Albert Mcewen
Midi, Temps Jaune (1960)
Estimate: $80,000–100,000

Jean Albert Mcewen, Midi, Temps Jaune (1960). Courtesy of BYDealers Auction House.

Jean Albert McEwen, Midi, Temps Jaune (1960). Courtesy of BYDealers Auction House.

Here, oranges, saffrons, and lemon yellows are layered in gauzy, semi-transparent layers that hint at the drowsy summer light and fragrant blossoms of June, while hints of purple emerge here and there. This painting captures the best of McEwen’s colorist approach to the canvas and marks a special year in the artist’s career. The sister painting to Midi, Temps Jaune—Les Amours Jaunes (1960)—was the opening work in McEwen’s Montreal Museum of Fine Arts retrospective in 1988. 

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