Quote of the Day

The only thing British about them [the Elgin Marbles] is the fact that one of our ambassadors filched them.

Christopher Price, Former Labour MP

The reunification of the Elgin Marbles & other disputed artefacts

The Parthenon Sculptures (also called Parthenon Marbles or Elgin Marbles) are split between several museums. Despite numerous similar cases of contested ownership of cultural property, few loan or return requests are successful. Elginism aims to raise awareness by publicising the issue & cataloguing news on it, as well as working in conjunction with various campaigns including Marbles Reunited, & the IARPS.
To track the latest news updates, you can also follow Elginism on Twitter or Facebook.

June 24, 2019

Greek bid to reject Sotheby’s lawsuit over bronze horse rejected

Posted at 12:42 pm in Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

An interesting, legal appeal involving disputed Greek artefacts has been taking place in the courts of New York state.

8th century BC bronze horse Sculpture owned by the descendants of art collectors Howard and Saretta Barnet

8th century BC bronze horse Sculpture owned by the descendants of art collectors Howard and Saretta Barnet

First of all, it is worth looking at the image of the bronze horse sculpture (that is the subject of the case).

It dates from the 8th century BC, but with it’s abstracted elegant form would not look out of place in a contemporary art exhibition.

This is a case where one could easily argue that the art has a value of it’s own purely on an aesthetic basis, separate from what any provenance might prove or dis-prove about it’s origins.

But this gets onto the basis of the story – there is very little provenance.

Our first record of the existence of the sculpture is in the catalogue of the May 6, 1967 Münzen und Medaillen auction in Switzerland.
Before that point we know nothing.

The current owners are the descendants of art collectors Howard and Saretta Barnet. They acquired the piece in 1973 from art dealer Robin Symes who “very probably” acquired it from the 1967 auction.

In the 1970s, Robin Symes was seen as a respected antiquities dealer – however, he has since been unmasked as a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted archaeological treasures. Now, to the best of my knowledge there is no evidence that he was involved in any wrongdoing in this particular case – however, there is no evidence to the contrary either, other than the 1967 catalogue which gives a start to the item’s provenance.

On May 14th 2018, Sothebys in New York was due to host “The Shape of Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet” auction, which included this item as one of the lots. Meanwhile, Christos Tsirogiannis, an antiquities expert who scours auction catalogues noted this proposed sale and, sent a letter to a criminal intelligence officer at Interpol’s works of art unit stating that:

“Please find attached the three images of a bronze Greek figure of a horse, of the Corinthian type, from the confiscated Symes-Michaelides archive. The same figure is to be auctioned as lot 4 in New York, by Sotheby’s at their 15/4/2018 auction.” After citing the provenance given in Sotheby’s catalogue, he writes “Please notify the American judicial authorities in New York, as well as the Italian and Greek police authorities as it is of paramount importance to examine ‘Münzen and Medaillen AG’ in Basel in order to be discovered the identity of the consignor of this bronze horse back in 1967, a valuable information which will eventually lead to the country where the object was discovered.”

Subsequently, the day before the auction was due to take place, Greece’s Ministry of Culture sent the auction house a letter saying the the bronze horse sculpture was the property of Greece and therefore should be returned to Greece immediately. Sotheby’s withdrew this lot and proceeded with the rest of the auction.

As you may have guessed though, this is far from the end of the story. On June 5th 2018, A lawsuit was filed jointly by the Barnet heirs and Sotheby’s in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit asserted that Greece had interfered in the sale “without lawful justification.”

They sought a Declaratory Judgement that the bronze horse sculpture was “acquired lawfully and in good faith by the late Howard Barnet 45 years ago and has been part of their collection ever since.” They also sought a further ruling the Greece has no ownership rights and that they are permitted to continue with the sale of the work.

The basis of the lawsuit is the assertion by Sotheby’s that there is no factual basis to assert that the Bronze horse belongs to Greece. Once could easily counter this though with the fact that there is also no clear evidence that the sculpture was excavated and removed from Greece legally.

There is a good writeup of the case up to this stage here.

Now, as you might imagine, there are many interested parties keen to block cases such as this, which could potentially disrupt sales of any artefacts where the provenance is unclear. A letter to the Antiquities Trade Gazette by Joanna van der Lande, chairman of the Antiquities Dealers Association, stated that: “long-term damage is being inflicted on both the trade and museums” by the growing number of legal cases surrounding antiquities with long North American provenances.

Moving forward to today, last Friday (21st June), U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla rejected Greece’s claim to dismiss the lawsuit. Greece made the claim under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a 1976 US law that establishes the limitations as to whether a foreign sovereign nation (or its agencies) may be sued in U.S. courts.

The reason for the dismissal is under the section of the act that exempts commercial activity, which provides three bases under which a plaintiff can sue a foreign state.

  • When the plaintiff’s claim is based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state.
  • When the plaintiff’s claim is based upon an act by the foreign state which is performed in the United States in connection with commercial activity outside the United States.
  • When the plaintiff’s claim is based upon an act by the foreign state which is performed outside the United States in connection with commercial activity outside the United States and which causes a direct effect in the United States

Greece argued that such a broad interpretation of this exclusion “would have a chilling effect on the ability of foreign sovereigns to protect their cultural heritage.”

The US courts argued that the Greek Government engaged in commercial activity by sending the letter to Sotheby’s to halt the sale. They also noted that “some U.S. courts have said acts taken to advance a sovereign country’s cultural mission could be deemed commercial in nature.”

You can read the coverage of this stage of the cases here. Full details of the case are available here.

Whether Greece will appeal against this decision or not is ass yet unclear.

The case highlights some of the issues of handling looted cultural property cases under the current legal frameworks – the onus is generally on the claimant to prove that the items were looted, rather than the current owners to prove that their provenance is sufficient. When many of the illegal excavations took place some years ago and were unrecorded, this is often very tricky to do. From what I have read on the case so far, it is unclear whether any further details of the 1967 sale (particularly the vendor and purchaser) have been revealed in the course of the last year.

While the Foreign Sovereignty Immunity Act has many flaws, we should also not see it as being against restitution cases as such. Only a few days earlier, the court of appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a petition to re-hear a landmark ruling from that the heirs of the art dealers who sold the Guelph Treasure under duress during the Nazi era may pursue their claims in U.S. federal court. The meaning of this is that German state museum must face claims based on allegations of Nazi-looted art in their collections – the result of five years of denying the Guelph Treasure claimants any meaningful attention. How easy it is for a US court to enforce such a case in Germany is a separate question of course. There is a lot that could be learned from saga of Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. a few years ago, where state courts participating in international affairs almost led to a major diplomatic incident between the USA and Russia.

March 31, 2019

Parthenon Marbles to return due to Brexit mixup

Posted at 11:08 pm in Elgin Marbles

A leaked memorandum from the UK’s Ministry of Culture seems to indicate that ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures may have accidentally been transferred to Greece.

In the document, Secretary of State for Jeremy Correct calls for an urgent meeting to discuss how various laws had been amended to say that the UK only held the sculptures on loan and would be returning them to Greece in the next year.

It is thought that the mix-up was due to the fact that with the government bringing through so many Statutory Instruments to update laws in advance of Brexit, that ministers were just signing off whatever came across their desks. It is understood that the file containing all the amendments was hacked by a group of exiled Greek dodekatheists. Our sources believe that they learned the password from this file after bribing Olivia King – A former whip who had previously been involved in discussions about Uganda with former Secretary of State for Culture Don Whittingdale.

We have been led to understand that rather than suffering the embarrassment of admitting to this error, the government has decided that the full return of the Parthenon Marbles will be returned later today (Monday 1st April).

We will keep you posted with any updates.

A bunch of random dodekatheists

A bunch of random dodekatheists

February 10, 2019

The man who’s grandfather’s art was looted by the Nazis

Posted at 9:56 pm in Similar cases

In this and the next three posts, I’ll look briefly at the current state of restitution of Nazi looted art in the UK.

The first case in this story is not in the UK, but it makes a good introduction, by setting a clear context of how some people are only now trying to retrieve looted works and why they are doing so.

The quest to retrieve the Degas painting began in 1995 and became the first Nazi loot case to be settled in the USA. This is a reminder of how far we have managed to come in a few years. Museum attitudes are shifting, although not every country moves at the same pace.

Below is a summary of the story. Make sure you click through to it to listen to the entire two minute radio clip though.

Simon Goodman standing next to the portrait of his great-grandfather Eugen Gutmann, painted by the German artist Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904). Credit: Laura Hubber

Simon Goodman standing next to the portrait of his great-grandfather Eugen Gutmann, painted by the German artist Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904). Credit: Laura Hubber

From:
BBC World Service

My grandfather’s art was looted by the Nazis
08 February 2019

After the death of his father, Simon Goodman embarked on a 20-year mission to reclaim the world class artworks his German-Jewish ancestors had collected before World War Two.

Simon’s landmark discovery of the Degas painting ‘Landscape with Smokestacks’, which had once belonged to his family, became the first Nazi art looting case to be settled in the United States.

September 12, 2018

Heirs of prior owner of Matisse’s Portrait of Greta Moll claim rebuffed

Posted at 11:26 pm in Similar cases

The National Gallery is trumpetting this decision, but it seems more down to legal technicalities than any judgement of innocence or otherwise

Legal action in restitution cases take many forms. One case that has interested me in the past is that of Agudas Chasidei Chabad v. Russian Federation, et al. As I mentioned at the time, it had commonalities with a potential case I had heard presented relating to the same US court and the Parthenon Marbles.

When trying a case in a foreign court, there are many pitfalls to be aware of, not least the potential difficulties of enforcing any judgement. Another important aspect however in the US courts is that of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). I have heard reasons why both the above cases met (or would meet) the conditions set by the Act – but it is worth bearing in mind that other cases have not been so lucky.

This news story relates to the heirs of a painting by Matisse, which was given by the owners (in Berlin) to someone (in Switzerland) for safekeeping in the chaotic aftermath of World War Two. This presents an interesting case (from a British point of view), in that it neatly avoids the (necessarily specific, but thus rather blunt) definitions of the Nazi Era used the in UK’s Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill. Of course, as this case was tried in a foreign jurisdiction, the aforementioned act would not apply in this case anyway.

The person in Switzerland entrusted with looking after the artwork then sold it and kept the proceeds. The painting eventually ended up in the UK’s National Gallery.

In this case, the Federal Appeals court in New York has rejected the claim, due to the fact that it does not meet the conditions of the FSIA, because the painting was taken by an individual rather than a state.

That said, this is a technical argument that means that the case can not proceed. It in no way endorses (or not) the due diligence by the National Gallery in checking the origins of a work by a well known artist (which has echoes of the Feldmann paintings about it). Possibly another case brought under a different jurisdiction might find differently. With the Feldmann Paintings, while the British Museum claimed that they were acquired in good faith, it now argued that it felt there was an overwhelming moral case for their return. Perhaps the National Gallery should follow suit?

Matisse's Portrait of Greta Moll (1908)

Matisse’s Portrait of Greta Moll (1908)

From:
The Art Newspaper

Court rejects claim to Matisse owned by National Gallery
Rebuffing heirs, an appeals panel in New York says the court lacks jurisdiction
Nancy Kenney
11th September 2018 18:26 GMT

A federal appeals court in New York has rejected a claim to a 1908 Matisse painting owned by the National Gallery in London by three grandchildren of the muse portrayed in the work.

In demanding the work’s return, the heirs had argued that the painting, Portrait of Greta Moll, was illegally sold by a former art student to whom the painting had been entrusted for safekeeping in the aftermath of the Second World War. The portrait changed hands several times before it was acquired by the National Gallery in 1979.
Read the rest of this entry »

September 3, 2018

Greece’s new Culture Minister

Posted at 1:03 pm in Elgin Marbles

Welcome to Myrsini Zorba

Greece has a new culture minister. Former MEP Myrsini Zorba replaces Lydia Koniordou in the role.

Hopefully in the coming months we will here more frmo here about how she plans to tackle the issue of the Parthenon Marbles.

Greek Culture Minister Myrsini Zorba

Greek Culture Minister Myrsini Zorba

From:
Guardian

Greek PM seeks to claim centre ground with cabinet shake-up
Helena Smith in Athens
Wed 29 Aug 2018 08.24 BST

Alexis Tsipras brings in younger ministers to refresh government in run-up to crucial elections

The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has attempted to revive his flagging government with an array of younger cabinet figures in preparation for a general election he has described as “the mother of all battles”.
Read the rest of this entry »

August 23, 2018

LBC interview

Posted at 7:40 pm in Elgin Marbles

Arguing the case for the return of the Parthenon Marbles

I was on Ian Payne’s show on LBC on 21st August, arguing the case for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures against Dominic Selwood, Someone that regular readers of this blog may have come across before.

What was interesting was that there was actually agreement between us on a number of points (although of course not on many others).

Unfortunately their archives are no longer free to access unless you listen on their app. Details here of how to do this on Android and iOS

LBC Logo

January 11, 2018

Talk in Brussels on Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Elgin’s agent in Athens

Posted at 2:09 pm in Elgin Marbles, Events, Greece Archaeology

The inaugural lecture organised the Belgian Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

Tatiana Poulou of the Greek Ministry of Culture is giving a lecture in Brussels on Sunday, January 21, 2018 at 14:30. The talk is on Giovanni Battista Lusieri who was Lord Elgin’s agent in Athens. Although Lusieri was charged with documenting Elgin’s actions, most of his works from that period were destroyed in a ship wreck off the coast of Crete (not the Mentor – Elgin’s ship, but the Cambria, some years later).

I’ve heard Tatiana speak previously in Athens and would recommend this talk to anyone interested in the Parthenon Marbles or Greek History from this period.

For further information view the Invitation to talk in Brussels.

From:
Belgian Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

The Belgian Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures cordially invites you to its inaugural lecture
on Sunday, January 21, 2018, at 2.30 p.m. Cinquantenaire Museum, Parc du Cinquantenaire 10, 1000 – Brussels

Tatiana POULOU
Archaeologist, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports – Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Lord Elgin’s Unknown Agent His excavations in Athens and involvement in the removal of the Parthenon Marbles
(Lecture in English)
Welcome by François Roelants du Vivier, Senator Emeritus – President of the BCRPS
Visit our Facebook Page: @parthenonsculpturesreunitedbelgium

A View of the Bay of Naples, Looking Southwest from the Pizzofalcone Toward Capo di Posilippo

A View of the Bay of Naples, Looking Southwest from the Pizzofalcone Toward Capo di Posilippo

April 4, 2017

Could Brexit present an opportunity to return the Parthenon Marbles?

Posted at 1:29 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Britain has the perfect opportunity to do the right thing and resolve differences in the coming months

The Parthenon Marbles is one of many outstanding international issues that the UK has with other EU countries. If they are going to proceed with exiting the EU, then resolving such issues may well pave the way for greater concessions argues Geoffrey Robertson.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Guardian

Let’s do a Brexit deal with the Parthenon marbles
Geoffrey Robertson
Tuesday 4 April 2017 08.30 BST

Not yet a week since the triggering of article 50, and already hope of cordial negotiations seems optimistic. At the weekend, amid early jostling over the post-Brexit fate of Gibraltar, former Tory leader Michael Howard implied that one way to resolve that situation could be a war with Spain.

Thus far, the focus has been on the politics, the pounds, shillings and euros and the colour of passports, but in the search for common ground it’s worth remembering that the European Union treaty itself, in articles 3 and 167, places a duty on both sides in negotiations to take into account the need to “ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced”. Here there is scope for a gesture that may allow talks to proceed more constructively.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 14, 2017

The continuing campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 2:06 pm in Elgin Marbles, International Association

Recent efforts by the IARPS in the fight for restitution

Below is a media release from the IARPS, detailing recent initiatives in the campaign to return the Parthenon Sculptures.

MEDIA RELEASE
More than 200 years after Lord Elgin infamously removed approximately half of the iconic sculptures from the Parthenon and eventually sold them to the British Government, the campaign for their return has been waged by Philhellenes around the world.

The Greek Government has now resolved to renew and intensify its efforts for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures following an extensive consultation and co-ordination meeting between Professor Louis Godart, the newly-elected Chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS)1, and the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Prokopios Pavlopoulos and the Greek Minister of Culture and Sport, Ms Lydia Koniordou. Also present were the Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic, Ambassador George Yennimatas, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Culture, Ms Maria Vlazaki, the Advisor on Cultural Affairs to the Presidency of the Republic, Ms Sophia Hiniadou Cambanis, together with the members of the Special National Advisory Committee for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures and senior representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 19, 2017

TourismA 2017 in Florence

Posted at 12:07 am in Events

Parthenon Marbles round table discussion to form part of cultural tourism conference

The TourismA 2017 conference is taking place in Florence at present. As part of Sunday morning’s programme, there is a round table discussion on the Parthenon Sculptures, the campaigns for their return, how individuals can get involved and the practicalities of resolving the issue.

I will be attending as one of the panelists.

If you are in the area, please drop in to join the discussion.

To find out more about the event, please visit the official site for the exhibition.

TourismA exhibition, Florence

TourismA exhibition, Florence

November 22, 2016

New finds from wreck of Elgin’s ship off Kythera

Posted at 9:05 am in Elgin Marbles, Events

Lecture at Kings College London by Dimitris Kourkoumelis

Dimitris Kourkoumelis is giving a talk this evening organised by the Greek Archaeological Committee UK at Kings College London on new finds on the wreck of the Mentor off the island of Kythera. The Mentor was of course one of the ships used by Lord Elgin to transport the Parthenon Marbles back to the UK from Greece. It sank in a storm and the sculptures had to be retrieved the following year by sponge divers from Kalymnos.

Underwater excavations of The Mentor off Kythera

Underwater excavations of The Mentor off Kythera

From:
Kings College London

Greek Archaeological Committee UK Annual Lecture
Locatio Great Hall, King’s Building, Strand Campus
Category: Lecture, Other
When: 22/11/2016 (19:00-20:30)
Contact: This event is open to all and free to attend. Booking is not required.

Please direct enquiries to chs@kcl.ac.uk.
Recent research and new finds from the MENTOR shipwreck at Cythera (1802)

The recent archaeological expeditions (2009, 2011-15) conducted by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities at the wreck of the brig Mentor, which sank in 1802 off Kythera, have been focused mainly on excavating the section of the hull that is still well preserved, as well as collecting information about the passengers, the crew and the cargo of the ship. The brig, owned by Lord Elgin, was transporting some of the antiquities and sculptures taken from the Acropolis monuments, and sank off the small port of Avlemonas in September 1802. From the 19th to the 21st century, there have been several underwater investigations on the wreck undertaken with the aim to discover the “marble” sculptures, which, according to rumour, should still remain at the site.
Read the rest of this entry »

October 6, 2016

RIP Professor Norman Palmer

Posted at 8:18 am in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

A great mind, as a barrister he defended numerous cultural property cases

I was very sad to hear yesterday of the death of Professor Norman Palmer.

I have met him numerous times, both at conferences and other events relating to cultural property restitution, as well as sitting on the opposite side of the table from him, as part of the group interviewing a team about their suitability for representing Greece in the case to reunify the Parthenon Sculptures.

Readers of this site may be most familiar with him as part of the team with Geoffrey Robertson and Amal Clooney that met with the Greek Government in 2014. Palmer was also well known within the sphere of cultural property restitution for chairing the Human Remains Working Group, whose work eventually led to the change in UK law allowing the repatriation of human remains to indigenous peoples in Australia and elsewhere.

He advised governments and international bodies on the drafting of new cultural property laws and was instrumental in the resolution of various cultural property disputes. He was also a great supporter of mediation and other out of court settlement methods for cultural property disputes.

Immensely knowledgeable, Norman’s academic credentials added gravitas to any team he was a part of. He will be sadly missed.

Professor Norman Palmer QC

Professor Norman Palmer QC

From:
Institute of Art and Law

In Memoriam – Norman Palmer QC CBE
Posted on: October 5, 2016 by Alexander Herman

We are sad to announce that the Institute of Art & Law’s Academic Principal, Norman Palmer QC (Hon) CBE, has passed away. Norman was the guiding light of this organisation ever since its beginnings over twenty years ago. Along with his wife, Ruth Redmond-Cooper, he made the IAL what it is today. He provided countless hours of instruction to hundreds of students and will no doubt be sorely missed by all. His wisdom and intellectual curiosity led to the publication of foundational tomes, including Palmer on Bailment, Art Loans and Museums and the Holocaust, as well as dozens of articles in the area of art and cultural property law.

And some more details about him and his career.
Read the rest of this entry »