Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Collector's Sculpture Seized from New York's Museum of Art

Knocked off bull head on loan
to the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
photo CreditWilliam and Lynda Beierwaltes
Another ancient object has been seized by Manhattan prosecutors from the displays at the Metropolitan Museum of art (Tom Mashberg, 'Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors New York Times August 1st 2017). The broken off head of a bull about 30 cm high was on loan to the Museum from a private collection. Concerns were raised last year by the Museum's curatorial staff that the object might have been looted from a Lebanese storage area in the 1980s during Lebanon’s civil war, prompting the museum to alert Lebanese officials, who asked the American authorities to step in and retrieve it. Museum officials delivered it to the office of the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance last month.
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return. The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael H. Steinhardt, in 2010. Mr. Steinhardt lent the relic to the Met that year, but after learning that Lebanon was disputing its provenance, he asked the Beierwaltes to take it back and compensate him.  The Beierwaltes are also suing the antiquities directorate in Lebanon as part of a federal lawsuit in which they argue that neither the Lebanese government nor Manhattan prosecutors have offered convincing proof that the item was stolen.
William G. Pearlstein, a lawyer for the Beierwaltes, said that his clients believe that the district attorney’s position is ill-founded, adding: 'The Beierwaltes are bona fide purchasers with clean hands. By contrast, for more than 50 years, Lebanon has failed take any action domestically or internationally to report any theft of the bull’s head'.
The item has a rich history. According to museum and Lebanese officials, it was first cataloged in 1967 by a Swiss archaeologist excavating the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, Lebanon. It is believed to be of Greek origin, was warehoused in the city of Byblos, the site of a looting spree in the 1980s.
And yes, Mr Pearlstein the 1981 theft of several hundred artefacts, including sculptures from the museum store in the 1975 to 1990 civil war was not only 'reported' by Lebanon, but is generally known in the art world to have happened . Anyone buying such an item had every reason to be especially suspicious of its potential illicit origins. 

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