Letters USA

Letters to the editor

If a collector could go to a public archive and determine whether a prospective purchase was questionable, the object would likely remain unsold

Should the Medici Polaroids be made public?

Make the Medici loot public

The “Medici ‘loot’ for sale?” article (The Art Newspaper, October, p65) includes an image of “a Polaroid seized from Medici’s warehouse” depicting an Attic red-figure pelike. Such images, from the 1995 Medici raid or the 2002 Becchina confiscation, appear periodically in the press when a similar object comes up for sale. The stigma of association with one of these convicted antiquities traffickers is often enough to result in its withdrawal.

The larger issue, however, is that US collectors, dealers, auction houses, and museums are compelled to research the provenance of any prospective purchase to ensure it is not recently looted, and yet Italy has not published the Medici and Becchina photo archives that they hold, which would make vetting much easier. Furthermore, it appears that certain individuals (like David Gill and your Fabio Isman) are granted access, with the intent of periodically embarrassing the trade. This strikes me as cynical and counterproductive if the objective is to make the antiquities trade more transparent, and looted antiquities unsaleable. If a collector could go to a public archive (the Art Loss Register, for example), and determine whether a prospective purchase was questionable, the object would likely remain unsold.

—Rick Witschonke, Califon, New Jersey

Droit de suite is not so taxing

Not for the first time in reports about droit de suite or artists’ resale rights you misunderstand this royalty by referring to it as a tax. It is not, and is no different from authors’ royalties. Concerns that its imposition would see Britain’s art market move out of its jurisdiction have proved unfounded (The Art Newspaper, October, p77).  

The trade may bleat about this small, capped, percentage of resales that accrues to an artist or their heirs but compare it with the forthcoming rise in (uncapped) VAT from 17.5% to 20%. No gallery or auction house has claimed this far more significant rise in costs is a threat to its existence. 

Or consider the auction houses, which have been incrementally increasing their commission for several years, to both buyers and sellers. The art trade’s argument is that increases in commission are acceptable when these are distributed within the trade, but unacceptable if a similar distribution is made to an artist or their heirs. Shame on us.

—René Gimpel, Gimpel Fils, London

These Poussins belong together

While one can have only the greatest of sympathies for the Duke and Duchess of Rutland in their struggle to maintain their magnificent seat, Belvoir Castle, it will be a tragedy if another of the paintings in their “Sacraments” series by Poussin is sold. Although the series is now incomplete, the remaining five are, nevertheless, our only insight into the coherence of Poussin’s first attempt at this unique idea of showing the origins of the Catholic sacraments. The loss of Ordination will compromise the integrity of what is left. Because the National Gallery in London and the National Galleries of Scotland have committed themselves to buying a second Titian for £50m, it is implied that the museum authorities feel that this is not the opportune moment to launch another appeal (The Art Newspaper, October, p7).

I am in no position to comment on the wisdom or practicalities of such a decision, but the sale of the Poussin will make a first-hand study of the painter all the more difficult when yet another of the series is elsewhere. Furthermore, with both “Sacraments” series in the UK, the opportunities for studying Poussin are unrivalled.

This plea is not a matter of nationalism or chauvinism; it is about maintaining the integrity of an artist’s work, and the importance of accessibility. To fail to keep Ordination as part of the first “Sacraments” series will be an aesthetic and intellectual tragedy of the first order.

—Thomas Montgomery, London

Send your letters to the editor to: 70 South Lambeth Road London SW8 1RL UK or email: j.morris [at] theartnewspaper.com

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30 Jul 14
22:19 CET


The points made by Mr. Witschonke are spot on and have been reverberated for decades. The age old double standard of foreign and domestic governments demanding "transparency" from the trade when the same government's are intentionally withholding vital information from the trade to vet an item is akin to hoping Israel and the Palestinians come to a lasting peace accord while in a state of civil unrest. Orphaned pieces have a 50% chance of being stolen, no more no less! Following Mr. Rothschild's comment about law enforcement actions is mis-directed in my opinion. The real crimes and criminals reside in the source countries and the myriad of other source countries that such materials traverse, often with the help of corrupt officials in the source countries. The international law enforcement community needs to make criminal and civil cases in source countries. That would have a far stronger impact and deterrent to looting than waiting to embarrass a U.S. dealer or collector.

5 Aug 11
16:49 CET


It would be no different to provide other artists with a droit de suite than providing authors royalties if artists signed license agreements the way authors do. But they don't do that. (I note, however, that there is nothing stopping them.) Artists who want a droit de suite by fiat want to have their cake and eat it too - authors would get larger up-front payments, the way other artists do, if their publishers didn't have to pay royalties on ongoing sales. As usual, what is really wanted is a new "right" that most artists won't even know about, let alone have the money to enforce, but will provide a new and lucrative method of rent-seeking on behalf of a few entitled millionaires.

23 Nov 10
22:29 CET


Embarrassing antiquities dealers is unavoidable if law enforcement agencies want to recover the stolen artifact and if they want to go beyond merely recovering it to arresting, prosecuting, and convicting those who have stolen and trafficked it to the unsuspecting (or perhaps not unsuspecting) dealer. Dealers may be unhappy, but the benefit is surely worth the cost in embarrassment.

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