Now former Getty antiquities curator Marion True goes on trial this month

Marion True has resigned from the museum and the institution is to return three artefacts to Italy


Los Angeles

The J. Paul Getty Museum’s antiquities curator Marion True has resigned. She has been criminally charged in Italy for allegedly receiving stolen artefacts, although her resignation is purportedly for different reasons.

The Getty has also announced that it is returning three objects from its antiquities collection to Italy, including a bronze Etruscan candelabrum, an ancient Greek stone inscription, and a large antique krater, or jar. The krater had been the subject of a formal complaint by the Italian government, but the other two objects were not.

In April 2004, at the request of Italy, the US Attorney in Los Angeles commenced a forfeiture suit in federal district court, seeking to confiscate the krater on allegations that it was stolen property belonging to Italy which had been illegally excavated and exported.

“Although the Getty believes that it had valid defences” to the claims, it reached agreement with Italy to return the krater “in the interests of settling the litigation” and furthering “a productive relationship with Italy,” the Getty said, adding that it based its decision to offer to return the other two objects “on its own evaluation of evidence produced by the Italian government.” On 2 September, the Getty agreed to a consent judgment in the US forfeiture action, in which the court made no finding of liability, but acknowledged the Getty’s agreement to return the krater.

Under a 1939 Italian law, Italy is the owner of antiquities found in Italian soil. Its government is also seeking the return of about 39 further antiquities from the Getty, the Los Angeles Times has reported. They include a statue of Aphrodite which Italy says was looted from Sicily.

In July, the museum’s antiquities curator, Marion True, was charged by Italy with conspiracy to receive stolen goods and archaeological artefacts. She denies the charges. The Getty said that it “continues to believe that Dr True’s trial should result in her exoneration.”

The in absentia trial resumes this month. It follows a ten-year investigation of Ms True and her associations with Swiss dealer Emanuel Robert Hecht and the art expert Giacomo Medici that uncovered a haul of almost 4,000 objects in Geneva’s freeport. Mr Medici was subsequently sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

Ms True’s resignation from the museum stemmed from a separate matter, the Getty said. “The Getty has determined through its own investigation that Marion True failed to report certain aspects of her Greek house purchase transaction in violation of Getty policy. In the course of discussions with Ms True, she chose voluntarily to retire. She told the Getty she wanted to devote full time to preparing her defence,” the Getty added.

On 25 September, the Getty responded to an article in the Los Angeles Times, which questioned whether the trust had made full disclosure to the Italian government in its antiquities investigation, based on a memorandum from a lawyer for the Getty which the LA Times said it had obtained.

The LA Times assertions relied on “privileged and confidential information stolen from the Getty’s files” the Getty said, adding that responding to the article “would jeopardise Dr True’s right to a fair trial”. The Getty said it was convinced that it “never knowingly acquired an object that had been illegally excavated or exported from Italy or any other country.” The LA Times article had cited instances “where information acquired after an acquisition, much of it of questionable credibility, could suggest that an object might have been illegally excavated or imported,” the Getty said.

The LA Times reported that several antiquities dealers, now under investigation by the Italian government, had supplied 82 objects in the Getty’s collection. However, the discrediting of these dealers “does not mean that any object acquired from one of them was illegally excavated or exported”, said the museum’s statement.

Ms True is said to have used the loan in 1995 to buy a Greek villa. She is now reportedly moving to France from Santa Monica.