Monday, September 3, 2007

The Virginia Return: could this have been anticipated?

The announcement of the return of antiquities from the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville could perhaps have been expected.

Back in June Elisabetta Povoledo ("Antiquities Trial Fixes on Collectors’ Role", New York Times, June 9, 2007) reported that as part of the True / Hecht trial in Rome:
"the prosecutors have clearly adopted a strategy of calling attention to collectors, especially well-heeled Americans, with the implicit message that every player in the global antiquities trade is within their sights."
So who are the North American collectors? Four examples were cited:
"the Texas oilmen Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt (who sold their artifacts at auction in 1990 after their fortunes collapsed); the New York diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman; the art philanthropist Lawrence Fleischman and his wife, Barbara; and the financier Leon Levy and his wife, Shelby White."
Barbara Fleischman responded to the claim in the NYT:
“It seems like anyone can accuse anyone of anything without any proof. We collected for the pure joy of the object.”
Povoledo continued that Fleischman "said that she and her husband, who died in 1997, never suspected that they might be buying anything less than legitimate."

But it looks as if there was proof. The appearance of Fleischman material in the Geneva Polaroids is likely to be part of the evidence. In any case the 40 antiquities about to be returned from the Getty to Italy include 13 antiquities formerly owned by the Fleischmans.

Former Tempelsman material is also in the list of antiquities to be returned from the Getty. Is the Virginia return an extension of that line of enquiry?

And where does it leave Shelby White?


Don Thieme said...

Reading between the lines, it seems like Virginia has always planned for the Acroliths to be returned to Sicily. It makes sense for a museum to be involved in repatriating artifacts held in private collections, although many art museums do also have more suspect relationships with private collectors. The University of Virginia is not the only academic institution with these sorts of issues. I know, for example, that the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University is full of artifacts on loan from private collectors.

Love your blog!

David Gill said...

I once praised the Michael C. Carlos Museum for its loan programme - of objects from archaeological collections in the Mediterranean. (I was very struck by the Syracuse exhibition.)


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