Cultural property databases and international security in the art market
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English Russian

Cultural property databases and security in the international art market


  • The painting of Ivan Aivazovsky “The Sea” stolen from the Reserve Museum of Dmitrov Kremlin (Greater Moscow Region) in 1976 was withdrawn from auction;
  • The Art Loss Register and the Interpol database are the main databases currently used on the international art market;
  • “The Sea” was entered into the “Black Catalogue” (1st vol., 2006), which is free and available to anyone in PDF format in Russian in the internet;
  • The existence of separate databases renders the work of international art businesses more difficult.
The painting of Ivan Aivazovsky “The Sea” in the exposition of the Reserve Museum of Dmitrov Kremlin, 1968
The painting of Ivan Aivazovsky “The Sea” in the exposition of the Reserve Museum of Dmitrov Kremlin, 1968

On September 22nd, 2017 the painting of Ivan Aivazovsky “The Sea” (1845) was withdrawn from auction at Koller Auktionen (Zurich) as reported by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. “The Sea” together with other works of art, were stolen from the Reserve Museum of Dmitrov Kremlin (Greater Moscow Region) in 1976. As stated by an official representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, the painting was discovered during an operational search conducted by the NCB of Interpol, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and the Ministry of Culture of Russia. The painting was withdrawn from the auction through the collaborative eforts of Interpol with Swiss partners.

Exercising due diligence in art transactions presupposes the use of databases of stolen artwork and a thorough investigation of provenance.

Ariane Moser, COO, Artive
Ariane Moser, COO, Artive (Photo: courtesy of The Art Partners)

Holistic Auction: What can be done in order to anticipate appearance of “Red Flag” artwork on sale, and discover it at an earlier stage?

Ariane Moser, COO, Artive: In answer to your questions, we would observe that cultural property databases are available as a necessary resource for auction houses to use for due diligence purposes for any upcoming acquisition or sale. When anticipating the appearance of “Red Flag” artwork for sale, it is especially essential that such resources are utilized as a research tool to protect the auction house and potential buyer from acquiring a work that could be at-risk or potentially claimed in any way.

Artive is working to provide the international art market and cultural heritage sectors with a more comprehensive service for due diligence. We provide a collection of key services tailored to the protection of the world’s cultural heritage.

Artive is a non-profit organization, which conducts searches through their database as well as various specialist databases (including national and international law enforcement databases).

Starting in October 2006, Rosokhrankultura (Russian Federal Service for monitoring compliance with cultural heritage protection law) started issuing the “Catalogue of stolen works of art and antiques”, also known as the “Black Catalogue” by Russian collectors. Thanks to the efforts of the Reserve Museum of Dmitrov Kremlin, “The Sea” was entered into the first volume of the “Black Catalogue” (p.84, No.434). All in all, six volumes of the Catalogue were issued as of 2010. Until 2018 all volumes were free and available to anyone in PDF format in Russian in the internet.

The Sea sold at Sotheby’s in New York on April 21st, 2005. Source: Artnet
“The Sea” sold at Sotheby’s in New York on April 21st, 2005. Source: Artnet
 
Catalogue Unknown Aivazovsky by Gianni Caffiero and Ivan Samarine, issued in Russia in 2016
Catalogue “Unknown Aivazovsky” by Gianni Caffiero and Ivan Samarine, issued in Russia in 2016

Ivan Aivazovsky’s “The Sea” appeared on the international art market 30 years after it was stolen from the Reserve Museum of Dmitrov Kremlin. According to the available open-source in the internet, it was first sold at Sotheby’s in New York on April 21st, 2005 (lot No. 7) under the name “View of Revel, Estonia” (source: Artnet, Catalogue “Unknown Aivazovsky” by Gianni Caffiero and Ivan Samarine). The painting was later sold on September 22nd, 2006 at Koller Auctionen in Zurich (Lot No. 3109, Koller Auktionen Catalogue). These sales occurred before the issue of the first volume of the “Black Catalogue”. On September 22nd, 2017, this painting was discovered and withdrawn from the sale at Koller Auktionen where it was one of the highlights with an estimated value of 500-700k CHF. The provenance of the painting at an auction on September 22nd, 2017 included a mention in the catalogue “Unknown Aivazovsky,” which was issued in Russia in 2016, by renowned western experts of Ivan Aivazovsky art Gianni Caffiero and Ivan Samarine. In this catalogue, the painting is listed under the name “View of Revel from the Sea” (translated from Russian) (No. CS-1845-004, p. 311) and the origin refers to the sale at Sotheby’s in New York 21 April 2005 (lot No. 7).

 

Holistic Auction: How would you evaluate the work of cultural property databases in relation to the cases concerning “Red Flag” artwork?

Cyril Koller, CEO, Koller Auktionen: There is quite an effective system in place for detecting stolen artwork – The Art Loss Register. We, like most auction houses who wish to prevent the sale of stolen or looted goods, have all of our catalogues checked by ALR. However, for any database to be effective, it needs to be supplied with information. In our opinion, museums, galleries and collectors should be diligent in reporting stolen works of art, so that organisations such as the Art Loss Register and Interpol can relay this information when it is needed.

It may be assumed that in the investigation of the provenance of Ivan Aivazovsky’s “The Sea”, information from the “Black Catalogue” was intentionally or unintentionally ignored, regardless the fact that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation refers to this Catalogue as a source of information on “Red Flag” status of objects on the art market.

The Art Loss Register is the largest database of stolen cultural property containing more than 350k objects (as of 2013). It is the main database used on the international art market in tandem with the Interpol database. The Interpol database of stolen works of art contains around 49k objects (as of September 2016). It is important to note that users of the Interpol database are encouraged to “interpret database results with caution as an object may have been stolen, even if it does not appear in the Interpol database” (Source: Interpol official website).

“The database contains only those objects that have been officially reported as stolen by member countries.

An object may have been stolen, but is not included in the database for one of the following reasons:

  • It has not yet been reported as stolen to the police;
  • The theft report has not yet been received at INTERPOL through official channels;
  • The object has not yet been entered into the database;
  • Searches for the object are being carried out at national level only;
  • The object has been looted from an archaeological site and is not known to the police.”

(Source: Interpol official website)

Despite the fact that painting was stolen from the museum more than 40 years ago, it was not entered into the Interpol database, which presumably only initiated searches for the painting at a national level.

Holistic Auction: How much of the cultural property artwork stolen in Russia is reported internationally? How does the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation interact with the museum society and the NCB Interpol on stolen cultural property? How can art businesses in Russia check an artwork's “Red Flag” status?

E.A. Artemov, Acting Deputy Head, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation: During investigations of offences involving theft of objects of cultural, historical, scientific and artistic importance, the collaborating bodies may receive information from the National Central Bureau of Interpol on the internationally sought cultural property and that being on sale at international auctions, based on the information that it has been stolen and illicitly exported outside Russia.

With credible information regarding the intended sale of an object stolen on the territory of the Russian Federation abroad, the collaborating bodies send a request to the National Central Bureau of Interpol to withdraw the stolen object from the sale.

When a theft of cultural property on the territory of the Russian Federation is established, the territorial sub-divisions send a request to the National Central Bureau of Interpol of Russia to include the stolen object into the Interpol General Secretariat database of stolen works of art. The instance of theft of the object does not influenceits inclusion the Interpol database.

The National Central Bureau of Interpol of Russia and its sub-divisions cooperate with the museum community within its sphere of competence to provide security in the protection of cultural property.

Catalogue of stolen works of art and antiques or the Black Catalogue, 2006
"Catalogue of stolen works of art and antiques" or the "Black Catalogue", 2006

A given example of the effective cooperation between the National Central Bureau of Interpol of Russia and the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany (BKA) is the collaborative investigation of the criminal case initiated in 2014 against an international organised crime ring specialising in counterfeiting works of Russian avant-garde artists and subsequently selling them in Europe and the USA.

In this regard, cooperative work with experts from the State Tretyakov Gallery was conducted to establish the provenance of the works of A. Yawlensky, the series of paintings “Espagnole” of N. Goncharova, as well as K. Malevich’s “In the Garden”. In order to carry out a visual examination, 1200 photographs of the paintings, which were discovered and seized by the German law enforcement authorities, were sent to the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Based on the available photographs, the experts from the State Tretyakov Gallery suggested that the seized paintings had distinct features of forgeries.

Officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs took part in the investigation. Coordinated by an officer of the National Central Bureau of Interpol of Russia, the experts from the State Tretyakov Gallery examined more that 90 paintings, by which it was determined that all the paintings were high-quality forgeries.

The National Central Bureau of Interpol of Russia, together with the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, have established a well-developed mechanism for informing foreign countries about stolen Russian works of art being offered at their auctions.

Information on stolen works of art is available in the open-access “Catalogue of stolen works of art and antiques”.

Excercising due diligence in art transactions means using stolen art databases. Obviously, the existence of separate databases renders the work of international art businesses more difficult by imposing additional responsibilities in the verification of provenance.


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