February 22, 2018

US Supreme Court ruling on the Persepolis fortification texts.

Image Credit:  the Persepolis
Fortification Archive Project
University of Chicago
Bringing an end to a lawsuit brought two decades ago, the United States Supreme Court has ruled 8 to 0 that the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute will retain the Persepolis Fortification Archive on loan from Iran since 1936.  The highest Federal court in the United States, with powers of judicial review, ruled that the objects in dispute cannot be seized to satisfy a $71.5 million court judgment against the government of Iran as compensation for a 1997 shopping mall bombing carried out by Hamas in Israel, which killed five people and wounded nearly 200. 

In 1933 the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute discovered the Persepolis Fortification tablets during excavations.   The ancient objects which make up the archive are believed to be the richest, most consequential source of information about public life religion, art, society and languages dating from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Given their significance, they have been studied by professors and scholars continuously since their discovery.

The Supreme Court judges based their ruling on a determination of what types of assets are immune from seizure under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.  Under the FSIA a United States law, codified at Title 28, §§ 1330, 1332, 1391(f), 1441(d), and 1602–1611 of the United States Code, limitations are established as to whether a foreign sovereign nation (or its political subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities) may be sued in U.S. courts—federal or state.

Their ruling can be found here.

For more information on the archive please see the blog by the Persepolis Fortification Archive project based at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago here

February 15, 2018

An appeal that could have a strong legal significance on Holocaust-era claims in the United States

The protracted multi-million dollar lawsuit regarding the 480-year-old paintings of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder at the Norton Simon Museum has lasted more than ten years.  The lawsuit against the museum, began with a quest undertaken by Marei von Saher, the sole surviving heir of the Dutch-Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, who has long sought to recover her father in law’s artworks, looted during the Second World War.   Throughout this lengthy process, Saher, has sought the return of two 500-year-old biblical-themed paintings, appraised at $24 million.  

Jacques Goudstikker was once considered to be the preeminent dealer of Old Master paintings in Amsterdam and is estimated to have amassed an extraordinary collection of some 1400 works of art of the course of his professional career.  When Germany began its assault on Holland on May 10, 1940, Goudstikker knew that his family's time was up. As Rotterdam burned and the Nazi invasion under Reichsmarschall Göring gained speed, Goudstikker, his young wife Désirée von Halban Kurtz, and their infant son Edo boarded the SS Bodegraven, a ship docked at the port city of IJmuiden, departing for England and then on its way to the Americas. 


Unable to transport his collection with him, Goudstikker carried a neatly typed inventory of his property in a black leather notebook.  This notebook detailed artworks by important Dutch and Flemish artists like Jan Mostaert and Jan Steen, as well as works by Peter Paul Rubens, Giotto, Pasqualino Veneziano, Titian, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh and many others.  Unfortunately, in a further tragic twist of fate, Goudstikker lost his life on his journey to safety, breaking his neck in an accidental fall through an uncovered hatch just two days into the ship's voyage.

In less than a week after the German Luftwaffe of the Third Reich crossed into Dutch airspace, Dutch commanding general General Henry G. Winkelman surrendered and the country fell under German occupation.   As a result, Amsterdam came under a civilian administration overseen by the Reichskommissariat Niederlande, which was dominated by the Schutzstaffel.  

Goudstikker's collection was quickly liquidated in a forced sale typical of many World War II -era art thefts.  Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring himself cherry picked many of the choicest art works, sending more than 800 paintings to Germany.   Some of which were hung in Göring's private collection at Karinhall, his country estate near Berlin.

On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a three-judge panel with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is the U.S. Federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in Alaska, Arizona and the Central District of California heard oral arguments from Von Saher’s attorney, Lawrence Kaye from Herrick Feinstein on the return of the paintings from the Norton Simon Museum.  

In his presentation, Kaye disagreed with U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter's earlier ruling that the Norton Simon Museum is the rightful owner of the paintings on the basis that the Dutch government couldn't assert ownership of artwork it received through external restitution.  In his oral statements he asserted that:


Whatever decision the Appellate court makes in this case will have broad legal ramifications for how forced sale restitution cases are heard in the US Courts.  When the arguments conclude, the judges' panel will either uphold the ruling of the lower court in favor of the Norton Simon Museum,  reverse the earlier decision in favor of von Saher, or send the case back down to the lower court for trial. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 31, 2018

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has removed an ancient wall fresco fragment from the residence of Michael Steinhardt

Image Credit:  Manhattan District Attorney's Office, New York
The Manhattan District Attorney's office has confirmed that they have taken custody of a second object from the New York City residence of Michael Steinhardt located during their earlier January 24, 2018 warrant execution.

The seizure warrant for the removal of these both objects states that the described property constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate, that the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree – NY Penal Law 165.54 was committed, e.g. the possession of stolen or illicitly trafficked antiquities.

Those convicted of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree face a mandatory minimum sentence of one to three years and a maximum sentence of up to eight and one third to twenty five years in state prison.

The second object seized on January 24th is a Roman frescoed panel of a mythological scene, believed to date to the first century CE.  Depicted at the top of this article, the fresco fragment illustrates the infant Hercules on the left, strangling a snake which has been sent by Hera to bring about his death.  Jove, the god of the sky and thunder, and king of the gods in Ancient Roman mythology, is depicted in the centre of the panel in the form of an eagle alight on top of a globe.  To their right is Amphitryon.

According to the New York warrant, the fresco fragment, likely a wall painting, is believed to have been purchased by Steinhardt in 1996 for approximately $600,000 USD.

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000,000. 

If charges are filed against Steinhardt under the New York Penal Law 165.54  this offense would be classified as a “B” non violent felony. Probation and community service are not options.

A copy of the public domain record for the January 24, 2018 Search Warrant at Michael Steinhardt's apartment filed with New York County relating to this case can be found in the case review file on ARCA's website here. 

ICOM releases its newest Red List for the country of Yemen in New York today


For decades, ICOM – the International Council of Museums has continued its fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods with the publication of its Red Lists of endangered cultural assets.  These lists, which are extremely effective reference tools, illustrate endangered categories of archaeological objects and works of art from specific geographic regions that have a greater potential for being traded illegally.

Produced as a handy-sized, illustrated poster, each Red List help customs authorities, law enforcement agencies, auction houses, museums, dealers and other parties of the importance identify the general types of archaeological, ethnographic, religious and historic objects likely to be looted from cultural sites, stolen from museums and religious institutions, and subject to illicit trafficking.

To date ICOM has created 17 Red Lists for:

Afghanistan (2007), Africa (2000), Cambodia (2009), Central America and Mexico (2010), China (2010), Colombia (2010), the Dominican Republic (2013), Egypt (2011), Haiti (2010), Iraq (2003, updated in 2015), Latin America (2003), Libya (2015), Peru (2007), Syria (2013), West Africa (2016) and as of today, Yemen (2018). 

According to France Desmarais, the creator of the Yemen Red List, "Seven of these Red Lists were classified as "Emergency" Red Lists because they concern countries whose movable heritage had suddenly been placed at risk, either due to a natural disaster (as in the case of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010) or armed conflict (Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Mali and Yemen)."

The Lists are available in English, French, the language(s) of the source country, and as interest requires, languages in countries with a potential for being transit points for illicit trafficking. 

The Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk – Yemen will be officially presented at the Metropolitan Museum in New York today at 5:00 p.m. The event will take place in the presence of museum and heritage professionals, government and law enforcement representatives and members of the press. 

ICOM President Suay Aksoy and Director of Programmes and Partnerships France Desmarais, who developed the Yemen Red List, will officially represent the organisation on this occasion and will introduce the Red List to the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the United Nations H.E. Ambassador Khaled Hussein Alyemany as well as to other attendees. Daniel H. Weiss, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Metropolitan Museum will speak on behalf of the Met’s continued support of ICOM’s mission promote awareness on the categories of objects most at risk of being illicitly trafficked.

The Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk – Yemen is one of several Red Lists which have been produced and distributed by ICOM with the support of the United States Cultural Heritage Center.  On hand for the event representing the US Government will be Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Produced with the scientific contribution of international experts and museums from Yemen, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany, ICOM's new Yemen Red List identifies categories of Yemeni objects which may be in high demand on the art and antiquities market and which are vulnerable to being looted, stolen or illegally exported, especially given the unrest caused by the ongoing conflict. 

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector ARCA strongly encourages you to pay close attention to the provenance and legal documentation of any objects you purchase from  Yemen,  paying special attention to the types of objects which appear on ICOM's Yemen Red List

January 29, 2018

Museum Theft: Route 66 Museum vandalized and the importance of CCTV Footage


After causing approximately $30,000 in damages at the Route 66 museum, local sheriff's deputies were able to take a suspect into custody, 25 year old, Roy Fonder, thanks to the use of surveillance CCTV video footage which allowed law enforcement to identify the vandal who entered the museum.  

During the burglary, which lasted a brief ten minutes, the suspect smashed glass cabinets, overturned and destroyed displays, and stole vintage historical items, as well as gift shop clothing. 


Booked into the West Valley Detention Center, also known as the San Bernardino County Jail in Rancho Cucamonga, the day after the break-in, Fonder was caught wearing a tell-tale Route 66 T-shirt when he was stopped by deputies for questioning.   His bail has been set at $200,000.

According to the museum's Facebook page, the mission of the Museum is to "preserve and increase both local and international interest in “The Mother Road” Route 66 and all aspects of history and heritage related to the road."

The small museum contains historic photographs and maps, automotive memorabilia, model cars and regional dioramas, including one which was heavily damaged commemorating Hulaville, a Government Recognized Folk Art Site in the Victor Valley area of the Mojave Desert.

The museum has launched a very modest $5,000 GoFundMe.com campaign to help them pay the insurance deductible and to cover the repairs not covered by their insurance policy.  

January 27, 2018

ARCA- HARP - Provenance Research Training Course in Italy

Exhibition in the library of the Collecting Point, summer 1947
© Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte
The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) and the US-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project, [Inc.] (HARP), a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks, have teamed up to offer a unique short course in Amelia, Italy, this summer. This thematic course “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets” will address cultural plunder, undoubtedly one of the thorniest issues facing the art world today.

Course Dates: June 20- 26, 2018  

Open to applicants interested in the restitution/repatriation of looted cultural objects and their trafficking, this 5-day course will provide participants with exposure to the research and ethical considerations of modern-day art restitution. As an added bonus students accepted to the course are automatically registered to attend ARCA’s Amelia Conference, June 22-24, 2018 a weekend-long forum for intellectual and professional exchange which explores the indispensable role of research, detection, crime prevention and criminal justice responses in combating all forms of art crime and the illicit trafficking in cultural property. 

“Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets”  will be taught by Marc Masurovsky, the co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and guest lecturers.  Mr Masurovsky is a historian, researcher, and advocate, specializing in the financial and economic underpinnings of the Holocaust and the Second World War. 

Born and raised in Paris, France, Mr. Masurovsky holds a B.A. in Communications and Critical Cultural Studies from Antioch College and an M.A. in Modern European History from American University in Washington, DC, for which his thesis was on “Operation Safehaven.” He worked at the Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice researching Byelorussian war criminals, locating primary source documents, and interviewing war crimes suspects in North America and Western Europe. As a result of his early work on the transfers of looted assets from the Third Reich to the safety (safehaven) of neutral and Allied nations, Marc Masurovsky advised the Senate Banking Committee in the mid-1990s on the involvement of Swiss banks in the Holocaust, then lent his expertise to plaintiffs’ counsels suing Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust survivors. 

Since 1997, Marc Masurovsky has focused his attention on the fate of objects of art looted by the Nazis and their Fascist allies. He has also played a major role in the January 1998 seizure of Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of Wally” and “Night City III” at the Museum of Modern Art of New York and was a director of research for the Clinton-era Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA). 

Since 2004, Marc Masurovsky has overseen the creation, development and expansion of a fully-searchable, public online database of art objects looted in German-occupied France that transited through the Jeu de Paume in Paris from 1940 to 1944. Marc Masurovsky is co-author of Le Festin du Reich: le pillage de la France, 1940-1944 (2006), and is working on a book on cultural plunder during the Nazi era and its impact on the international art market. 

For more information on the course and how to apply, please see the announcement linked above.

January 25, 2018

Murder, extortion, usury, drug trafficking, plus the plunder of art. Do you know whose hands your art collection has passed through?


While a single, somewhat less than attractive not likely ancient artifact, recovered during a police raid in Italy, might not garner as much attention in the English media as say, an Etruscan vase seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it still deserves a closer look.

The bust, pictured above, deserves attention because if you dig a bit deeper than just reading a short headline of it being confiscated yesterday along with cocaine, a semiautomatic Beretta and a Colt revolver, you can begin to understand a sliver of the dynamics that sometimes come into play on the darker side of the illicit art market. A place where transactions can sometimes be furthered by violent criminals, in complete juxtaposition to the well-manicured, suit and tie wearing, art dealers who later launder illicit objects through some of the art market's finer art galleries.

This marble bust was seized in the insalubrious quarter of Ostia Nuova, twenty-five minutes west of Rome.  The marble head of a child was recovered during search and seizure warrants carried out late yesterday evening and early this morning in which ultimately thirty-one individuals were arrested on suspicion of affiliation with the Spada organized crime family.  Each of the persons taken into custody will answer to possible charges governing the crime of mafia-type criminal association as defined by Article 416 bis in the Italian Criminal Code.  One suspect remained at large at the time this article was written.

Over the years, the area surrounding Ostia has become fertile ground for criminal activities of all types and the scene of bloody clashes between rival factions of mafia clans and local right-wing criminal gangs. In the face of competing criminal organizations, Italy's Carabinieri and the country's Guardia di Finanza have seen the underworld influence in the region ebb and flow, as one organized crime group replaces another, with each competing group vying for its own coastal territory in order to control political, drug, gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking or social housing rackets.

Speaking about the area where the marble bust was seized, organized crime author Roberto Saviano, who lives his life under police escort due to mafia threats, once spoke about Ostia saying  "[it] has now become like Corleone, like Scampìa: the domain territory of the clans."  A place where the influence of three families: Fasciani, Triassi and Spada have been pervasive in reshaping the power-balances between various Italian criminal organisations.

Locals in the community, who have lost faith in politics and institutions, often simply close their eyes to the blatant presence of organized crime in Ostia, either out of fear of retribution, or sadly, because they simply feel indifference.

In 2011 the trail of blood that bloodied Ostia escalated and newspapers recounted the story of the shocking daytime assassination of Francesco Antonini (Sorcanera), aged 45, and Giovanni Galleoni (Bafficchio), aged 42. Both men had been lieutenants affiliated with the Magliana gang and its also murdered boss, Paolo Frau.  Before being gunned down,  Antonini and Galleoni were incriminated in the managing of drug trafficking and laundering of illicit proceeds, activities conducted in the Ostia area in the shadow of close alliances with both Camorra and 'Ndrangheta, but in competition with the local Spada family.

In June 2017 Italian police made 21 arrests in connection to a drug trafficking ring tied to members of the Spada organization.  This network operated internationally bringing drugs into Italy through human mules and shipments arriving from Barcelona which fed the market in Ostia and Rome.  During these arrests, 700 kilos of hashish, marijuana and cocaine were seized, along with various caliber arms and ammunitions.

As law enforcement continued to step up its pressure on the clans, seven additional affiliates of the Spada organization were sentenced in October 2018 to a combined 56 years in jail for various offenses ranging from extortion to mafia association. Carmine Spada, the local family's boss, was sentenced to 10 years for extortion and mafia association.

Perhaps rattled by his brother's arrest, or with a sense of invincibility, Roberto Spada attacked RAI news journalist Daniel Piervincenzi on November 7, 2017 during an impromptu interview.  The assault was captured by news cameraman Edward Anselmi as the incident unfolded.  

Midway through his questioning regarding the city of Ostia and the Spada family's relationship with the neo-fascist populist group Casa Pound, Spada violently headbutted Piervincenzi breaking his nose and bloodying his face.  To his credit, Anselmi courageously continued filming and held tight to his camera while his journalistic partner was further battered by Spada with a truncheon as he tried to withdraw, while a second assailant violently tried to grab the cameraman's video camera as can be seen and heard in the graphic footage below. 


After the attack, journalist Piervincenzi spoke of the townspeople who had witnessed the assault as it unfolded but who remained silent due to a climate of fear, silence and intimidation.  One witness apparently even closed the blinds to his apartment to avoid having to acknowledge the act of aggression taking place outside his home.

Piervincenzi was so frightened by the incident that he and his cameraman drove all the way back to Rome instead of seeking immediate medical treatment for his broken nose at the nearby hospital in Ostia, saying: "We have been afraid. Staying there, at that time I was not sure. We were concerned that some member of the Spada family could reach us at the hospital and they could harm us and steal our camera with the video [footage] that we shot."  

Roberto Spada was arrested by police for the incident and charged with grievous bodily harm and domestic violence with the aggravating circumstance that he acted in a mafia environment. Both he and Carmine Spada have also just been implicated today as having direct involvement in the earlier murders of Antonini and Galleoni back in 2011.

But back to our looted or possibly stolen marble bust.

Yesterday's search and seizure took place in the sub quarter of Ostia Nuovo, where large public housing buildings alternate with crumbling infrastructure and drug-dealing street corners.  It is in this zone that law enforcement agents have made a concerted effort, to reduce the Spada family's influence, who have, until quite recently, controlled significant parts of the suburb's underworld economy.

In a series of raids by Carabinieri officers, which involved searches at multiple properties tied to, or controlled by, associates of the Spada family, law enforcement officers identified the 7.65 caliber semiautomatic pistol and a revolver in the basement of an Ostia Nuova condominium.  In addition to the two weapons, officers recovered doses of cocaine and a precision scale used for weighing narcotics hidden in a niche of the same building's elevator shaft.

The marble bust and a seperate marble inscription were found hidden under blankets inside a suspect's automobile. The owner of the car, is already on house arrest.

The marble head has now been sequestered while its authenticity is confirmed. The firearms will undergo ballistic comparison testing, to determine whether or not the weapons might be linked to past criminal actions.

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 24, 2018: New seizure at the residence of New York Collector Michael Steinhardt

A little more than two weeks ago, following a second set of seizures at the residence and office of Michael Steinhardt in New York City, ARCA wrote a blog post outlining other antiquities from the billionaire's private collection that have raised concerns with illicit trafficking researchers.  

One of those objects was this marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture from Sardinia. 

Image Credit: 
Manhattan district attorney's office
This idol was seized on January 24, 2018 during the execution of a new search warrant carried out by law enforcement authorities working with the Manhattan District Attorney and HSI.  The artifact was removed from Steinhardt's New York City residence.


Image Credit:  ARCA Screen Capture 
Tsirogiannis had matched the antiquity online via Christie's web version of its sale catalog to a photo contained in the confiscated archives of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  Having made the ID, Tsirogiannis emailed his concerns to US Federal law enforcement and Italian law enforcement authorities working towards eventual repatriation should Italy file a claim.  Additionally he notified ARCA, in hopes of drawing further attention to potentially trafficked pieces that often resurface on the licit market but which omit passages through the hands of known dealers involved in the sale of illicit objects.

The sales catalog for the Christies auction is stored online here, although the photo of the idol has subsequently been removed from the object's accompanying Lot description.  Of note is the addition of a brief entry into the "Cataloguing & details" section of the listing, which states only that the object was withdrawn from the sale.

The artifact above matches perfectly with the image below which Tsirogiannis located in the dealer's archive.   In the art dealer's records the statuette appeared atop a turquoise background and broken in multiple pieces, prior to the object's subsequent restoration.

Image of the Sardinian idol
from the Medici
archive 
Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt in 1997, the Ozieri Culture idol, also known as the Turriga Mother Goddess figure, passed through Harmon Fine Arts and the Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of Leonard Norman Stern, the object had been displayed, but not photographed, in a 1990 "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 when the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction, it apparently was sent back to Steinhardt, where it was later re-identified as still being part of Steinhardt's collection when officers searched his New York City home on January 5, 2018 pursuant to an earlier search warrant.

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 24, 2018

Conference: Save the Date and Call for Presenters - the 2018 Amelia Conference

Conference Date:  
June 22-24, 2018
Abstract Submittal Deadline:  
March 30, 2018
Location: Amelia, Italy

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, ARCA will host its annual summer interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of June 22nd through June 24th this summer. 

Known as the Amelia Conference, the Association's weekend-long event aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of art crimes and the protection of art and cultural heritage and brings together researchers and academics, police, and individuals from many of the allied professions that interact with the art market, coming together to discuss issues of common concern. 

The Amelia Conference is held annually in the historic city of Amelia, in the heart of Italy's Umbria region where ARCA also plays host to its Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection and a joint ARCA-HARP Provenance Training course, “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets.”

ARCA welcomes speaking proposals from individuals in relevant fields, including law, criminal justice, security, art history, conservation, archaeology, or museum security and risk management on the topical sessions listed here. We invite individuals interested in presenting to submit their topic of choice along with a presentation title, a concise 400-word abstract, a brief professional biography and a recent CV to the conference organizers at:

italy.conference [at] artcrimeresearch.org

Accepted presenters will be asked to limit their presentations to 15-20 minutes, and will be grouped together in thematically-organized panels in order to allow time for brief questions from the audience and fellow panelists.  

Registration

For more details on this event please watch the conference information page on the ARCA website where you can register and where a list of accepted speakers will be posted by April 07, 2018

We hope to see many of you in Amelia in June!

January 20, 2018

Only a few clicks away - The adventuresome travels of a deposed King's bedroom

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture  - 20 January 2018
Luxist October 12, 2010 edition
Not all contested works of art are fenced in whispered corners or stealthily traded in darkweb alleyways alongside drugs, stolen data and child exploitation content. Some are sold out in the open; as if waiting for law enforcement, or anyone else for that matter, to take notice or object.  

Some contested objects are found hiding in plain sight, in places where the public might least expect them: on internet social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and Youtube.

To give an example, let's take a look at the story of the missing antique bedroom suite once owned by Fārūq ibn Fuʾād, who served as the penultimate king of Egypt and the Sudan until he was overthrown in 1952.

The king's 7-piece mercury-gilded mahogany bedroom ensemble was created by 19th century Parisian ébéniste, Antoine Krieger and inspired by Napoleon's household furnishings at the Parisian palace Malmaison.  This ostentatious furniture was said to have been installed in the royal guest lodge located within the Giza Zoo on the Western bank of the Nile, directly across from Downtown Cairo, in proximity to the Giza pyramids.  According to recent Egyptian newspaper articles, the furnishings were used by the king and visiting dignitaries while staying as guests at the zoo property during his reign. 

Cairo's 126-year-old Giza Zoo, built on the grounds of the summer residence of the Royal Family, was built during the rule of the Viceroy “Khedive Ismail” sometime between 1863 and 1879.  One of the world's foremost zoological gardens, the zoo was once an elegant reminder of days gone past.  In the present it has long since fallen from grace.  

Ravaged by time and neglect, photographs of the Giza Zoo in recent years show the dirtied grounds in disrepair. Animal rights activists cry foul that the animals are neglected by tenders and exploited by zoo visitors taking selfies. At best, it can be said that the animals in the zoo are being cared for by under-qualified keepers and in situations that lack proper security measures.

As if to prove that the Giza Zoo's site security is not up to snuff, the disappearance of the king's set of exquisitely crafted furniture from the royal residence went unreported until a visit to the zoo by Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Ayman Abu Hadid on September 1, 2013.  During his visit, the minister recognized that the historic set had been replaced with a much cheaper bedroom suite apparently purchased from Egypt's oldest department store.  

But the theft of Fārūq ibn Fuʾād's missing furniture is not straightforward and if a theft did occur, it did not happen in 2013. 

Background Research

On October 13, 2010 M.S. Rau Antiques, a rare and important antiques and fine art gallery in New Orleans managed by third-generation owner Bill Rau, posted a photo of the king's bedroom on the company's Facebook timeline, happily announcing that his firm (and the king's furniture) had been covered on Luxist.com in connection with their sale of the bedroom suite. The asking price given? $985,000.

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
M.S. Rau Antiques also listed the furniture openly on the company's website.  That page however has now been taken down. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018

That same day, perhaps picking up on the online media, Art Fix Daily also published an article indicating that the furniture was being sold by M.S. Rau Antiques. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
A further check of social media shows that M.S. Rau Antiques also posted the king's bedroom suite on Pinterest. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
And the furniture was blogged about on Blogger on a page called Brands&Luxury.

The king's furniture was again posted publicly on Flickr on March 9, 2013 by a user purportedly in Cairo, Egypt. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
But even with all this digital visibility, the furniture didn't sell.

Fast forward to 2015.  

The furniture turns up again on another public Facebook post by a user named Beachhouse Jim on July 29, 2015. The photo, which includes a woman wearing shorts, seems to indicate that the furniture was still being offered for sale in the United States at M.S. Rau Antiques. 


Fast forward to 2016. 

M.S. Rau Antiques even published a video on Youtube highlighting the sale of the bedroom collection on October 13, 2016. That video can be viewed below, as it too has been removed from Youtube. 


The fact that the furniture was for sale through M.S. Rau Antiques is even cited in the footnotes mentioned on Wikipedia's Farouk of Egypt page, but the page also implies, citing a Sun-Herald (Sydney, NSW) article published on Sunday, 31 Jan. 1954, that in December 1952, a contract was signed placing the cataloguing, classifying and disposal of a substantial portion of the king's treasures in Sotheby's hands.

This alleged sale information is also repeated by news site Al Arabiya, which stated that the Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of the deposed king's possessions in 1954.

How did a King's ransom worth of furniture find its way to a 100-year-old antique dealer operating in New Orleans' French Quarter?

Some Egyptian news sources are stating that Farouk's bedroom set disappeared after the wife of one of the ministers, who later stayed at the ex-royal residence, disliked the bedroom and ordered it to be changed and sometime thereafter the pieces disappeared.  Given the Giza Zoo's more recent precarious state, one can almost imagine how easy it would be for a set of antique furniture, estimated to be worth almost $1 million, to be carted off without someone noticing, but if that story is true or not remains a mystery.  

If the Sotheby's sale of the king's property did take place in the 1950s, as written about in the Australian newspaper, then perhaps Sotheby's may have records to show if the bedroom suite on sale by M.S. Rau Antiques was part of the collection of kingly objects sold.   

The fact that M.S. Rau Antiques has not responded to the now-brewing public outrage to provide evidence of the chain of ownership of the room until it has reached New Orleans and has taken down the sale, leaves the question of how the firm acquired the furnishings in the first place, and from whom, open for further investigation. 

It does seem curious though that despite this material being a Google/Social Media search away, the fact that the furniture appears to have been with M.S. Rau from at least 2010 has not come out in the major news reports so far. 

By:  Lynda Albertson