"RUE ROYALE PLACE CONCORD” by EDOUARD CORTES (FRENCH, 1882-1969) was one of over 3,000 works of art stolen from the Herbert Arnot Gallery between 1956 and 1968.
Over the years, we have enjoyed (and, expect) cooperation from dealers and auction houses who find themselves in possession of stolen and/or looted works of art. Such artworks are usually consigned for sale and the consignor is often unaware of the history of the object or the circumstances of the theft.
The only thing we ask of the dealer/auction house is to stop the sale and hold the item until the title dispute can be sorted amicably, ethically, and discreetly and always with permission from law enforcement (if applicable).
Every once and a while, we come across a dealer or auction house that is not aware of our policies and they decide to take matters into their own hands, often, in a most unpleasant way. One of the worst things they can do is return the tainted object to their consignor without having resolved the dispute just to “get this out of the gallery”. This deprives the theft/looting victims an opportunity to provide the necessary documentation to support their claim. Returning a tainted object to the consignor could also be considered an act of “tipping off” which is against the law in many countries.
The case at hand involves an Edouard Cortes painting that was being offered for sale by Leonard Auction in Chicago. We notified Mr. Leonard himself in February 2019 that the painting was stolen and part of a major theft that took place between 1956 and 1968 and reported to the FBI.
Over a 12-year period, a worker used his access to the Arnot gallery, both during and subsequent to his employment, to steal substantial amounts of art on a regular basis. A year after leaving Herbert Arnot, Louis Edelman was arrested in Chicago with 800 stolen paintings in his possession and was charged with transporting stolen property across state lines. Edelman was sentenced to two years in jail but many of the paintings remained unaccounted for.
Mr. Leonard was provided with all the documentation but batted away our request to hold onto the stolen painting. Challenging us, Mr. Leonard returned the painting to his consignor thinking that he would solve the problem “his way”. Of course, we did what we must do to protect our theft victim, a respected art gallery which has been in business since 1863. The FBI were notified and, while it may take a bit longer than our suggested cooperative effort, managed to seize the painting from the possessor. The painting has now been recovered and returned to the Arnot Gallery.
I do hope Mr. Leonard and other like-minded auction houses and galleries learn a lesson from all of this.At ARI, we can and will sort title disputes honestly, transparently, and discreetly with approval from governmental authorities. We will respect your client’s desire for anonymity in an effort to reach an amicable resolution outside of the courtroom.This has to be a better solution than having law enforcement enter your premises, serving you with seizure orders, and creating an enormous disruption to your business and reputation.