One Matisse, Two Matisse: The Steal that it is this Summer

By Irina Tarsis*

Matisse died in 1954; he was 84. The following quote is attributed to Matisse, and as he dreamt of being palatable to a diverse audience, he succeeded in winning over the hearts of many.

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

First trained in law and later a student of art, already during his lifetime Matisse proved to be popular in different circles and demographics. His works were sold by Paul Rosenberg and Daniel-Henry Kahnweile, famous Parisian dealers. He enjoyed patronage of the who’s who among the major art collectors of the twentieth century, including Alfred Barnes and Sergei Shchukin. Indeed, he was a prolific artist with a long career, and thus those who wished to have a Matisse — private collectors, institutions, auction houses, hoarders, thief’s and forgers — could enjoy fruits of the new master’s imagination and labor.

I.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 4.53.58 PMOver the last couple of years, Venezuela has been in the news mostly due to political unrest, economic crisis and violence against street protestors. Serving as some positive news for a change, earlier this month numerous media sources  heralded the return of the 1925 Henri Matisse painting “Odalisque in Red Pants” to Venezuela. The painting, first acquired from a New York gallery in 1981 by the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas, disappeared from the museum sometime around 2002. Its loss was discovered only after the original “Odalisque in Red Pants” was offered for sale in Florida, meaning that the one on display in Caracas was a skillful forgery. (The story of the Caracas Matisse has been documented by Marianela Balbi). In 2012, the United States government seized the original painting in a sting operation in Miami. Almost two years later to the day, on 7 July 2014, the painting was finally returned to Venezuela.

According to some news sources, the authenticity of the piece was verified by “officials from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, the District Attorney, the Institute of Cultural Heritage, National Museums Foundation and the Body of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations.”

II.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 4.27.13 PM

C. Gurlitt/Matisse’s “Seated Woman”

Also in 2012, Bavarian authorities seized an extensive collection of works of art on paper and oil paintings from a private residence in Munich. One of these works that became a poster child for the Schwabing Art Fund, aka the Gurlitt Trove, was Matisse’s 1921 portrait of a seated woman “Femme Assise/Sitzende Frau.” The discovery of the Fund/Trove containing works by famous artists, as well as the glacial pace of investigating the origins of these artworks following the discovery captured the imagination of provenance researchers, art lawyers, potential heirs and others.

We have reported already that the Task Force appointed to investigate the trove has little time to work through hundreds of oils and works of art on paper. However, they already concluded that “Femme Assise” was looted during World War II.

In a Press Release from 11 June 2014, the Head of the Task Force, Dr. Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, indicated that while the Task Force could not establish exactly under what circumstances and when the painting came into Gurlitt’s possession. Nevertheless, it was illegally taken from the collection of a Jewish French art dealer Paul Rosenberg. The decision as to whether the painting will be returned to the Rosenberg’s heirs or not by Gurlitt’s appointed heir “unrestricted and unfettered,” the Bern Art Museum in Switzerland has not been announced yet.

III.

In conclusion: before more stolen, forged or other Matisse paintings come to light, mix yourself a Matisse cocktail, courtesy of Drinks Mixer:

  • 2.5 oz Stoli Ohranj vodka
  • some orange juice
  • some Chambord raspberry liqueur
  • 1 twist lime peel

Sources:

About the Author: Irina Tarsis, Esq., specializes in art law, provenance research and cultural heritage law. She may be reached at itsartlaw@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.

 

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