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Criminal affair from the past and “Bouilloire et fruits”by Cezanne that was sold for $ 59.3 million.

Courtesy of Christie’s
Courtesy of Christie’s

Criminal affair from the past and “Bouilloire et fruits” by Cezanne that was sold for $ 59.3 million.

Monday, May 13, New York’s Christie auction house had significant reasons for satisfaction.

Paul Cezanne’s “Bouilloire et fruits”, valued at USD 40 million, was finally sold for an impressive sum of nearly USD 60 million. It was one of several paintings belonging to the media magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr. deceased in 2017.

You might say that “Bouilloire et fruits” deserves this price and deserves to gain fame again. But not everyone remembers that decades ago the painting was a part of a crime story that began in 1978 and which finally ended in 2008.

The history of this painting can be a perfect topic for a screenplay and from what I know it happened.

The beginning of the story begins from the moment Cezanne or his son sold the painting. The buyer was a collector Baron Denys Cochin, a French writer who became famous for the purchase of several French works of Impressionists. During Cezanne’s lifetime, Cochin bought and sold many of his paintings.

Cezanne Bouilloire Et Fruits
Paul Cézanne, Bouilloire et fruits, 1888–90. Courtesy of Christie’s.

In 1902, the “Bouilloire et fruits” was sold to Paul Durand-Ruel. Ruel is considered one of the first contemporary art dealers who also dealt with financial support for artists. There are speculations that Cochin and Ruel collaborated and speculated in the art trade. Then the painting came into the hands of the Cassirer family. For a time, it was on the deposit of Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and the Municipal Art Gallery, Johannesburg.

The story has gone on and around 1952, the artwork was sold to the German art dealer Justin Thannhauser. After ten years, “Bouilloire et fruits” was in the possession by American collectors Dr.Harry and Ruth Bakwin. The Bawkin’s were doctors who created one of the best private post-war collections in New York. The collection was inherited by Michael Bakwin and this is where our proper story begins.

It was in 1978, during the celebration of the Remembrance Day, M.Bakwin and his wife left the estate for a short time. After returning, it turns out that they fell victims of the burglary and from their collection disappeared the 7 best paintings including our “hero” the “Bouilloire et fruits”.

Decades and involvement of several countries needed before the theft was resolved. Both a lawyer and a criminal had their participation in it. As it was mentioned in the beginning – a ready topic for the script.

The owners of “Bouilloire et fruits”.

  • Baron Denys Cochin, Paris.
  • Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 11 March 1902).
  • Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above, 5 February 1903).
  • Hugo Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above).
  • Lotte Cassirer-Fürstenberg, Berlin (by descent from the above by 1933; on deposit at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, from 1933 and until 1939; then on extended loan to the Municipal Art Gallery, Johannesburg, circa 1939-1952).
  • Justin K. Thannhauser, New York (acquired from the above, 1952).
  • Harry and Ruth Bakwin, New York (by 1955).
  • Michael Bakwin, Stockbridge, Massachusetts (by descent from the above; stolen in May
  • 1978 and recovered in 1999); sale, Sotheby’s, London, 7 December 1999, lot 31. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Source: Alain.R.Tuorg

Auctions

The case regained momentum after 20 years when the unidentified owner wanted to put 7 paintings at the London auction. Photos of the paintings planned for the auction aroused interest in the Art Loss Register which was dealing with the recovery of stolen artworks.

It was confirmed that the photos depict seven paintings stolen in 1978. M.Bakwin authorized the Art Loss Register agency to take action to recover the collection.

However, it was not easy. First of all, it was impossible to determine who is the current owner of the stolen works.

All negotiations were conducted with the help of a Swiss lawyer representing an unidentified holder.

The place of storage of artworks was also unknown. To prolonged activities, that did not bring results, was added also the people’s fear, that contact with the owner of the paintings was broken.

The Swiss lawyer, on behalf of the unknown owner, made several proposals to Bakwin, which were to be a condition for returning the artworks. He offered artworks for a refund of $ 15 million. The next offer was that Bakwin has to pay 10-15% of paintings value or $ 1 million.

Time passed, the stolen collector was losing his hope to recover the collection more and more. Finally, Art Loss Register advised Bakwin to demand the return of at least Cezanne’s painting, the most valuable in this collection, for transferring ownership of the other six paintings to the unidentified holder.

After informing the FBI and the Swiss police about the situation, Bakwin, fearing the loss of everything, finally but reluctantly agreed.

At the same time, the Art Loss Register has set the conditions for the holder of the paintings. He had to submit a written statement in the presence of his lawyer that he was not involved in the theft of the artwork, that he had acquired them in goodwill. The sealed document was to be deposited in a public institution.

Paul Cezanne 1861
Paul Cezanne 1861

In 1999 the deal was finally closed. The Swiss lawyer and the representative of the Art Loss Register met and exchanged Cezanne’s painting for the proprietorship of the remaining 6 paintings. The originality of Cezanne’s work of art had been confirmed by two impartial and invited experts. The illegal holder still did not want to reveal himself and the ownership of the paintings was transferred to a newly established Panama company called Erie International Trading Company, Inc.

In the same year, M.Bakwin decided to sell Cezanne, and it was bought by a press magnate and collector S.I. Newhouse for 29.5 million USD. However, the story does not end yet.

The case of the remaining paintings came to life again when in 2005 part of the collection popped up at the Sotheby’s auction. Again, the Art Loss Register was involved in the case, and again M. Bakwin tried to regain his right to the ownership of the paintings with the help of English lawyers.

In the English court, a case was brought to the attention of the Sotheby’s and Erie International Trading Company. It must be emphasized that Sotheby’s was a party to this case only because of the possession of collection. It was obvious that Sotheby’s had nothing to do with the illicit acquisition of works of art.

At the same time, Erie Company founded the case in Geneva, as in the case regarding the ownership of the artworks mentioned in the contract, it was subject to Swiss jurisdiction.

In the English court, M. Bakwin tried to prove he was forced to transfer the ownership to Erie International Trading Company and the whole proposal was a forced situation. However, in the court in Geneva, the Erie Company has proved that their company is in legal possession of the paintings.

Soon, the English court took the side of M. Botwin’s lawyers. Thus, representatives of the Erie company to save the situation tried to reach the owner of the paintings.

The company came across a trace of Robert Mardirosian, a criminal lawyer who was supposed to represent the real thief. At the same time, the Art Loss Register established the connection between the creation of Erie Trading Company and Mardirosian. This could indicate that the robber was Robert Mardirosian.

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In order to get proof of whether Mardirosian is actually the unidentified owner of the paintings, the Art Loss Register reached for the case of the sealed document which was in deposit in London. By the court order, the document was opened.

The two signatures, one the statement and one from Mardirosian, were compared and confirmed to be identical. This was evidence that Mardirosian was involved in the theft of collection from the beginning.

Robert Mardirosian hired a lawyer who tried to prove that he received the paintings from criminal David T. Colvin. At the same time, Mardirosian has made public that David Colvin really stands behind the theft of works of art. Robert also involved a lawyer who tried to prove the veracity of his version.

Mardirosian claimed that the paintings were in his office thanks to David Colvin, who left them during one of the visits. Colvin was a Mardirosian’s client accused in a criminal case. He was on his way to Florida, and since he had nowhere to stay, Mardirosian offered him a place to stay for one night. In the morning, David Colvin disappeared and left the artworks.

The investigation indicated that the paintings had been in Mardirosian’s possession for over 20 years. Robert Mardirosian first moved them from Massachusets to the Swiss bank and then tried to sell at an auction in London. David Colvin could not confirm the Mardirosian version because he was shot in 1978 for a poker debt of $ 1,500.

Mardirosian was arrested by the FBI and finally, he the lawyer who possessed the happiness of the stolen paintings was sentenced to 7 years in prison in 2008.  Is reported by the FBI on its pages: “In November of 2008, retired Massachusetts attorney ROBERT R. MARDIROSIAN, of Falmouth, was sentenced to prison on August 18, 2008, for possession of stolen goods. The case of Stockbridge home in Massachusetts history.

In February 2007, finally, Michael Bakwin regained the remaining six paintings by means of court decisions.

Additionally, Bakwin in 2011 won a $3 million in a civil judgment against Robert M. Mardirosian.

As wrote John M. Guilfoil in boston.com: Michael Collora, the lawyer of Mr Bakwin said “I think the civil jury here has sent a strong message to those dealing in stolen art that there will be a price to pay for that activity’’.

Collora said Bakwin, who is now in his late 70s, finally feels that the story has concluded.

Dalia Banner

Sources used when writing the article:

  • Paul Cezanne. Życie i Twórczość. Maria Teresa Benedetti. Arkady. 1998
  • http://www.alaintruong.com/archives/2019/05/10/37326883.html
  • http://www.artloss.com/case-studies/cezannes-bouilloire-et-fruitshttps:/
  • www.businesstimes.com.sg/keywords/bouilloire-et-fruits-pitcher-and-fruithttps:/
  • www.christies.com/features/Masterpieces-from-The-Collection-of-SI-Newhouse-9761-3.aspx?sc_lang=enhttp:/
  • www.alaintruong.com/archives/2019/05/10/37326883.html
  • www.ifrancja.fr/iportal/twarze-cezannea-paryski-dziennik/
  • http://ow.ly/Ae8T30oPGE7

Photography and illustrations: images used for this article have been placed for non-commercial purposes and only for informational and educational purposes. Photographs contain information about the source or links to the source.

About the Author:

I am a co-owner of BeArte Gallery, art marketspace based in Denmark. I have an art education and I paint myself. I am also a part-time paint teacher for artists amateurs. Communing with art and contact with the artists is what moves me in life. Without art, my life would be devoid of emotions, higher meanings. I believe that thanks to Art, each of us has a chance to touch an absolute.

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