The paintings were stolen from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, Palace of the Asturian Center. Image by Miss Bono. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Art stolen from Cuban museum, turns up in Miami

The paintings were stolen from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, Palace of the Asturian Center. Image by Miss Bono. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

The paintings were stolen from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, Palace of the Asturian Center. Image by Miss Bono. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

HAVANA (AP) – Dozens of works of art were secretly taken from a storage facility at Cuba’s flagship National Museum of Fine Arts and some have surfaced  in Miami, museum and gallery officials said Friday.

In a statement posted online, Cuba’s governmental National Council of Cultural Heritage acknowledged what it called a major loss for the museum, located on a main boulevard in central Havana.

“Last week it was detected that there was an important disappearance of pieces from a warehouse of artwork … of the National Museum of Fine Arts,” the council said.

It added that there was no sign of forced entry, and so far it had not been possible to determine when the theft took place.

“The wrongdoers cut the works and restacked the frames in an orderly way that could not be detected by a simple glance,” it said.

Most of the art taken was from the turn of the previous century, in particular pieces by the well-known 19th- and 20th-century Cuban painter Leopoldo Romanach.

Jose Antonio Menendez, director of Cuba’s National Registry of Cultural Objects, confirmed the theft and said at least some of the missing works had been found in Florida.

“The investigation is developing and we are concluding an inventory that will be made public,” Menendez told The Associated Press.

He said officials were preparing to distribute information about and photographs of the works “so that everyone is informed and nobody is taken in by a stolen piece of art.”

Prominent Florida art dealer Ramon Cernuda, who left Cuba as a young child in 1960 and runs a gallery in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, told the AP the thefts came to light after he bought a painting two weeks ago by Cuban artist Eduardo Abela from another local gallery.

Cernuda said he researched its provenance after the purchase and discovered it belonged to Cuba’s Fine Arts museum.

He said museum officials were unaware the painting was missing when he contacted them, and they asked him to investigate further.

He returned to the other Miami gallery and saw 10 works by Romanach that seemed suspicious because they had been cut from their frames – something only someone in a hurry would likely do. He did not buy the pieces, and said they too turned out to have disappeared from the museum warehouse.

“It’s almost always thieves that cut the work,” Cernuda said, “to save time.”

An inventory at the museum found 95 works were missing, Cernuda said. He informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation and handed over the Abela work to the agency Friday afternoon.

An FBI official said he could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

Cuba’s Cultural Heritage council said authorities would work to notify museums, galleries and auction houses elsewhere.

“It’s a regrettable occurrence for a place that has an acceptable (level of) security,” Menendez said.

Cernuda declined to speculate whether the other gallery may have been a victim of or participant in the alleged theft.

“I would be very suspicious in my gallery if someone came to me with 10 cut paintings,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed.

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Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-02-28-14 2313GMT


ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


The paintings were stolen from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, Palace of the Asturian Center. Image by Miss Bono. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

The paintings were stolen from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, Palace of the Asturian Center. Image by Miss Bono. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

'Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,' Camille Pissaro, oil on canvas, 1886. Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Paintings.

Woman claims university’s Pissarro painting stolen by Nazis

'Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,' Camille Pissaro, oil on canvas, 1886. Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Paintings.

‘Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,’ Camille Pissaro, oil on canvas, 1886. Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Paintings.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The University of Oklahoma for more than a decade has exhibited a piece of Nazi-looted artwork bequeathed to it by the wife of an oil tycoon. But renewed claims by a family that owned the oil painting before World War II has drawn the U.S. school into a fight it thought was settled in Switzerland more than 60 years ago.

Camille Pissarro’s Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep, an 1886 painting that once belonged to a French Jew, fell into Nazi hands as Germany overran Europe. The school maintains it is the painting’s rightful owner, citing a Swiss court decision from 1953.

Leone Meyer, a Holocaust survivor, has sued university President David Boren and the university in federal court, seeking the painting’s return. Swiss records show Meyer’s father was a former owner of the painting, but a judge denied a previous claim to the work because her family couldn’t prove postwar owners obtained it in bad faith.

“I find all of this very difficult,” Meyer wrote in an open letter, translated from French to English. “But I simply cannot surrender and say: ‘oh well … ’ That is out of the question.”

Raoul Meyer fled to the United States after Paris fell, but returned to Europe in 1945 and found the painting missing. He discovered it in Geneva six years later – a year after the statute of limitations ran out – but claimed subsequent owners made a weak attempt to prove the Pissarro wasn’t on a list of known Nazi-looted works.

The Swiss court found that postwar owners had done due diligence and rejected Raoul Meyer’s claim. Aaron Weitzenhoffer, an oil tycoon, and his wife, Clara, purchased the painting from a New York gallery in 1956. When she died in 2000, she donated more than 30 works worth a total of $50 million to the University of Oklahoma.

The Meyer family turned down an offer to buy back the painting in 1953.

University regent Max Weitzenhoffer, the son of Aaron and Clara Weitzenhoffer, said his parents had no idea the work was tied to Nazis. He also questioned why Leone Meyer is seeking the painting decades later.

Cases of artwork tied to Nazis have been popping up for years. But the artwork isn’t always restored to its original owners. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that actress Elizabeth Taylor could keep a Vincent van Gogh worth millions after rejecting claims by descendants of a Jewish woman who fled Germany for South Africa.

Ori Soltes, a co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, said it’s not unusual for people to be reluctant to hand over artwork that others claim was stolen by Nazis.

The difference in the Oklahoma case, Soltes said, is that the evidence is straightforward and the record shows the museum did little research into the collections that came into their possession.

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Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-03-02-14 0220GMT


ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE


'Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,' Camille Pissaro, oil on canvas, 1886. Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Paintings.

‘Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,’ Camille Pissaro, oil on canvas, 1886. Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Paintings.

Martin E. Sullivan. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

In Memoriam: Martin E. Sullivan, museum director, 70

Martin E. Sullivan. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Martin E. Sullivan. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Martin E. Sullivan, the former director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, died last week at his home in Piney Point, Md. He was 70.

Museum officials said Sullivan died Tuesday of renal failure after a series of illnesses. He joined the National Portrait Gallery in 2008 and left in May 2012, citing health problems.

At the Portrait Gallery, Sullivan is credited with reinvigorating its focus on portraiture as a medium of visual biography. During his tenure, the museum expanded its commissions of new works depicting notable figures, beyond presidents and first ladies.

Sullivan had a long career leading museums. He previously served as CEO of the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission in Maryland, director of the Heard Museum in Phoenix and director of the New York State Museum in Albany, N.Y.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-02-26-14 2213GMT