Billionaire Art Dealer questioned over Art found in strongroom
Guy Wildenstein, the billionaire art dealer has been formally accused of “receiving fraudulently obtained goods” after 30 paintings and sculptures, worth several hundred million dollars, were discovered in his Paris Institute in a locked storage room. Some had been missing for decades. Many are believed to have been looted by the Nazis and are listed on the Arts Loss Register. Wildenstein, 65 is a leading financial backer and friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy. He has blamed the situation as “an oversight” by his late father. He has been placed under formal investigation by French magistrates who will decide what the charges will be brought. Wildenstein and Company was founded in 1875 in Paris and is one of the world’s most powerful art dealerships with offices in New York, London and Tokyo as well as the non-profit making Institute Wildenstein in the French capital. The case threatens one of the most powerful art-dealing dynasties in the world. The works were found in a raid by the L’Office Central de lutte contre le trafic des Biens Culture while investigating the estate of Guy’s father, Daniel Wildenstein who died in 2001. The investigation was on behalf of his stepmother, Sylvia Wildenstein who filed lawsuits declaring that was cheated out of much of the estate, which under French law 50% was hers. She died last year.
The works found included Cottage en Normandie, by Berthe Morisot, whose whereabouts had been in dispute since the 1990s. It now belongs to a French museum, Académie des Beaux-Art, having belonged to Anne-Marie Rouart, a descendant of Édouard Manet and bequeathed to the museum upon her death. Other works found in the raid included sketches and sculptures by impressionist, Edgar Degas, which were believed to have been looted by the Nazis from a mansion near Paris in 1941. The seizure of about 30 works has put another uncomfortable focus on the scandal ridden Wildenstein family. The courts are also seeking answers to questions raised by the Académie des Beaux-Arts in a lawsuit. ADBA is a prestigious French cultural society that has filed a legal complaint seeking an inquiry into the whereabouts of a missing Morisot painting. The Wildenstein Institute a non profit charity is run by the family as a research center in Paris. It is alleged that sculptures and paintings by artists such as Degas, Rembrandt Bugatti and Berthe Morisot have been carted off by the police. Some of the works were reported missing by Jewish families who claimed restitution rights through new laws instituted in the 1990’s. The law helps claim works stolen by the Nazis, from wealthy families. Heirs have had thousands of works returned through family estate settlements.