Swiss collector Jean-Claude Gandur has filed a criminal complaint alleging the falsified provenance of an Egyptian Fayoum portrait from the 1st at 2n/a century AD He bought it in 2014 for “nearly € 1 million” from the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery in Geneva, he confirmed by phone to Artnet News while on a train to Art Basel.
Gandur filed suit on June 3 after a reporter informed him that the portrait had the same provenance as other suspicious artifacts that have recently made headlines, including the looted golden sarcophagus of the priest Nedjemankh, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned to Egypt in 2019.
Presented until recently at La Fondation Gandur pour l’Art in Geneva, the collector’s private foundation, the funerary portrait of a bearded man painted on a mummy fragment has traveled to museums in France and Switzerland and his image has was used by a Montreal museum for an interactive digital project.
“The whole world has seen it, and in more than eight years no one has reacted” to its dubious origins, he said, adding that he stopped buying antiques last year. “I have come to understand what is happening in this market, and there are many other [dealers and auction houses] which are not fully white [pure]. [Police] catch a few, and more will follow,” he said.
Like the looted Nedjemankh sarcophagus and a pink granite stele purchased by Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2016, the portrait is listed as having belonged to German collector Johannes Behrens and a dealer named Habib Tawadros. Gandur said he couldn’t find any evidence that Behrens existed..
The Geneva public prosecutor’s office confirmed the filing of Gandur’s complaint. The collector said he does not know who was ultimately responsible for trafficking the allegedly fake item, but the complaint ensures he has the potential to be compensated for the damages. (In Switzerland, it is possible to file a complaint against a stranger.)
The Fayoum portrait has other similarities with the allegedly looted antiquities under investigation. Two key suspects in the trafficking case, drug dealers Roben Dib and Christophe Kunicki, sold him for €355,000 at the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery in 2013, according to the art diary. A French judge, working in cooperation with the New York District Attorney’s Office, charged them with gang fraud and money laundering.
In the same case, the former director of the Louvre in Paris, Jean-Luc Martinez, was charged with complicity in organized fraud and money laundering in connection with objects which were allegedly smuggled out of Egypt. and purchased by Louvre Abu Dhabi. Through his attorneys, Martinez denied the allegations against him in a statement to Artnet News.
Gandur knows Martinez well, having worked with him at the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Zones (ALIPH), where Gandur is a board member and chair of its ethics committee. Until recently, Martinez was chairman of ALIPH’s scientific committee, but he “has gone on leave waiting to see what happens,” Gandur explained. “In my opinion, he’s a good man, and I believe he was abused, the same way I was abused,” he said.
“Hopefully this case will clean up the market, so we can breathe again,” Gandur said. “I’ve always collected ethically and I’ve been very careful. Suddenly I’ve been swept up in a situation beyond me,” he said, clearly upset. “It’s all wrong, it’s all been stolen. It’s scary, and I hope justice will prevail.
In an example of the diplomatic repercussions on the investigation, the French Ministry of Culture and Foreign Affairs temporarily suspended Martinez from his duties related to art trafficking, which were essential to his work as French Ambassador for Cooperation. international cultural heritage. He nevertheless retained his post as ambassador.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, whose acquisitions are approved by a joint commission co-chaired by the director of the Paris museum, is a powerful symbol of so-called French “soft power”. Created in 2007, the United Arab Emirates agreed to pay France 1 billion euros borrowing the brand, know-how and loans from the Louvre.
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