A Stolen Picabia Painting Returned to the City of Nevers

Francis Picabia (1879-1953)
The River : Banks of the Douceline at Munot near La Charité-sur-Loire, 1906
Oil on canvas - 55 x 46 cm
Nevers, Musée de la Faïence
Photo : Sotheby’s

5/9/12 - Restitution - Nevers, Musée de la Faïence - Stolen from the Musée de la Faïence in Nevers on 12 January 1974, a painting by Francis Picabia entitled The River : Banks of the Douceline at Munot near La Charité-sur-Loire resurfaced in June 2011 during an auction in London. After joining the museum collections in 1935 thanks to a donation by Victor Bossuat, it was taken at the same time as Suzanne Valadon’s The Chestnut at Ségalas but recovered in Paris a few months later while the Picabia had probably left French soil. The story behind this painting is all the more surprising as it appeared at auction several times without ever being noticed as being stolen.
In fact, it was offered at Sotheby’s on 1st July 1987 - its title slightly altered (The Landscape instead of The River - then again at Christie’s in 1988, before reappearing at Sotheby’s New York on 8 May 2008, notably with a certificate of authenticity from the Comité Picabia, purchased in private agreement (since the canvas had remained unsold). Finally, during an auction organized in London, it was pointed out as being stolen by an expert from the Comité Picabia which had overlooked it earlier. Of course, it is well known the artist had a prolific production and that his first Impressionist style resembles that of many others. The city of Nevers therefore claimed the painting which was officially restituted by Sotheby’s this morning and will be presented at the Palais ducal during the Journées du Patrimoine on 15 and 16 September. No information was disclosed concerning the indemnity paid to the owner of the painting.

The work was not listed in the Art Loss Register, one of the most important databases in the world for stolen works which provides an image as well as the name of the artist and title of the work but requires payment to consult. However, it seems particularly strange that this work was not included in the Interpol database which is simple to access and free of charge [1] (see here), nor in the TREIMA base created in 1995 under the authority of the OCBE ; thefts before a certain date however, including the painting from Nevers, are not yet listed. Guillaume Cerutti regrets notably - and we had also expressed our own concerns here as well - that the information on TREIMA is not accessible directly to art market professionals ; finally, he insisted on the need for public authorities and private individuals to cooperate in establishing an updated database with information provided by all parties, allowing for a truly efficient system for finding stolen works whose appearance on the market offers few possibilities to owners for recovering their property. We all remember the Degas which was not mentioned in Interpol listings...

This Nevers landscape painted in 1906 belongs to the artist’s Impressionist period which, between 1902 and 1908, was influenced by the works of Sisley and Pisarro, long before he became a figure of the Dadaist and Abstract movements. His production at the time was well received although art historians today see it in a more critical light, as in the case of Arnauld Pierre [2] who writes that "Picabia, a belated rather than a late Impressionist, follows in Camille Pisarro or Alfred Sisley’s footsteps, repeating their motifs and appropriating their manner. [...] Many of the so-called Impressionist canvases by Picabia play instead, quite adroitly, with the possible confusion between a tribute, an allusion and a pure and simple misuse. adding that the painter recycles processes "by applying in fact a great deal of virtuosity, and, depending on the circumstance, drew from a large stock of images which were then becoming stereotypical of Impressionist landscapes."

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mercredi 5 septembre 2012


[1] Users must however register with Interpol before consulting.

[2] Arnauld Pierre, "La peinture est-elle un art ? Picabia et la photographie,les sources d’un problème.", Etudes photographiques, n° 5, November 1998.

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