Thursday, September 27, 2007

Will Princeton Follow Yale?

This week's Times Higher Education Supplement (September 28, 2007) carried a major story on "Yale and Peru Agree on Artefact's Return". I have already commented on this specific issue.

What is interesting about the article is that the THES notes:
"Several other US university museums remain enmeshed in controversies relating to the ownership of items in their collections".
Four examples are given, but the first held a great deal of interest for me:
"Italy asserts ownership of an Athenian red-figure wine cooler and an Apulian loutrophoros (pottery vessel) in the Princeton University Art Museum, which it says were taken illegally. The museum, which has returned a Roman monument, disputes this claim."

This is an old story (Julia Osellame, "Italian Government says university owns stolen art", Dailyprincetonian.com posted March 27, 2006; and see Princeton Alumni Weekly), but it touches on the article I have just published with Christopher Chippindale. (For the Princeton University Art Museum.)

In November 2005 Princeton issued a press statement:
"According to Susan M. Taylor, who has been director of the Princeton University Art Museum since 2000, “The museum purchased these vases in good faith and has no knowledge of any wrongdoing associated with their acquisition. If proof of illegality is presented to the museum, the vases will be returned, as we have returned other items in the past.”
A contemporary news report in NJ.com noted:
"Princeton University Art Museum spokeswoman Ruta Smithson would not say from whom the museum purchased the two vases in question or how much they paid for them."
The accession numbers have not been included in the reports. But Princeton acquired an Athenian psykter, attributed to the Kleophrades painter, in 1989 (acc. y 1989-69) [JSTOR - access restricted]. The list of donors who assisted with the acquisition is provided. An Apulian loutrophoros was also purchased in 1989 (acc. y 1989-29) ("Museum purchase, anonymous gift"). [JSTOR - access restricted]. This loutrophoros is listed elsewhere (in Vase-painting in Italy: Red-figure and Related Works in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [1993]) as one of the works attributed to the Darius painter that have surfaced in "recent years" - along with kraters in Berlin and a pelike which is being returned to Italy by the Getty.

Has the Princeton trail gone quiet? In the 2005 press statement it was stressed:
"In January 2005, the art museum provided Italian authorities with the information requested. Since that time, the museum has received no further communication from authorities in Italy, although they are quoted in recent press accounts as stating that they possess evidence that the two vases left Italy illegally and should be returned."
Yet it was reported in 2005 that the Princeton psykter is "listed in Hecht's indictment" (Vernon Silver, "Tomb-Robbing Trials Name Getty, Metropolitan, Princeton Museums", Bloomberg.com, October 30, 2005).

Things have moved on since November 2005. We have seen returns agreed with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

So here is a quick list of questions for the Princeton University Art Museum as The Record of the Art Museum did not provide the information.
a. Did the psykter and loutrophoros surface after 1970?

b. What are the recorded histories for the psykter and loutrophoros? Who owned them prior to Princeton?
Would anybody like to provide the information? Was the THES right to cite Princeton as an example?

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