The discovery of a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, stolen from a UK stately home in 1984, discovered in the collection of a Japanese museum is casting a shadow over the 25th anniversary celebrations of the world’s museum watchdog, ICOM, says Art Recovery International.
In 1984, the Portrait of Miss Mathew, later Lady Elizabeth Mathew, sitting with her dog before a landscape, by Sir Joshua Reynolds was stolen from the home of Sir Henry and Lady Price along with numerous other old master paintings and family heirlooms.
The Reynolds painting has been tracked to the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (TFAM) and is being claimed by the experts at Art Recovery International on behalf of the theft victims.
The timing is opportune. This week, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) is holding its 25th General Conference in Kyoto, Japan, designed as a forum for discussions surrounding the role of museums in protecting cultural heritage while dealing with issues of stolen and looted works of art.
Christopher A Marinello, a lawyer and the CEO of Art Recovery International, is representing the theft victims and is leading a campaign asking ICOM to intervene in the case and demand that its member museum comply with ICOM guidelines.
Christopher A Marinello said: “The timing of this conference presents ICOM with the perfect chance to demonstrate just how seriously matters of theft will be treated when encountered in its member museums.
“We call on ICOM to intervene with the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum and ensure a quick resolution of a painful mystery that has caused untold upset in the Price family for more than 30 years.
“TFAM claims that they acquired the stolen Reynolds in good faith from a dealer who purchased it at Sotheby’s in 1988.
“However, ICOM guidelines state that member museums must conduct independent provenance research on objects they acquire. A 46 year gap in the provenance should have been a major red flag for any cultural institution.”
The Tokyo Fuji Museum has been embroiled in controversy on several previous occasions since its foundation in 1983. The Museum’s founder, Daisaku Ikeda, is the president of Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect with a troubled history, often labelled as a cult. Later, in 2012, the Museum was forced to return a Leonardo da Vinci painting to Italy after officials determined it had been illegally exported in WWII.