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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
01/12/2010

U.S. jury finds Pissarro artwork to be forfeitable as stolen property

NEW YORK - Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., the Special Agent-in-Charge for the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), announced the forfeiture Jan. 12 of a work by the artist Camille Pissarro known as Le Marché, following a one-week jury trial in Manhattan federal court before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan. ICE seized Le Marché from Sotheby's in November 2006.

According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:

In 1981, Le Marché was stolen by Emile Guelton, who walked out of the Faure Museum in Aix-les-Bains, France, with the work under his jacket. The museum guard and another witness provided descriptions of the thief to French law enforcement authorities, but no one was apprehended.

In 1985, Guelton came to an art gallery in San Antonio, Texas, and asked the gallery owner, Jay Adelman, to sell Le Marché for him. Sharyl Davis, who was using space in the art gallery at the time, purchased Le Marché for $8,500.

In early 2003, Davis consigned Le Marché to Sotheby's New York for a May 2003 auction in which Sotheby's estimated the auction price range to be from $60,000 to $80,000. When Sotheby's asked Davis for provenance information about the print, Davis could only remember the man who consigned Le Marché to the San Antonio art gallery as "Frenchie." Davis asked for "Frenchie's" real name from Adelman, who told her it was Guelton and that he was from Paris. That information appeared in the auction catalog with an image of Le Marché.

Just before the auction, French federal law enforcement officers learned that Le Marché was at Sotheby's. Based on the information in the auction catalog, the French officers located, contacted and interviewed Guelton. Guelton confirmed that he knew Adelman, was living in Texas in 1985, sent a container of artwork from France to the United States in 1984 and sold Adelman paintings. The French officers, using a prior arrest photo of Guelton, created a six-person photo array, which they showed to the Faure Museum guard in October 2003. The guard recognized the photo of Guelton as the thief.

Yesterday, the jury found that Le Marché was subject to forfeiture as property introduced into the United States contrary to a law known as the National Stolen Property Act, which, among other things, prohibits the transportation and sale of stolen property in interstate or foreign commerce. The U.S. Department of Justice sought the forfeiture of Le Marché in response to a treaty request from France that the artwork be seized, forfeited and restored to France.

Bharara praised the investigative efforts of ICE, and thanked French law enforcement officers for their partnership in the case.

The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office Asset Forfeiture Unit. Jeffrey Alberts and Sharon E. Frase are in charge of the matter.