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The week in art news – Getty to return illegally excavated Orpheus sculptures to Italy

12 August 2022

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is returning an important group of life-size terracotta figures, known as Orpheus and the Sirens, to Italy after it was determined that they were illegally excavated and exported. The works, made in southern Italy in the fourth century BC, were acquired by J. Paul Getty in 1976, shortly before his death, for $550,000; they have been on prominent display in a ground-floor gallery at the Getty Villa ever since. Director Timothy Potts told the LA Times that the return will be ‘a loss as to what we can represent about the art of the ancient classical world […] It does leave a hole in our gallery, but with this evidence that came forth, there was no question that it needed to be sent back to Italy.’ The group will be sent to Rome in September, with the Getty working on ‘specially tailored equipment and procedures’ to ensure the safe transfer of the fragile objects. The museum has also made an agreement with the Italian Ministry of Culture over the return of four other objects in its collection, none of which has been on display in recent years.

In New York, a criminal arrest warrant is out for the 81-year-old Lebanese antiquities dealer Georges Lofti, issued by the Department of Homeland Security and district attorneys including Matthew Bogdanos, head of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) in Manhattan. In recent years, Lofti has often collaborated with Bogdanos and the ATU; a tip from Lofti in 2018 led to the confiscation from the Metropolitan Museum of Art of an Egyptian coffin, which was returned to Egypt the following year. Lofti is now charged with possession of stolen property; the 36-page warrant reveals that 24 objects have been confiscated from his collection, with values ranging from $20,000–$2m.

Jean-Jacques Sempé, the French cartoonist renowned for his illustrations for the children’s book series Le Petit Nicolas as well as more than 100 covers for the New Yorker magazine, has died at the age of 89. Beloved in France and internationally for his whimsical style, Sempé worked on more than 30 books over the course of his career. Earlier this week, it was announced that the English illustrator Raymond Briggs has died at the age of 88. His defining work was The Snowman, a wordless children’s book published in 1978 that tells the tale of a snowman who comes to life, which was adapted into an animated film in 1982. Other titles by Briggs include Father Christmas (1973) and Fungus the Bogeyman (1977). The Japanese designer Issey Miyake died this week at the age of 84 – read Hettie Judah’s obituary here.

A stolen work by the Brazilian modernist Tarsila do Amaral was discovered beneath a bed in Rio de Janeiro during a police investigation on Wednesday. Setting Sun (1929), reportedly worth $59.1m, was included in do Amaral’s MoMA retrospective in 2018; according to police statements, it was stolen from the 82-year-old wife of the late collector Jean Boghici, in a con organised by the woman’s daughter. The work is one of 16 paintings, with a total value of $139m, recovered during the operation.

The Tate has agreed to pay a six-figure settlement to three artists who were suing over breach of contract and race discrimination, the Guardian reports. The claim was issued by the artists Amy Sharrocks, Jade Monserrat and Madeleine Collie, after Sharrocks was allegedly told by the Tate that she could not work with Monserrat on the 2020–21 season of Tate Exchange, on which Sharrocks was the lead artist. Monserrat had previously made allegations of sexual abuse against Anthony d’Offay, the art dealer and major donor to the Tate. In an article published on Sunday 7 August, Sharrocks tells the Guardian that Montserrat was described as ‘hostile’ to the Tate by director Maria Balshaw. A letter to the Guardian by Roland Rudd, chair of the Tate, was published by the paper on Tuesday 9 August; Rudd writes of his ‘disappointment’ at reading the original article. ‘I know Tate regrets the way in which the relationship with these artists ended and has apologised to them for it,’ he continues. ‘Given that much remains disputed, I’m pleased that the situation was resolved before costs mounted for all concerned.’