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Who was one of the most versatile artists of the Art Nouveau Movement?

Victor Horta
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Art Nouveau
by Uta Hasekamp

Art Nouveau was a phenomenon with many faces. Between 1890 and 1910, artists developed a variety of styles from the plant-like forms of the Belgian-French Art Nouveau to the ornamentation of the Viennese Secession. They were all striving to create a new, modern style and pursued a comprehensive renewal of art and, in some countries, a renewed national identity.

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Art Nouveau—
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Although the Art Nouveau style wasn’t around for a long time, its influence affected every form of art, from architecture to pottery to furniture design and even glass and pottery. This short video gives a brief overview of the Movement.

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Collecting Antiquities―Caveat Emptor
by Bob Brooke


The collecting of antiquities must be among the oldest of human hobbies. Whether a person acquires items for study, cultural preservation, aesthetic pleasure, or a combination of other reasons, it's hard not to be fascinated by an object from the ancient past.

While the media has focused on the treasures of Tutankhamun or the Elgin Marbles, hidden within most museums are countless smaller objects, the items from the everyday lives of ordinary people. Many objects like these are available in the antiquities market.

Part of the appeal of antiquities, usually defined as objects created in the Mediterranean region, is the connection with long-disappeared civilizations that nonetheless have a link with the present day.

Sometimes, they’re objects of great beauty or made with extraordinary technical skillt. They could be works of art or more everyday objects such as a Roman unguentarium, a glass container for oil. Unlike modern day antiques, antiquities tend to hold their value.

Most of the antiquities which survive today weren’t intended by their makers to be anything more than utilitarian or sometimes ritual objects, surviving more by chance than intention. These antiquities often pre-date modern religions and national boundaries.

Although an object may provide useful artistic or historical information, much academic research relies on the location and conditions of excavation. Until the advent of modern archaeological methods in the 20th Century, few antiquarians or museums paid much attention to the excavation context of their acquisitions.

Large quantities of antiquities appeared in commercial markets and private collections during the 18th, 19th and much of the 20th centuries. They are generally known as provenanced antiquities to distinguish them from the illicit trade involving modern-day looting of archaeological or cultural sites. Responsible dealers, collectors, and museums have learned the importance of studying collections and excavation histories in order to obtain data for future generations and also as a tool to avoid illicit objects.

Generally, antiquities come with paperwork detailing not only their age, culture, and description but also the collection information known at the time of the sale.

In recent years, the number of objects looted from ancient sites and museums has increased dramatically due to regional wars and conflicts. Most notable was the looting of artifacts from the Bagdad Museum in Bagdad, Iraq, in 2003. But many ancient objects were never looted from historic sites or even dug out of the ground.

Almost every country except the United States has enacted laws to limit or prohibit the export of cultural property older than a specified number of years. And because of this, no more artifacts seem to be coming out of these countries, leaving a dwindling supply of ancient objects that hasn’t already been donated to museums or purchased by collectors.

Ironically, there seems to always be more antiquities on the market and dealers to sell them. The collecting of antiquities by unscrupulous and greedy collectors encourages looting and smuggling, as well as government corruption.

But no matter what the object, it’s up to the collector to do due diligence in investigating whether objects brought to their attention have a clear and legal ownership or something more murky. But what constitutes due diligence seems to be rather vague.

WATCH A VIDEO:  The Scourge of Looting Antiquities

Conducting Due Diligence
Whatever due diligence is, it’s not easy. First and foremost, a prospective buyer should investigate import and export licenses for objects—were they legal to take out of the source country and were they legal to bring into the U.S. Secondly, the buyer should obtain a history of the piece’s ownership as far back as possible. Thirdly, a buyer should also contact the cultural ministry in the country from which the object originated to learn whether the piece has been listed as stolen.

Unfortunately, provenance can be faked, especially for smaller and less important objects. The Art Loss Register only contains information on objects stolen from public collections, not on pieces dug up illegally from an archaeological site and smuggled out of the country. Contacting ministries of source countries may be frustrating, since they have a reputation for not responding to inquiries, and when they do reply to a query, they’ll often just say, ‘It’s ours. Give it back,” without any basis for the claim.

Another problem arises if there’s no paper trail, such as import and export licenses, documentation of where the object came from, and who has owned it since it was first discovered. Was the antiquity brought out of the source country prior to the UNESCO treaty of 1970, when a certain level of documentation was less common, or more recently smuggled? A high percentage of ancient objects come with no paperwork—perhaps someone brought an entire collection of antiquities out of a country with a receipt for the lot, but later the collection was broken up, with individual objects going here and there with no identifying source material, and hardly any information about its original in-situ location.

While collecting antiquities can be profitable, their provenances can also bite back. Governments take a greater interest in whether artifacts may have left the country illegally and sales become more politically loaded. A collector could conceivably buy an ancient artifact, only to have it confiscated by the source country later on, thus not only losing the object but also the money invested in it as well.

A few decades ago, dealers, auction houses, and collectors felt much less pressure to trace back the ownership of an object to discover if it had been legally obtained. Today, provenance has become a hot issue as buyers seek assurances that they aren’t buying illegal or looted pieces, especially where cultural ministries are increasingly challenging the ownership of objects that come up for public sale.

Would-be buyers of antiquities should exercise maximum caution when considering a purchase. If they open any catalogue from an auction house or antiquities dealer to check how many objects have export licences from the true country of origin, they’ll usually find there are none. That can leave buyers at risk, since there’s no documentary proof that an object left its country of origin legally. In fact, buyers should take the initiative to contact the relevant culture ministries in the countries from which an ancient object originated to check that it’s sale is legitimate.

When it comes to the buying antiquities, either at auction or directly from an antiquities dealer, buyers should consider a term often expressed in ancient Rome: Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware).

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