ART THEFT … And Then came George!

Posted by on 14. August 2016


The dealer in chuches and monasteries ...


… and The Cloisters in New York


… St-Michel-de-Cuxa ...

FIRST OF ALL – you might know The Cloisters in New York, this seeming- ly mispla- red roma- nic-gothic monas- tery on the nor- thern tip of Manha- ttan, overlooking the big city. Naturally, you called it a copy, as I did for years.Then you discover, that the Metropolitan Museum, only a couple of miles away, has those parts on exhibition which seem to be missing from The Cloisters: columns, capitals, arches, sculptured heads, gargoyles. And then, on the northern slopes of the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, 45 km or 28 miles west of Perpignan, you hear of the fabulous monastery of St-Michel-de-Cuxa, founded in the 9th century, you drive along the Tet river in a romantic valley, St-Michel pops up – and you find it restored to death! Because the best antiquities are missing! Hundreds of more than 1000 years old objects: columns, capitals, arches, sculptured heads, gargoyles. As I mentioned before. Suddenly you know: you’ve seen the missing parts in The Cloisters and the Metropolitan Museum! And how did it happen? Because in 1906 the unsuccessful American sculptor George Grey Barnard travelled in the region, stopped being an artist and decided to become a dealer, got in touch with collectors like the old Rockefeller and the directors of the leading museums in the USA, promised them the best romanic and gothic artifacts they had ever seen, took their money and bought literally everything. He emptied the monastery St-Michel-de-Cuxa and the churches in the vicinity, shipped tons over the Atlantic (including unshippable things like complete cloisters), made a fortune, build The Cloisters and a private museum with the leftovers from his trade, and was even sentenced to prison by the French government for the „illegal export of protected national treasures“. But Barnard escaped, came back, continued robbing holy places – and had no trouble at all, finding supplies and sources. The abbots and priests, bishops and mayors were only to eager to turn into cash the art in their power. Barnard was welcome with his dollars, he had now dozens of customers in the USA, it is estimated now that he transported about 100 shiploads or more than 300 tons of sculptured stone to New York, his base. On beliefs that 80 % of all romanic or gothic artifacts in the United States, on display or hidden in private collections, came from Barnard and were acquisitioned between 1906 and 1925. He died in 1938, being 75 years old and considerably wealthy. The French sellers of the national treasures never went to trial, the churches and monasteries in the Tet river valley are pretty empty now (but still beautiful) – and Barnard’s dollars have long ago disappeared into the clear sky over the Pyrenees mountains … – I strongly suggest to travel there, see the unbelievable with your own eyes and next time you are in New York, embrace the missing parts …

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