Trove of Rare Giacometti Drawings and Photographs Seized in Swiss Museum

The collection is the subject of a bitter ownership dispute.

Alberto Giacomettu at the 1962 Venice Biennale. Photo from Fondo Paolo Monti via Wikimedia Commons.
Alberto Giacometti at the 1962 Venice Biennale. Photo from Fondo Paolo Monti via Wikimedia Commons.

Swiss prosecutors have seized a trove of Alberto Giacometti drawings which have been kept in storage in the Grisons Museum of Fine Arts in Chur, Switzerland, for over two years as a result of a bitter ownership dispute.

The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation in Paris claims the trove—which includes 16 sketches and 101 photographs of the Swiss artist by photographers including Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Doisneau—was stolen decades ago. However, the foundation has not publicly named whom it is accusing of theft.

Sabine Longin, the foundation’s director of development, told Reuters it will only make public statements once the legal battle has been solved.

“They have asked us to confiscate the drawings and photographs, which we have done,” Claudio Riedi, of the prosecutors’ office in Chur, told Reuters. “Whether there is a separate request for them to be returned is up to the French court.”

The dispute has been unfolding quietly over the last two decades despite Giacometti’s fame and record-breaking market. According to the artnet Price Database, his 1947 sculpture Pointing Man sold at Christie’s New York in May 2015 for $141 million, becoming the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction. It was bought by the hedge fund mogul Steve Cohen.

Alberto Giacometti, Pointing Man (1947), bronze with patina, hand-painted. Courtesy Christie’s.

Alberto Giacometti’s Pointing Man (1947) sold for $141.3 million, becoming the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction. Photo: Courtesy Christie’s.

According to Reuters, which has accessed court documents—where Giacometti’s name is never mentioned—and questioned insiders on the case, the trove was in possession of the artist when he died in Chur in 1966, but ended up in the hands of a “great art lover” in Switzerland circa 1998.

In 2009, the Grisons museum enlisted Remo Stoffel, a local arts patron and property developer, to acquire the collection for over $1 million, who then loaned it to museum for a period of 15 years.

The collection was first exhibited in 2011, after which the foundation in Paris—which, with its holdings of over 5,000 items, owns the world’s largest collection of Giacometti works—filed a complaint claiming the works had been “fraudulently stolen.”

The Swiss police intervened in February 2014, and the trove has been kept in storage at the museum ever since. Reuters reports that two months ago, a Swiss appeals court rejected a request to allow it to be displayed, pending a court ruling.

“[The collection] offers a very important documentation of the artist and his private side,” the art expert Katharina Ammann, who collaborated on the catalog of the 2011 exhibition, told Reuters. “It is also the perfect accompaniment for the few Giacometti works already part of the Grisons museum’s collection.”

Yesterday, Stoffel confirmed his role as benefactor to the museum, but declined to make comments. The Grisons Art Museum director, Stephan Kunz and his predecessor, Beat Stutzer, who brokered the deal with Stoffel, also declined to comment when approached by Reuters, citing the legal proceedings.


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