French Authorities Investigate Sale of Notre Dame Stained Glass by Sotheby’s After a Heritage Group Alleges It Was Stolen

The auction house denies any wrongdoing.

North rose window of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. Photo by Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

French authorities are investigating a sale by Sotheby’s auction house of a pair of stained glass that one heritage group claims were stolen from Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral in 1862.

The auction house offered the precious polychrome glass roundels, one of which features an angel holding a candle and the other an angel with an incense burner, in 2015. They sold separately with one fetching €123,000 ($132,000) and the other €111,000 ($119,000), trumping their high estimates of €60,000 ($64,000).

The catalogue notes acknowledged that, made in around 1250 and roughly 16 inches in diameter, the pieces had once been part of the monumental rose window of the cathedral’s northern transept, but were dismantled and replaced by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc when he restored the building. The provenance showed that the pieces were later sold by the stained glass restorer Edouard Didron sometime between 1877 and 1905.

Now, the legitimacy of that 2015 sale is being called into question. French police have launched an initial probe into a legal complaint filed Monday, September 11, by the French association Lumiere sur le Patrimoine (Spotlight on Heritage), which investigates the sales of heritage objects that it suspects may have been stolen.

It alleges that the glass roundels were never Viollet-le-Duc’s to sell because anything taken from the cathedral automatically belongs to France. The Lumiere sur le Patrimoine was set up earlier this year by its chair Philippe Machicote after he became aware of the 2015 sale while looking through old auction catalogues. He founded the association after he contacted France’s ministry of culture to share his concerns, but did not receive “a real response.”

“At that date [1877–1905], the cathedral belonged to the state, and had since the revolution,” he told Le Figaro. “Anything taken from it in the 19th century was de facto imprescriptible and inalienable. The situation is ludicrous.” He described the works as being “hidden in a sale of old paintings, sculptures, and drawings.”

Sotheby’s said it was not contacted by the association before the complaint was filed and has denied any wrongdoing. “Sotheby’s complies with all applicable laws, regulations and restrictions wherever we operate in the world,” it said in a statement to Artnet News. “Before offering property for sale, we conduct research and due diligence as appropriate to satisfy ourselves that there are no legal obstacles.” It also pointed out that a similar pair roundels are currently in Geneva’s Museum of Art and History.

“Prior to offering these pieces at auction, we obtained all required permissions and export certificates from the relevant authorities, as well as alerting the experts and museum curators,” the statement continued. According to France’s law of preemption, the state and its national museums have the right to buy any cultural goods before they are sold to the public via auction or private sale, although it must match the winning bid.

More Trending Stories:  

Fake Celebrities, Code Names, and ‘Stuffing’: Inigo Philbrick’s Collaborator Reveals the Elaborate Plots They Used to Con Collectors Out of Millions 

A Woman Bought a $4 Painting at a Thrift Store for Its Frame. Now, It’s Been Revealed as an N.C. Wyeth, Worth as Much as $250,000 

Sotheby’s Will Sell the $400 Million Collection of the Late Art Patron Emily Fisher Landau, the Market’s Most Coveted Consignment This Fall 

An Eagle-Eyed Hilma af Klint Fan Claims That Tate Hung a Painting Upside Down. The Artist’s Foundation Has Vowed to Investigate 

12 Must-See Museum Shows in the U.S. This Fall, From a Retrospective of Ed Ruscha to Breathtaking Botticellis 

Madrid’s Reina Sofia Has Reversed Its Ban on Taking Photos With Picasso’s Famous ‘Guernica’ in a Bid to Control the Crowds 

Price Check! Here’s What Sold—and For How Much—at Frieze Seoul 2023 


Follow Artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.

You are currently logged into this Artnet News Pro account on another device. Please log off from any other devices, and then reload this page continue. To find out if you are eligible for an Artnet News Pro group subscription, please contact [email protected]. Standard subscriptions can be purchased on the subscription page.

Log In