With the Sale of Imelda Marcos’s Ill-Gotten Paintings at Christie’s, $4.3 Million Will Head Back to the Phillippines

Among the works sold on Monday was Claude Monet’s 'L’église à Vétheuil' (1881).

Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos pays her respects to a glass enclosure holding the preserved body of thelate Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos 11 September 2005 marking his 88th birthday in Batac, Ilocos norte, northern Philippines. Photo courtesy Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images.
Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos pays her respects to a glass enclosure holding the preserved body of thelate Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos 11 September 2005 marking his 88th birthday in Batac, Ilocos norte, northern Philippines. Photo courtesy Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images.

Decades after former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, assembled a collection of major Impressionist paintings using money embezzled from Philippine taxpayers, the taxpayers were finally reimbursed after three works were sold at Christie’s, New York on Monday. Altogether, they made close to $4.3 million—netting a healthy profit, albeit one that took some three decades and much legal wrangling to secure.

Claude Monet’s L’église à Vétheuil (1881) had been bought by the Marcoses at Marlborough Fine Art in 1975 for $138,000 and sold at auction for $3.1 million. The second work, Alfred Sisley’s Langland Bay (1897), was also bought from Marlborough around the the same time for $82,000. On Monday, it sold for $1.1 million.

A third painting, Le cyprès de Djenan Sidi Saïd (1946) by the minor French Fauvist Albert Marquet, sold for $87,500.

According to Christie’s, in 1985 Imelda Marcos had given all three works to her former personal secretary, Vilma Bautista, for safekeeping as their grip on power began to slip. Months later, the Marcoses were removed from office by a popular uprising in 1986. Bautista subsequently took the artworks with her to New York.

Claude Monet, <em> L'église à Vétheuil</em> (1881). Image courtesy Christie's

Claude Monet,
L’église à Vétheuil
(1881). Image courtesy Christie’s

In 2010, the three paintings were discovered in two houses in New York City as part of an investigation into Bautista’s finances launched by US authorities after she failed to disclose the $32 million sale of an 1899 Monet on her tax returns. According to the Telegraphthe painting was eventually bought by British hedge-fund manager Alan Howard, who reached a $10 million settlement with a victims group to keep the painting.

Alfred Sisley, <em>Langland Bay</em> (1897) . Image courtesy Christie's.

Alfred Sisley, Langland Bay (1897) . Image courtesy Christie’s.

The three remaining Impressionist works were subject to a protracted legal dispute, with a group advocating for Filipinos affected by the dictatorship, the current government of the Philippines, and Bautista, each making an ownership claim. An order issued by a district court in New York eventually ruled that the proceeds from the sale of the works should benefit the Republic of the Philippines.

Bautista started a six-year jail sentence in New York last year after she was found guilty of fraudulently selling art that belonged to the Philippines and failing to pay $3.5 million in income taxes to New York City and New York State.


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