‘Stolen’ book of world leaders’ autographs turns up in Spain

Serbia is seeking help from Interpol to recover a dozen autographs from world leaders allegedly stolen from commemoration books following the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, officials said Tuesday, after the pages turned up for auction in Spain.

'Stolen' book of world leaders' autographs turns up in Spain
Photo: Belchonock/Depositphotos

The pages, whose signatories include then US vice president George H.W. Bush, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, are apparently up for auction in Spain this week.

The documents were posthumous tributes to Tito, who led socialist Yugoslavia from the end of World War II until his death in 1980. They were written into tribute books during official visits by the leaders to Yugoslavia in the years that followed.

Following a media report that the autographs had been stolen, Belgrade's Museum of Yugoslav History launched an internal probe and established that the pages were missing from the tribute books that were on display in a mausoleum that is part of the museum's complex.

“We reported the case to police and they will inform Interpol… We are waiting for a response,” museum official Ana Radic told AFP.    

The theft appears to have taken place before the museum took over the running of the mausoleum in 2015, she explained.   

“We also contacted the auction house and asked them to cancel the auction and provide us with additional information on the documents so we can confirm their authenticity” and recover them, Radic said.   

The auction in Malaga is scheduled for June 3rd.

The director of the British-based auction house said a colleague managing the sale “has been in touch with the relevant authorities and is complying with their requests for further information regarding the documents”.   

“In the rare event that the ownership of documents is brought into question then we are always willing to assist the relevant parties in further investigations and, if necessary, withdraw documents from the auction until the rightful owner can be established,” Richard Davie of Autograph Auctions told AFP by email, without elaborating.   

Among the other autographs that have gone missing are those of India's first female prime minister Indira Gandhi, assassinated Swedish premier Olof Palme, Cambodia's king Norodom Sihanouk, late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

A decade after Tito's death, federal Yugoslavia fell apart in a series of bloody wars, with its former republics emerging as independent states in the western Balkans.

By Katarina Subasic / AFP

READ MORE: Spanish police recover priceless cultural treasures in megabust of international art thieves.


Most expensive painting ever and it’s a Picasso

A masterpiece by Pablo Picasso has fetched a whopping $179 million (€160 million) at auction in New York, smashing the record for the most expensive painting.

Most expensive painting ever and it's a Picasso
Picasso painting Women of Algiers smashed auction records on Monday. Photo: Andrew Burton/AFP

It was the highest price for any work of art sold at auction, Christie's said, but fell short of the $300 million reportedly paid privately by Qatar for Paul Gauguin's painting “When Will You Marry?” in February.

Pablo Picasso oil painting, “The Women of Algiers (Version 0),” sold for €160.9 million after 11 and a half minutes of furious bidding from four to five prospective buyers at Christie's, where two auction rooms were packed.

Applause erupted when auctioneer and global president of Christie's Jussi Pylkkanen finalized the Picasso sale having cut through the frenzied excitement of the bidding war with laughter and jokes.

Just minutes later, the bronze statue by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti “Man Pointing” broke the record for the most expensive sculpture sold at auction, fetching €126,000 ($141.285 million).

Other world auction records were set for works by artists Cady Noland, Jean Dubuffet, Diane Arbus, Chaim Soutine and Peter Doig, Christie's said.

The auction house listed the buyers as anonymous but said clients from Asia, the Gulf, Russia, Europe and the United States had competed for the top 10 lots of the sale. 

Overall, bidders came from 35 different countries, it said. 

Exponential growth in the art market, particularly for modern and contemporary works, is attributed to a growing number of private investors around the world and burgeoning interest in Asia and the Gulf. 

The previous world record for an artwork sold at auction was €127 million ($142.4 million), set for British painter Francis Bacon's “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” which was sold by Christie's in New York in 2013.
Giacometti had also held the previous record for the most expensive sculpture sold at auction, formerly occupied by his “Walking Man I” that fetched €93 million ($104.3 million) in London in 2010.
'Extraordinary' number of new buyers'
“Buyers are coming to Christie's from all over the globe and tonight we saw a huge amount of competition against American bidding from European buyers and also from Asian buyers,” Pylkkanen told reporters.

“The number of buyers competing at the very, very highest levels who have only been in market for last five to six years was extraordinary.”

The Picasso and Giacometti both soared over their pre-sale estimates of $140 million and $130 million respectively.

The 1955 painting by Picasso is one of the last major paintings by the Spanish master still in private hands. He painted several versions until he settled on the nearly four-by-five-foot (1.2-by-1.5-meter) canvas.

There are only six casts in the world of “Man Pointing,” a wiry, nearly six-foot (1.8-meter) man holding up one hand and pointing with the other.

One is at the Tate in London and another in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Christie's sold more than $705 million worth of art at its 35-lot auction of masterpieces spanning more than a century from 1902 to 2011, and scored at its swanky New York premises at Rockefeller Plaza.

The third top lot was another Picasso oil painting, “Buste de femme,” which sold for $67.365 million.

In joint fourth place was a painting from Claude Monet's “The House of Parliament” series and Mark Rothko's 1958 “No 36, Black Stripe,” which both fetched $40.485 million.

The proceeds from public art auctions rose 26 percent from $12.05 billion in 2013 to $15.2 billion in 2014, and grew 422 percent between 2000 and 2014, according to Artprice, a leader in art market information.

“This will be the sale of the century,” Artprice CEO Thierry Ehrmann told AFP earlier of the Christie's evening auction.

New York's spring auction season began last week at Sotheby's, which sold a Vincent van Gogh painting for more than $66 million to an Asian collector. Sales continue until Thursday.