Missing Monet

Aria Marco, Rachel Smiley and Freya Yost

Picture it, 1985, the upper east side of Manhattan. On a clear day, a truck pulls up outside the town house of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines. As crates are loaded into the truck, a Monet painting goes missing, not to resurface for nearly 3 decades.

Flash forward to the present day: Downtown, in a Manhattan courthouse, the former secretary of Imelda Marcos, Vilma Bautista, and her two nephews, are being tried for conspiracy and tax fraud for the sale of Monet’s “Japanese Footbridge over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny”.

How did they get here? In 1985, following the overthrow of the Marcos government in the Philippines, all the artwork and artifacts which had adorned Imelda Marcos’ Upper East Side townhouse were packed up and removed. The whereabouts of many of these works remained unknown until 2010, when investigators finally caught a break. A Monet resurfaced in a London art gallery, sold by an indebted Bautista.

According to Bautista, the First Lady gifted her the painting. She kept it for 20 to 30 years, until a 2009 debt crisis forced her to sell it.

The painting’s next stop was a London art gallery, where it was subsequently sold for $43 million. A small portion, $5 million, was allegedly transferred to the Marcos family, although there is no proof. Now the Philippines government wants it back, but they are not the only one with a claim to the painting. Alan Howard, a British hedge fund manager, purchased the painting in 2010 from the gallery under the impression that the sale was legitimate, and he wants the painting returned.

Back in New York, a tangled legal battle rages on. But is Bautista just the victim of Imelda's treachery? Could Imelda have purposely left the Philippines most expensive piece of art off the stolen art registry so that her secretary could covertly sell it for Imelda's own profit? This theory explains the 1991 "certificate of authority" from Imelda, to sell the painting and receive the proceeds. According to Bautista's lawyer in New York, this is the case, but she simply never got the chance to forward the money.

Update: On November 18, 2013, Vilma Bautista was convicted by a jury in New York of conspiracy and tax fraud charges. The fate and rightful ownership of the artwork is as yet undecided.

Bibliography and Credits
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