A stolen painting by Norman Lindsay sold by Sotheby’s

09:10:56 PM
07 2021

A stolen painting by Norman Lindsay sold by Sotheby’s

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My family is a family of artists on both sides, musical on my father’s side and of sculptors and painter on my mother’s side. My grandfather Cornelius Arthur Sullivan (1901-1963), was a baritone but was more successful as a businessman but this didn’t stop him from having an audition with "Melba", aka Nelly Armstrong (1861-1931), who was a famous Australian opera singer of the thirties that Australians are used to see as she’s the lady on the $100 notes. He didn’t win and came second as she chose John Browlee. My grandfather did not pursue his career as an opera singer, he instead became a businessman and before the Second World War he had some remarkable commercial insights because, contrary to general optimism, he understood that war would break out and that it would not be a short-lived war, so he bought all the rubber (natural rubber) available from Japan, England and Germany. So when Australia entered the war, it was not without the rubber needed by the Armed Forces of a modern army. But more than anything else it is known to Sydneysiders as in 1944 he rented, for a nominal rent of 10 shillings a year, his house at 6 Queen Street, Mosman (Sydney) to Mr. McLeod to establish the "Mosman Spastic Centre". Cornelius was also the first sponsor of the Mosman Spastic Centre and then he donated the house, selling it for a nominal price, to the McLeods and that centre was the first of its kind in Australia and possibly in the world. Cornelius was also a great lover of art, an art collector in the true sense, he knew very well famous Australian painters of the time, such as Sid Long and Sidney Nolan from whom he bought many paintings; my father, Craig Stewart Sullivan (1934-2011), always remembered that as a child, he had three or four painting lessons from Sid Long and one from Norman Lindsay. Obviously these were not "lessons" in the true sense of the word, he simply started painting with them and followed the advice that they gave him, but his artistic passion will take another path as he became an opera singer, a tenor. One of the paintings my grandfather bought from his friend Norman Lindsay was “The woman I am. The woman I was. The woman I will be” and this painting he donated to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. So in 1994 I went to see the painting donated to that gallery but when there with my surprise I was told that such a painting didn’t exist but that Lindsay only made a sketch and a print with that subject and title. Later on I wrote to my father to tell him what happened and he answered confirming that his father donated that painting to that gallery, so in 1997, I wrote to the art gallery of NSW asking if there might have been a mistake and if they had a similar painting, titled “The woman I am. The woman I was. The woman I will be”, by Sid Long or by Sidney Nolan, as my grandfather also was friend of those artists and bought many paintings from them too; The gallery did answer that the painting was “unknown to us”. My conclusion at the time was that the painting was obviously stolen by someone working at the Art Gallery of NSW and I wasn’t wrong as I recently found out that it was sold in 2009 at Sotheby’s for 300,000 AUD, giving as provenience: “Copperfield Gallery, Sydney Mr and Mrs René Rivkin, Sydney; purchased from the above on 14 March 1973 The Collection of Mr and Mrs René Rivkin, Sotheby's, Sydney, 3 June 2001, lot 40 Private collection, Sydney; purchased from the above”. Sure that NSW State Police, in Sydney would take the right action, I wrote them but I had no answer, so I then wrote to Don Harwin, Minister for the Arts and to the Australian Federal Police in Sydney but I had the same answer: zero. That that painting, an Australian icon, should belong to the people of NSW so I should have had an answer and they should have taken the right action but after all, why should I be surprised when I am perfectly aware of other cases of stolen art where the police did basically nothing? One of these cases in N.S.W. and four in W.A., with all the information they needed to re-establish justice... It is very sad if you think for instance what the French people did to save their art form the Germans during WW2, or what the Italians did during WW1 to prevent the destruction of art. That painting is a stolen one and my advice is to donate nothing to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Matteo Cornelius Sullivan

Source by Matteo_Cornelius_Sullivan

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