Several major paintings listed as stolen from a famous French collection have been discovered in a Swiss bank safe rented by the late François Daulte, a top expert regarding Impressionist works.
The paintings belonged to Anne-Marie Rouart, who died in December 1993 and whose succession led to a major scandal after her nephew Yves Rouart lodged a complaint before a Paris court for theft, receiving, breach of trust and swindling after he discovered that several works were unaccounted for.
In her will dated October 7th 1992 Anne-Marie Rouart indicated that she wished to donate her collection, including works by Manet, Corot, Berthe Morisot, Renoir and Degas, to the French Institute's Academy of Fine Arts on condition that a Rouart foundation should be set up to house most of the works, the best ones being destined to the Marmottan Museum in Paris. As a result this museum received some 150 paintings and drawings originating from the succession in November 1997.
Anne-Marie Rouart had also appointed Guy Wildenstein, the son of art dealer Daniel Wildenstein and Olivier Daulte, the son of Swiss publisher and art expert François Daulte, as executors. According to her will she donated to her nephew all the contents of her flat in Neuilly, just off Paris.
Under French law, the term «contents» includes all furniture and decorative elements such as carpets, paintings, sculptures or pieces of furniture. Yves Rouart stressed that the paintings discovered in the safe rented by François Daulte decorated that flat and accused the executors of having added a total of 40 works to those which had been deposited by Anne-Marie Rouart in the safe of the Wildenstein gallery. So far Yves Rouart received three paintings of little value and three bronzes, included one by Morisot and another by Rodin, from the succession.
Yves Rouart lodged his complaint for theft after discovering the disappearance of several paintings signed by Corot, Degas, Manet, Morisot, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. Some of these works were found in the safe rented by François Daulte who died last year.
After the latter's death his son Olivier and Marianne Delafond, his daughter, now working as a curator at the Marmottan Museum, discovered 24 works during an inventory of the safe, notably a landscape by Corot titled «Road descending from the town of Volterra» (signalled as stolen by Yves Rouart), two portraits of Manet by Degas, the «Cathedral of Strasburg» by Eugène Delacroix, a «Tahitian woman» by Gauguin, six paintings by Manet, nine by Berthe Morisot, two by Renoir, one by Toulouse-Lautrec and the copy of an Italian painting.
Swiss investigators have not yet determined how these paintings ended in that bank safe and why the heirs of François Daulte, notably his son who has been acting as executor of the Rouart succession, did not report at once their discovery to the judge in charge of the complaint lodged by Yves Rouart.
Yves Rouart noted that some paintings from the succession were still missing such as three paintings by Edouard Manet, including «The cabaret singer» worth some US $ 8 million, the portrait of his mother, «The Garden in Bellevue» and a work by Corot titled «Dreaming Bohemian girl».
The legal body of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, which reportedly met on November 8th to discuss that matter, indicated that a compromise solution should be found between the French Institute and Yves Rouart. However the responsibilties of François Daulte and the Wildenstein gallery regarding that case have yet to be determined. The main question is how come these paintings, considered as stolen, were secretely kept in a Swiss bank safe. The judge investigating that case might also ask how these paintings were transferred to Switzerland without the knowledge of French customs.
Daulte's reputation was already tarnished a few weeks after his death when many specialists challenged his opinions regarding some Renoir paintings which were eventually withdrawn from auction sales in New York fuelling rumours that these were fakes.