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Panama Papers Show Trail to Priceless "Lost" Art Collection of Greek Shipping Tycoon

Basil and Elise Goulandris
Basil and Elise Goulandris

Documents among the recently publicized “Panama Papers” shed light to a priceless “lost” art collection of Greek shipowner Basil Goulandris who passed away in 1994.
According to artnet news website, a report by Jake Bernstein of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveals details of clandestine art maneuverings through offshore companies.
One of the cases of the report refers to the impressive Goulandris collection that consisted of 83 paintings including artworks from masters such as Cézanne, Chagall, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, and Renoir.
After the death of Goulandris’ widow, Elise, in 2000, her heirs found out that the art collection had changed hands years earlier, and the paintings were now owned by a Panamanian company called Wilton Trading S.A., according to Bernstein’s story.
The Panama Papers report reads:
In 1985, according to Basil’s nephew Peter J. Goulandris, Basil sold the entire collection of 83 paintings for the extraordinarily low price of $31.7 million dollars to Wilton Trading. Despite the sale, the paintings never left the couple’s possession. During this period, Basil and Elise Goulandris lent the artwork to museums and sold pieces to dealers with the provenance listed as if the pieces belonged to them.
According to Bernstein, two lawsuits and a criminal investigation are underway in Lausanne, Switzerland in order to determine the whereabouts and rightful ownership of the collection. Elise’s niece, Aspasia Zaimis, pursued what she believed to be her share of the inheritance in Swiss courts, as she was named in Elise’s will.
Wilton Trading was purportedly created in 1981 but didn’t have directors until 1995. According to one Swiss prosecutor, the paper on which the sales agreement is inked “didn’t exist in 1985, and no one has been able to prove that any money changed hands,” according to Bernstein’s ICIJ report.
In November 2004, anonymous companies that were set up by Mossack Fonseca started selling some of the Goulandris paintings under the Wilton Trading umbrella. These included: a Pierre Bonnard painting, Dans le cabinet de toilette, sold by “Tricornio Holdings”; a Marc Chagall, Les Comédiens, sold by “Heredia Holdings,”through Sotheby’s, and another Chagall, Le violiniste bleu, sold by “Talara Holdings” the artnet news report continues.
On the sales catalogue entries are written as belonging to a “private European collection.” But only the Bonnard lists Basil Goulandris specifically. The respective holding company names are not mentioned in any of the lots, and both Chagalls list Pierre Matisse gallery in the provenance as well as numerous museum exhibitions.
According to the artnet Price database, the Bonnard went unsold at Sotheby’s London’s February 2005 sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, where it carried an estimate of $2.8 million–4.2 million. The Chagall, Les Comédiens (1968), offered at the same Sotheby’s London sale, sold for $2.3 million, on an estimate of $1.5 million–2.2 million.
A 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh depicting a basket of oranges was sold to a California collector named Greg Renker in a private sale. The Van Gogh seller was a company called “Jacob Portfolio Incorporated.”
According to the report:
All four companies were registered just before the transactions and shuttered shortly afterwards, leaving no public trace of who was behind them. The documents now reveal that all four shared a mysterious owner: Marie Voridis.
The Panama Papers report says at least one of the transactions leads to the identity of Voridis. On October 22, 2004, she transferred all rights of The Seamstress, an oil painting by Renoir, to “Talara Holdings.” Several weeks later, Talara Holdings transferred the painting back to Voridis, the artnet news story concludes.

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