A multimillion-dollar trove of seized Impressionist art believed to have been owned by the regime of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos has sat for five years in a climate-controlled Brooklyn warehouse, the subject of a bitter legal fight.
At issue is whether the 50 works — which include an 1881 painting by Claude Monet — should go to thousands of victims of the now-dead dictator, to the current Philippine government or to the personal secretary to Imelda Marcos, who contends she was rightfully given some of the art as gifts.
"It's a question of who is the owner and who is entitled," said Robert Swift, a human rights attorney representing nearly 10,000 victims of the Marcos regime who in 2011 won a judgment against Marcos, his estate and Imelda, his wife.
Of particular interest in the long-running, multi-jurisdictional case is an 1899 Monet from the "Water Lilies" series called "Le Bassin aux Nymphéas," that the secretary, Vilma Bautista, sold in 2010 for $32 million. The other highly disputed items are three other prominent paintings still locked away in storage — an 1897 Alfred Sisley painting called "Langland Bay"; Monet's 1881 "L'Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil"; and Albert Marquet's 1946 "Le Cyprès de Djenan Sidi Saïd."
Both the government agency established by the Philippines to recover billions of dollars in assets believed to have been amassed during Marcos' 14-year regime, the Presidential Commission on Good Government, and Swift believe they're entitled to the paintings.