Imelda Marcos, the ostentatious former First Lady of the Philippines, amassed quite an art collection during her family’s rule of the Southeast Asian island nation. She used state assets to acquire an astounding array of Impressionist paintings, including works by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Albert Marquet, during her late husband’s 20-year rule.
Many of Marcos’s souvenirs from that era are in a museum that has been damaged by Typhoon Yolanda 10 days ago, but some of the priceless artworks in her possession went missing from Philippine government property and the consulate’s Manhattan townhouse when the Marcoses fled the country in 1986.
It turned out her longtime secretary, Vilma Bautista, 75, pilfered four paintings, including one of Monet’s iconic “Water-Lily” paintings, and attempted to sell them. People have long suspected Bautista’s role in the thefts during the 1980s and in March 16, 1986, the New York Times reported that Bautista “probably supervised the removal of the profusion of Impressionist and 20th-century paintings, English antiques and other valuables that have disappeared from the [Philippine Government’s] town house.”
Bautista succeeded in pawning off the Japanese footbridge painting by Monet to a London gallery in 2010 for $32 million. But she did not disclose the sale on her state tax returns, raising eyebrows at the state Department of Taxation and Finance.
New York prosecutors charged Bautista and two of her nephews with trying to sell the paintings in November 2012 and almost a year to the day, a jury in state Supreme Court found her guilty of criminal tax fraud, conspiracy, and offering a false instrument for filing.
“More than 25 years after these masterwork paintings were looted, it took a jury two-and-a-half hours to come back with a guilty verdict against the woman who conspired to steal them,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said. “Vilma Bautista was found guilty of attempting to sell art she had possessed secretly for decades and knew to be stolen, and for selling a looted museum-quality painting for her personal enrichment. I want thank the jury and our prosecutors for their work in this case, which finally solves the mystery of what happened to four masterpieces of Impressionist art.”
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.