Monet’s water lily is just one of 200 artworks owned by Marcoses, but where are they?

Claude Monet’s water lily painting ''Le Bassin aux Nympheas' (1899)

Claude Monet’s water lily painting ‘Le Bassin aux Nympheas’ (1899)

By Cristina DC Pastor

The Claude Monet water lily painting that sold for $32 million appears to be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

There are 200 more works of art believed to belong to the family of dictator Ferdinand Marcos that remain unlocated, according to lawyer Robert Swift in a 2013 court hearing in Manhattan involving a “turnover case.” Swift is representing thousands of human rights victims of martial law who have filed a claim over the $32 million proceeds from the 2010 sale of Monet’s water lily painting titled ‘’Le Bassin aux Nympheas’ (1899) to a London gallery.

Vilma Bautista as well as the District Attorney’s office are named respondents in this particular turnover case. Swift is seeking the court’s assistance in asking the respondents to provide information on the 200 pieces of paintings. Swift alleged the artworks, purchased by members of the Marcos family, were lost around the time that the Marcoses fled the Philippines after a People Power revolution in 1986, and “turned up through Ms. Bautista.”

Bautista was recently indicted by the DA for “trafficking in stolen art and committing significant tax fraud.” The DA said she was not authorized to sell the Monet painting and failed to pay New York taxes from the proceeds of the sale.

So while Bautista and the DA’s office are battling each other in a criminal case, Swift’s human rights petitioners are fighting both of them in a civil suit.

“(Our) turnover case involves more than 200 works of art,” Swift told Judge Charles Ramos, according to a February 28, 2013 transcript obtained by The FilAm. “There are four involved in the criminal case. There are more than 200 involved in the civil case.”

The four paintings identified in the criminal case included Monet’s water lily painting. This one had been sold by Bautista for $32 million – for which she was supposed to get $28 million. However, minus commissions, the proceeds is down to about $15 million, which the DA was able to seized in two bank accounts, Bautista’s lawyer Jack Hoffinger said in the court hearing.

Three other masterpieces are currently being held by the District Attorney’s office as part of ongoing litigation. They are: Claude Monet’s ‘L’Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil’ (1881), Alfred Sisley’s ‘Langland Bay’ (1887), and Albert Marquet’s ‘Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said’ (1946).

“Your Honor, we don’t want to interfere with their criminal proceedings,” Swift said. “However, their indictment is much narrower than our turnover proceeding. Our case involves over 200 works of art. So we should be able to proceed as to those other works of art, not the works of art here.”

Hoffinger, representing Bautista, said the respondent has turned over the remaining three paintings to the DA’s office.

“We turned them over to the DA’s office and cooperated with them,” said Hoffinger, based on court transcripts. “We have no other works of art…what we had we turned over. That’s it.”

But Swift argued that “all the works of art, 200 same-odd were secured at the same time. These works of art turned up through Ms. Bautista. We want to find out from her where the others are.”

He continued: “We also need to find out the dates on which Imelda Marcos purchased all those different works of art, the title(s) that she had for the ones we are claiming.”

What Marcos properties are in the possession of the DA’s office is information Swift said he would like to find out.

The DA has said in its indictment that a “significant amount of artwork and other valuables” disappeared from Philippine government property including the Philippine Consulate townhouse in Manhattan around the time that the Marcoses have fled the country in 1986.


  1. […] DA seized Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” (1899) after Imelda’s former secretary, Vilma Bautista, offered it to a London gallery for $32 […]

  2. Pam Yu wrote:

    Excellent blog post. I certainly love this site. Keep writing!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: