A portrait of the composer Erik Satie by Jean Cocteau and a Marc Chagall engraving, both missing from the Jacques Doucet Literary Library, turned up at the Millon auction house in June. The seller was identified as Marie-Christine Jacquot. Jacquot’s daughter, Sophie Lesiewicz, had been the Doucet’s deputy director, and was accused of being involved in looting those and other treasures from the library, which is just across from the Panthéon and contains—or, anyway, contained—“the richest collection of manuscripts, books and art involving French writers from the mid-19th century to the present,” according to The Times of London.
And now Lesiewicz is an apparent suicide. She had left the library last year, and had denied any involvement in the thefts. Sympathizers claimed the press had hounded her. Meanwhile, police are investigating an alleged management-run illicit trade in rare works, and the Doucet’s present director, Isabelle Diu, has been accused. “Staff said items from the library collection were being sold to fund other purchases for the institution,” reported the newspaper. Diu has denied any involvement (“I am stunned”).
Or that’s where it all started and, in a sense, ended. The British con man Robert Hendy-Freegard, who served nine years in prison for fleecing victims by posing as an M.I.5 agent—and was the subject of the movie Rogue Agent as well as the Netflix documentary The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman—has been extradited from Belgium and handed over to French authorities to face charges of attempted murder, weeks after he was pulled over on the E40 highway outside Brussels. He’d been wanted for running over and injuring two officers in August in Vidaillat, a village in central France. (His weapon: an Audi A3, the same car he was arrested in.)
The police had been called to Vidaillat because Hendy-Freegard’s partner’s son wanted to bring his mother back to England, “claim[ing] she was being coercively controlled by Hendy-Freegard and forced to live a reclusive life,” reported The Times of London. Residents of the village had seen the documentary, in which the son appeared, and alerted authorities. In any event, the couple had already attracted local attention on suspicion of illegally breeding dogs: their 30 beagles were probably the tip-off.
President Xi’s 15-part report at the recent 20th National Congress included a section (“VIII”) called “Building Cultural Confidence and Strength and Securing New Successes in Developing Socialist Culture,” and a number of China’s biggest actors wasted no time in heeding his call to “encourage people-centred cultural creation and production of more outstanding works that inspire the people.” Most notable among them was Zhang Ziyi, who starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. “In my future work, I will follow Xi’s directives … adhere to the Chinese culture stance, sing about the passions of the era, and better tell China’s stories,” The Times of London quoted her. “As an arts and culture worker, I’ve very earnestly studied and grasped the general secretary’s demands.”
Others eager to Secure New Successes, said the newspaper, were the actors Donnie Yen (“The making of Chinese films certainly will herald a new era under the guidance of the new leadership, with general secretary Xi as its core”), Tong Dawei (“We must closely follow the deployment of the party leadership, and we must strive to meet the people’s spiritual and cultural needs”), and Liu Tao (“The blood of loving the party and loving the country rushes through the body of every Chinese”). Ambitious goals, but they’re off to a good start—there’s clearly already a script in hand.
Are independent luxury hotels in Italy headed for difficult times? “We’re worried,” admitted the marketing manager of the five-star, family-run Hotel Mediterraneo, which opened in 1952 and overlooks the Bay of Naples. The concern, reported The Times of London, has to do with “international groups … buying hotels in the country’s major art cities and eight new luxury hotels [that] are expected to open in Rome” in the near future.
“Two years ago the Capri Palace, one of the island’s most luxurious hotels, was taken over by the Jumeirah Group, based in the United Arab Emirates,” said the newspaper. “Bill Gates’s Four Seasons group caused controversy when it emerged it was negotiating to take over the lease of [Rome’s] Palazzo della Rovere, a frescoed Renaissance palace, replacing the family-run Hotel Columbus…. Gates is also planning a six-star hotel near the Spanish Steps. It will be located in the 17th-century Palazzo Marini, which he has agreed to buy for $170 million.” Maybe Gates just wants to redefine, gradually, what “family-run” means.
The engagement of Norway’s Princess Märtha Louise to Durek Verrett, a California-born entrepreneur-shaman, has many Norwegians rethinking the line of succession. Verrett, who is the son of a West Indian–Norwegian mother and a Haitian father, “counts Gwyneth Paltrow and Antonio Banderas among his followers, [but] he is also a conspiracy theorist with unusual views on everything from cancer to Covid,” reported The Times of London. He has claimed, for instance, to have been cured of the latter by a medallion that he conveniently sells on his Web site for $222. “A majority of Norwegians want the fourth-in-line to the throne to renounce her title of ‘princess,’” said the newspaper. Verrett “has blamed such criticism on racism…. The princess said she was ‘really shocked’ to see how he and ‘black people and people of colour get treated’.”
The Norwegian historian Trond Norén Isaksen told The Times that “[Verrett] does receive some racist comment on Instagram, but the main problem is his business activities, which the princess is also involved in. The huge majority in Norway thinks it’s hogwash and quackery. And you can’t really reconcile that with the role of the royal family who are supposed to be an uncontroversial unifying force for the nation.” The newspaper noted that Verrett has declared, among other things, “that cancer in children is caused by unhappiness” and “that casual sex attracts subterranean spirits who make an impression on the inside of women’s vaginas, which he sells exercises to ‘clean out’.”
No wedding date has been set.
My Kid Could Hang That! department: The abstract painting New York City 1 by Piet Mondrian has apparently been displayed upside-down for the last 75 years—and will continue to be, because to right it would risk damaging the work. The art dates to 1941, was first displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1945—inverted, apparently—and has since 1980 been part of the art collection of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
“The way the picture is currently hung shows the multicoloured lines thickening at the bottom, suggesting an extremely simplified version of a skyline,” reported The Guardian. That caught the attention of Susanne Meyer-Büser, the curator of an upcoming show on the Dutch artist. “The thickening of the grid should be at the top, like a dark sky,” she told the newspaper. “Once I pointed it out to the other curators, we realised it was very obvious. I am 100% certain the picture is the wrong way around.” ¡sdoO —George Kalogerakis
George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL