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Former fugitive opens decorative arts gallery

Roberto Polo, once the toast of Paris, returns in style

Roberto Polo is back. The glamorous Cuban dealer, who went from being the hero of the Parisian art world to a fugitive from justice, is now at the helm of Galerie Historismus, which opens this month in the Place des Vosges.

The enterprise is being backed by a British financier, John Dean, but will be run by Mr Polo. It will specialise in European decorative arts created between 1840 and 1910, roughly the period covered by the Musée d’Orsay.

Mr Polo was famous in the late 1980s for his excellent taste, and as a collector and benefactor of French museums, for which he was decorated by the French state.

However, in 1988 Mr Polo’s collection of 26 major 18th-century French paintings went under the hammer in Paris, after 13 clients of his company, Private Asset Management Group, filed complaints in Switzerland that he had embezzled from their accounts—charges he always insisted were trumped up.

He was arrested at a friend’s house in Italy and his case soon became a cause célèbre. After serving time in Italy without charge, a US diplomat arranged his release to stay with his parents in Miami. He was rearrested in 1992 and eventually extradited to Switzerland. He was convicted in 1995 but was freed five days later having served three years and eight months in prison.

His rehabilitation began in 2004 when he curated a successful exhibition by the 19th-century designer Edouard Lièvre at the Camoin-Demachy Gallery in Paris. Galerie Historismus will also sell works by Lièvre along with art nouveau and modernist pieces by designers such as Paul Hankar, Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, Bernhard Pankok, Patriz Huber, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser.