"A Silly Thing to Steal"


So said my cab driver on the way down to the BBC’s Aberdeen studios bright and early this morning to talk about the recovery of the Da Vinci yesterday. A stream of the interview is available here.

I’m not sure I was able to offer much more insight. Details on this recovery are still sketchy. The FBI estimates the size of the illicit trade in art and antiquities at $6 billion, which is quite a sum. A better estimate may be the idea put forth by Simon Houpt in the excellent Museum of the Missing that if we were able to collect all the stolen works in one single museum, it would be the world’s greatest by a good measure.

Why then was the work stolen? This question will surely be answered in the coming months, but there are three reasons usually given. First it may have been a theft to order. This seems the least likely. If you have a masterpiece you want to show it off and put it on display. Second, the thieves may have been unaware how hard this kind of work might have been to sell. Finally, and most likely I think is the thieves may have wanted to ransom the work back to the Duke of Buccleuch or to the insurance company. This is just idle speculation, but I wonder if the passing of the Duke last month may have encouraged the thieves to think they could dispose of the work.

In any event this is a fantastic recovery. Police recovered the work yesterday from the law offices of HBJ Gateley Wareing; and arrested a partner in the firm and three other men. At this point there are far more questions than answers. An interesting issue may be whether the lawyer committed any wrongdoing, or if he in fact alerted the authorities to the location of the work. I’ll confess to a total ignorance of the professional rules of conduct for lawyers in Scotland, but I would venture a guess that assisting a client in committing a crime is frowned upon. Various news reports have speculated that the lawyer may have been assisting in repatriation, or looking at how to draft a contract under Scots law to allow the return of the painting.

There are other initial questions I have. For starters has the work been damaged? Will the work return to Drumlanrig Castle? What is the insurance agreement regarding the work? If an insurance policy has been paid out, the insurer now may have title to the work, but the Duke’s estate may be able to trade the money paid for the work, depending on the agreement.

The four men will appear at Dumfries Sheriff Court this morning, so more details should be forthcoming this afternoon.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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