Stolen Magritte Returned

Olympia by Rene Magritte, has been returned

In 2009 two armed thieves stormed the former home of Rene Magritte outside of Brussels. They held the three curators and two tourists at gunpoint while they stole the work.  Given the events yesterday at the Athens Museum, it is perhaps reminding ourselves why art thieves decide to steal. At the time I ran through some possible motives of stealing a work of art:

The first, is that a collector admires the piece, and hired a thief to take it for him. We can call this the Dr. No situation. This seems the least likely possibility, but the one that strikes a chord with the imagination. Writers in this subject frequently cite the Dr. No as being responsible for thefts, and I admit it makes for good Bond villains, but there has been no convincing evidence that thsi is why people are stealing rare objects. Another similar possibility  . . .  is that an unscrupulous dealer may have a similar piece for sale, and if he can establish some excitement around these kinds of pieces, the price for his similar work may go up. 

Second, the thief may not have known that the object was so rare as to make its subsequent sale difficult.

Third, the thief may simply be trying to kidnap the object. They could then [ensure] its safe return for a generous reward, or negotiate its return.

Finally, perhaps the market is doing such a poor job of regulating what is and is not legitimate, that it may not be all that difficult to sell this piece after all. This strikes me as the most troubling possibility, but also not very likely.

We can also add a fifth possibility, that organized criminals use these works as collateral in a kind of shadow version of the stock market.

In this case it seems the second possibility was exactly right, as now the work has been returned because the thieves were unable to find a buyer. In a report the Curator of the Magritte museum, Andre Garitte said the painting was returned after the thieves “understood they wouldn’t be able to sell it because it was too well-known,” he said. “It became an embarassment and they preferred to get rid of it. Luckily they didn’t destroy it.”

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

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