“Thieves Took $500M in Art in 81 Minutes.” Accessed March 26, 2013. http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/22/thieves-took-500m-in-art-in-81-minutes/.
|Have you seen these works? If so you might be entitled to a $5 million reward…|
But the headline makes it seem a recovery is closer at hand than it may be. Every day after St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve come to expect pieces discussing the theft of $500 million worth of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
But today’s stories are a little different. The FBI has used today’s anniversary to “widen the aperature of awareness” of the crime through a press release, webpage, and billboards. They say they know that the art was transported to Connecticut and Philadelphia after the theft. And the FBI even says it knew who the thieves are, though they aren’t releasing that information. What they hope to accomplish is a recovery, and to do that they need a member of the public to come forward with some information. It’s a worthy goal, hopefully the attention will finally secure the return.
Auction houses are often in the news for the fantastic sums their works achieve, or for protesting they didn’t know this or that work was looted or stolen. It’s not often they are the victims of theft. This work by Turner prize-winner Douglas Gordon has been stolen from Christie’s auction house. There are fears it is likely going to be melted down for its scrap value. Given the work is solid gold, that scrap value is considerable, likely £250,000. Apparently Christie’s was not forthcoming about details of the theft to the artist, who was also the sculpture’s owner:
He said Christie’s only told him about the disappearance of the sculpture after he had spoken about the theft elsewhere. Gordon, who owns the work, said: “It is like someone borrowing your car, and then you finding out from a neighbour that it has been crashed,” he said. “It looks like I am the last person in the chain to know.” Gordon said he had first heard of the theft second-hand, from a curator, last week; a Christie’s representative contacted him on the morning of 29 November, 16 days after the crime was reported to the police. Scotland Yard confirmed it was “investigating the alleged theft of a piece of artwork from a secure warehouse in the King Street area of Westminster. The incident was first reported to police on 12 November”. A Christies’s spokesman said: “This matter is under investigation and we are in contact with all parties involved. We cannot comment further.” A source at the auction house said Gordon’s gallery had been informed right away, and that a Christie’s representative had attempted to contact the artist on 28 November. The theft from Christie’s storage facility – which claims on its website “world-class security, management and expertise” – is likely to cause significant reputational damage for the auction house. A spokesman declined to comment on arrangements at the storage facility, citing the need to keep security measures confidential. A source said: “Given the sheer volume of works of art that come in, this as an extraordinarily rare thing to happen.”
There are no reported details about the theft from the storage facility.
- Charlote Higgins, Turner prize-winner’s work stolen from Christie’s, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/nov/29/turner-sculpture-stolen-christies (last visited Nov 29, 2012).
|Four recovered works from this photo released
by the South African Police Service
Four works of art stolen from a museum in Pretoria South Africa appear to have been discarded hundreds of miles away near the coast in Port Elizabeth. On Sunday the thieves paid for their admission to the art museum and asked the curator to show them around the museum. Then, presumably after seeing what they liked they pulled out their pistols and stole five works of art. Today it seems four of the works have been recovered in a private cemetery 700 miles away. There must be an interesting story here, perhaps more details will emerge and that fifth painting will hopefully be recovered soon.
Yesterday we learned that the Kunsthal Museum (I’ve also heard it described as essentially a gallery) had suffered a theft of seven works of art in a late night theft, likely aided by the building’s difficult-to-secure windows. The tireless Catherine Sezgin has a good roundup of all the news reports at the ARCA blog. Here’s some reactions from the security and law enforcement experts I found thoughtful:
Anthony Amore, the director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston debunks the popular impression of art thieves in an Op-Ed for the New York Times:
As usual, a combination of master art thieves and faulty security was blamed. But this seductive scenario is often, in fact, far from the truth. Most of us envision balaclava-clad cat burglars rappelling through skylights into museums and, like Hollywood characters, contorting their bodies around motion-detecting laser beams. Of course, few of us have valuable paintings on our walls, and even fewer have suffered the loss of a masterpiece. But in the real world, thieves who steal art are not debonair “Thomas Crown Affair” types. Instead, they are the same crooks who rob armored cars for cash, pharmacies for drugs and homes for jewelry. They are often opportunistic and almost always shortsighted.
Chris Marinello of the Art Loss Register tells NPR’s Morning Edition:
MONTAGNE: And do insurers pay ransom?
MARINELLO: Absolutely not, they do not want to encourage further art theft and then the thieves are going to have to go to Plan C. They usually contact me and see if I have any ability to pay them to return the works. They won’t succeed there, either. The pieces are likely to travel in the underworld at a fraction of their true value, maybe five or 10 percent, used as currency for drugs, weapons, even something called a Get Out of Jail Free card. If a criminal thinks that they’re going to be arrested, they may try to make a deal with the prosecutor for a lesser sentence, if they have information that leads to the recovery of the seven paintings.
MONTAGNE: Is it likely than that they will resurface eventually?
MARINELLO: Well, I have a lot of faith in the Dutch police and they are meticulous. We might see something over the next few weeks. I mean sometimes when they realize they can’t get rid of the haul that they just brought home, they just return them. But if we don’t see that happening in the next few weeks, it could be decades before these resurface.
Bob Wittman, formerly of the FBI’s art crime team talks to the Atlantic:
Here’s the story on selling stolen art. Paintings that are stolen like last night, those pieces that were taken out of the Kuhnsthal museum, are not going to get sold on any kind of market, whether it’s a black market or any kind of market. They’re going to get recovered. But what happens with pieces that are worth much less — let’s say the $10,000 and less market, pieces that aren’t well known — is a burglar goes into a home and steals a $5,000 painting. That can be sold in a flea market, that can be sold on what they call the secondary art market, because it’s not well known. And that’s the vast majority of art heists. It’s not these once a year museum thefts. It’s burglaries around the world. And that’s the major part of the art theft business and the collectibles business. Even the smaller works of art have no value if they have no provenance, authenticity, or legal title. But when you talk about pieces that are under that amount, people don’t do the due diligence. When people go in and pay $5 million for a Cézannes, they’re going to do the due diligence to make sure everything is right. If a piece is $300 at a flea market, it’s not done.
|One of the 7 stolen works|
In what is being called a well-planned and bold theft, thieves stole seven works in a pre-dawn theft from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam. Alarms went off at the museum after 3 am, and security found there were 7 missing works.
Ton Cremers told the Dutch outlet De Volkskrant that the problem may be with the layout of the museum itself, which while great to view art is difficult to secure: “As a gallery it is a gem. But it is an awful building to have to protect. If you hold your face up to the window at the back you have a good view of the paintings, which makes it all too easy for thieves to plot taking them from the walls”.
|The large windows at the Kunsthal museum|
Many will likely begin imagining what high sums these stolen works could bring on the market. And there will of course be much of the usual speculation about why the works were stolen and how the thieves plan to benefit from their theft. But much of that discussion is moot because these stolen works are now well-known. Images of the stolen works are surely being given to the Art Loss Register, law enforcement agencies, and art dealers, so these works can never be sold in a legitimate market. In one sense then their market value means little.
They have a kind of value though, in that they are so precious, that the museum, the owners, and the authorities may be willing to take—or at least the thief thinks they will take—the unwise step of paying a ransom. Or other criminals may try to launder some or all of the works through different individuals, in much the same way the Leonardo Yarnwinder was transferred. As a kind of a very beautiful set of poker chips.
It might be possible that a rich mastermind has so-enjoyed these works that he or she hired thieves to steal the art.But these real-life Dr. No’s don’t really exist. I admit it makes for good Bond villains, but there has been no convincing evidence that this is why people are stealing rare objects. Most likely of all, these beautiful clear windows made for such an easy target that the thieves stole first and will decide to worry about selling the works later.
Here is the current list of stolen works:
Pablo Picasso’s Tete d’Arlequin;
Henri Matisse’s La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune;
Claude Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, London, and Charing Cross Bridge, London;
Paul Gauguin’s Femme devant une fenetre ouverte,
Meyer de Haan’s Autoportrait and
Lucian Freud’s Woman with Eyes Closed.
|Paysage Bords de Seine, Renoir|
Every time I hear the story of a flea market sale where some lucky buyer with a good eye purchased a work by a well-known artist, I always think that chances are good that work was stolen at some point. How does a Renoir make it to a flea market, really. And that’s the story of this Renoir purchased at a flea market in West Virginia for $7. It was scheduled for auction this week, but now it looks likely to have been stolen some time before 1951 from the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The painting has not it seems been reported to art loss databases. The Washington Post notes that its own reporters conducted research and found the painting was missing from the Baltimore Museum of Art:
Museum officials then searched their archives, where they found paperwork showing that the Impressionist work, “Paysage Bords de Seine,” or “Landscape on the Banks of the Seine,” was pilfered from their building nearly 61 years ago. The museum had the painting on loan from one of its famous benefactors, Saidie A. May, a Baltimore native who died in May 1951. Museum records show that the Renoir was stolen on Nov. 17, 1951, just as May’s art collection was being bequeathed to the museum for permanent ownership. The revelations put on hold Saturday’s much-ballyhooed auction of the Renoir at the Potomack Company in Alexandria. Elizabeth Wainstein, Potomack’s president, said the Virginia woman who made the flea market find was disappointed. But she immediately agreed to halt the sale until the FBI determines the rightful ownership of the painting, which the auction house estimated is worth $75,000 to $100,000. It will remain at the auction house until then, Wainstein said.
The case reveals the importance of reporting a theft, even decades into the future. There is no word on whether the doll and plastic cow the anonymous flea market art buyer also bought with the this $7 painting are stolen as well. But the buyer should get credit for reportedly cooperating fully with the FBI.
- Ian Shapira, Flea market Renoir was allegedly stolen from Baltimore Museum of Art, auction canceled, The Washington Post, September 27, 2012.
Composition en rouge et blanc,
Piet Mondrian, one of the stolen works
Jeffrey Gundlach is apparently one of “the world’s top bond gurus”. Unfortunately his financial expertise does not seemed to have carried over to safeguarding his stuff. Gundlach returned from a trip to his home in Santa Monica on Sep. 14 to discover that his art collection, some of his rare wine, and his 2010 porsche. There are scant details of the theft, but the collection of stolen art is considerable, with the stolen works from Mondrian, Franz Kline, Jasper Johns, and others.
Today at a brief press conference Gundlach announced he would be offering a reward of $1 million for this Mondrian, and $700,000 for the return of the other paintings. The details of the theft can only be speculated at, but some reports indicate the thieves drove away with the paintings in Gundlach’s very own porsche.
|Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow
with Flowers in Her Hair
On September 8, 2011 this work by Renoir was stolen by an armed man wearing a ski mask. The owner of the painting was upstairs and discovered the thief downstairs. Today the FBI’s art crime team has added it to their list of ten art crimes list, giving the theft and the work considerable exposure which substantially increases the likelihood of a recovery. The FBI notes that since the creation of the list in 2005 six paintings and one sculpture have been recovered. A reward of $50,000 is offered for information leading to a return. Information can be submitted online at fbi.gov.
Amber Slattery, a J.D. Candidate at Villanova school of Law has a comment titled “TO CATCH AN ART THIEF: USING INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC LAWS TO PAINT FRAUDULENT ART DEALERS INTO A CORNER” which appears in 19 Villanova Sports & Ent. L. J. 827 (2012). From the introduction:
Legal problems pertaining to the art world typically address ownership and repatriation of stolen cultural works to their original countries. Examples of Nazi-looted art spring up every year, creating uncomfortable demands between aggrieved former owners and current good-faith purchasers. Famous auction houses sell antiquities for which provenance cannot be established. Implicit in many legal issues pertaining to art is the fact that at some point, a crime took place. Fraud, theft, and trafficking are all crimes that begin with an act of greed and end with a piece of art or cultural property relegated to the status of contraband. . . This Comment explains the occurrence of high profile art fraud as it fits into the larger picture of art theft crimes. Section I introduces art fraud and the Wildenstein affair. Section II provides a comprehensive background on art theft. Section III addresses the underlying cultural reasons for nations’ differing policies and laws on cultural property. Section IV provides a survey of international laws and domestic laws from around the world that address art crimes. Section V addresses the effectiveness of American fraud law when applied to art crimes and discusses specific examples of recent art crimes. Finally, section VI addresses the viability of an ignorance defense to fraud charges in France and other civil law countries, how the defense would affect outcomes in the U.S., and how to prevent fraud of this nature from occurring again.