97 Maps


Edward Forbes Smiley III, a 50-year-old former Princeton divinity student is slated to be sentenced in US District Court on October 17, after pleading guilty to the theft of cultural property. Between 1998 and 2005 he admitted to removing 97 maps from institutions and public libraries in the United States and the United Kingdom between 1998 and 2005. The maps are worth an estimated $3 million. One of the works include this 1578 Flemish map valued at $150,000. He was caught attempting to steal the map from the Yale Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library last year, after a librarian discovered an exacto knife on the floor and called the police.

Initially, one wonders at the utter lack of security at these libraries and institutions. How could someone just walk in and slice things up? On the other hand, Smiley must have acted and played his role well. He was and Ivy-league-educated map dealer, and it seems safe to assume that he looked and acted like he belonged in these places. Also, it may be tempting to throw Smiley under the bus and impose a very strict sentence. However, he did cooperate with authorities, and nearly all of the maps are going to be returned to their owners. Predictably, Library and Museum groups are urging a very stiff penalty for Smiley to discourage behavior like this in the future.

In other news, last Wednesday, 15 paintings worth and estimated £300,000 were stolen from the Clark Art Gallery in Hale, just outside Manchester, England. A reward of £250,000 has been offered for information leading to the return of the paintings.

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

Interesting Development from the Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has returned 13 artifacts to Italy, including this amphora depicting the murder of Atreus. The return gets notice in the New York Times as well. This is another in a long line of high-profile efforts by Italy to seek the return of its objects. The MFA press release points out how the museum has been at the forefront of providing provenance information of their works. Curious, I searched for a Degas painting and picked this landscape, and indeed a surprisingly detailed set of provenance information was detailed. I also looked up a Cezanne, and this work, titled Turn in the Road also had a great deal of provenance information.

This is quite a fascinating development, and one that has not manifested itself in the literature yet. Ideally, more museums will devote some resources to this kind of endeavor. It would seem to serve a number of good purposes: it may make it easier to track down the work if it one day is stolen, it may limit the potential market for the work, and it allows anyone with internet access to view the work. Last but not lease, it effectively eviscerate a lot of the criticism involving museum and the high profile return of works including MOMA and the Getty. Throwing open the doors, so to speak, and heading off criticism at the pass is a shrewd and welcome move, and seems to be a fairly recent trend.

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