Successful Trial Attorney, Unsuccessful Art Owner

La Plaine de Gennevilliers, by Claude Monet

One of the times when thefts of art are most common is surrounding holidays and festive events. The most obvious example is of course the Isabella Stewart Gardner theft. The same goes for large homes as well. Tony Buzbee, a successful Houston trial attorney found himself the victim of a home burglary early Monday morning. He had apparently had a Superbowl party at his large mansion the evening before, and discovered a man riding away on a moped from his garage at around 6 a.m. on Monday. He discovered that an estimated $21 million worth of goods was stolen, including this art:

  • Pablo Picasso’s ‘Femme Accoudee’ painting, valued at $216,611
  • Claude Monet’s ‘La Plaine de Gennevillers’ painting, valued at $1,273,125 (auctioned at Christies in 2006)
  • A Fernand Leger painting, ‘Paysage au coq rouge’, valued at $1,284,015
  • Pierre Bonnard’s ‘Jeune Femme au Chapeau noir,’ valued at $832,125.00
  • Jean Pierre Cassigneul’s painting, ‘Femme en Vert,’ valued at $111,563
  • Childe Hassam’s ‘California Hills in Spring’ painting, valued at $985,000.

Buzbee has had trouble keeping his art safe before. In 2017, a first date with a Dallas court reporter got out of hand and she allegedly, in a drunken frenzy, started throwing sculpture and damaged a couple of Andy Warhol paintings when Buzbee tried to call her a ride home.

Locally, Buzbee has a reputation as a colorful trial lawyer apart from his art troubles. In 2016 he hosted a fundraiser for Donald Trump, and he’s currently running a Trumpian mayoral campaign. He has netted some fantastically high sums of money in a number of high profile trials, but also gained notoriety for parking a M4A4 Sherman Tank, dating to WWII, in front of his home. That street is River Oaks Boulevard, one of the wealthiest streets in Houston, and probably in all of the United States.

But he continues to have a hard time securing his art.

Massive Art Theft at the Kunsthal museum in the Netherlands

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.

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

Major Theft Outside Paris

Details are very slim still, but AFP is reporting that 30 paintings by Monet, Cezanne, Corot and Sisley have been stolen, along with a Rodin sculpture. The works were taken from an antiques dealer near Paris. Five men broke into the home in Le Pecq, and took the works. They abandoned their vehicle in a nearby wooded area and burned it.

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

Bührle Collection Possibly Recovered

Europe is just waking up this morning to news that the four Bührle Collection works stolen earlier this month may have been recovered in a mental institution parking lot, not far from where they were stolen. I’ll try to update more this afternoon, when more details are available.

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

Major Theft in Zurich (UPDATE)


Police in Zurich have announced a major theft from an art museum in Zurich. Works by Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh were taken from the Emil Buehrle art foundation. Details are still sketchy, I’ll update more this afternoon when we learn more. This theft follows of course from the theft last week of two works by Picasso from another museum in Switzerland.

Why would someone steal such widely-known works? As I see it, there are four potential answers to this question.

The first, is that a wealthy collector admires the piece, and hired a thief to take it for him. I’ll 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 little convincing evidence that this is why people are stealing rare objects.

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 insure its safe return for a generous reward.

Finally, perhaps there is a market somewhere for these works. Perhaps it may not be all that difficult to sell these kind of works. This strikes me as the most troubling possibility, but also the least likely, as these works will likely be widely-publicized and photographs will be circulated as more details emerge.

UPDATE:

Swiss police have held a press conference and released more details on yesterday’s massive theft in Zurich. Three men entered the Buhrle foundation 30 minutes before closing yesterday, and while one man forced museum workers to the floor, the two other men collected four paintings:

Cezanne’s Boy in the Red Waistcoat

https://i1.wp.com/www.buehrle.ch/pics/07_0003_x.jpg?w=840

Monet’s Poppy Field at Vetheuil
Zurich art theft:

Degas’ Ludovic Lepic and his Daughters

https://i1.wp.com/www.buehrle.ch/pics/13_0004_x.jpg?w=840

and Van Gogh’s Blooming Chestnut Branches

https://i2.wp.com/www.buehrle.ch/pics/21_0003_x.jpg?w=840

The estimated monetary value of these stolen works is about $164 million USD, which would put it near the top of works stolen in recent decades; I’ll leave to art historians the task of evaluating the cultural value of these works which may be far larger.

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