The Associated Press reported this week that five important works stolen from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris in 2010 may have been destroyed. This work by Léger was apparently stolen to order, and in his zeal to capitalize on his time in the museum, the thief managed to make life considerably more difficult for his alleged co-conspirators because he stole some more very notorious works which only served to attract more attention from the authorities.
At a trial in Paris, one of the defendants, Yonathan Birn, claimed to have destroyed the works after fears that the investigation into their disappearance would lead to him.
Very early this morning in Paris a thief stole these five works from the Musee d’Art Moderne near the Eiffel Tower. CCTV cameras have reportedly caught one person breaking through a window. Lots of figures will be thrown around about the value of these paintings, as for the reasons for the theft. The value estimates are very rough, ranging already from 100-500 million Euro. Yet these works can never be sold in a legitimate market, so in one sense their market value means little. They have a kind of value in that they are so precious, museum 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.
Why were the works stolen? There are many reasons, but the simplest one may be the the most likely. It is really not that hard, despite the loss we all suffer when works are damaged or lost forever.
This portrait of Rosalie Tobia by Modigliani was left in a staff bathroom close to a customs checkpoint in the Bergamo airport last week. Richard Owen of The Times has an article here.
The painting may be worth as much as $1.2 million. It was found wrapped in a sheet, packed in a box. Authorities have speculated that someone was trying to smuggle it out of the country. Italy’s Ministry of Culture would most likely have prevented the painting from leaving the country. Authorities also fear this may be part of a larger smuggling operation.
What seems most likely is a smuggler lost her nerve right before going through customs. Of course, the work has yet to be authenticated, so someone could have just forgotten a painting.
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