The Munch Effect

Earlier this month a church in Larvik, Norway was robbed of a work by Lucas Cranach, Let the Children Come to Me.  The work was soon recovered, and will be displayed again later this summer after it is restored. 

It is often said that a high-profile art theft or media attention can actually be a good thing for increasing visitors.  Ludvig Levinsen, the general manager of church affairs is quoted in the Art Newspaper, and speculates on this “Munch effect”, a reference to the increased attention paid to that artist when his works have been stolen in recent years.  Levinsen speculates on the stolen Cranach from his church, “When it was stolen it created a lot of international media attention . . .  Now that we have the painting back we hope people are more aware of what we have.”

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Work Stolen from Norweigian Church

This work, Suffer the Little Children Come Unto Me by Lucas Cranach the Elder was stolen from a Lutheran church in Larvik Norway police announced on Sunday. They discovered the theft after responding to an alarm early on Sunday morning. 

It seems one or more thieves climed a ladder, broke a window, and took the work.  The painting on wood panels had hung in the Church since its construction in 1677.

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Stolen Works Discovered in Glasgow

The BBC reported over the weekend that five paintings have been recovered by a a pensioner in his Dunbartonshire flat (just outside Glasgow). Three are the work of Robert Gemmell Hutchison, the Pink Pinafore, Feeding the Seagulls, and Cottarita. Also recovered was this work, Candlelight by Sir James Guthrie, along with Luss Road. A slideshow of all the works is here.

The works were found by an elderly man in his loft. At present, authorities are still attempting to understand how these works came to arrive there, after they had been stolen in 2002. There still aren’t many details, and I’ll update if and when more details emerge.

The works are estimated to be worth £246,000. Of course that doesn’t measure the artistic or cultural value of the works which have been stolen. In fact cultural value was the main reason the Norweigian Supreme Court gave for increasing the sentences of two thieves who took Edvard Munch’s The Scream and the Madonna as they are of “irreplaceable national cultural value.” It’s this cultural value which gives art theft a prominent place in the news, and arouses such interest. However I think measuring it, especially for courts, can often be difficult, especially for lawmakers who aren’t trained in art history. Increasing punishment for well-renowned masterpieces such as Munch’s works, this cultural value may be pretty easy to measure; however these works recovered in Glasgow may be harder to measure culturally, and our only gauge is the price they may garner at auction.

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Bizarre Theft in Oslo

The BBC reported yesterday that a work by Jan Christensen, Relative Value, was stolen from an Oslo gallery. The work was a collection of kroner notes, worth about $16,300.

The idea behind the work was to make a statement about “the value of art, and about capitalism, and how the art world works.” He may have also taught us about how theft comes into play as well. The work had already been sold to a buyer, for precisely the 100,000 kroner which were used to create the work.

I’m not sure you could technically classify this as an art theft as the thieves were not stealing the art, they were stealing the kroner. In any event, Christensen seemed quite happy with the publicity, “It proves my theory that I have made an artwork that has a value outside the gallery space.”

Apparently he was making a point that someday these notes would return to circulation, and it appears they have in this case. No details on what the security was like at the gallery. Christensen admits that security was considered a problem before he installed the work, but there are no details given as to the kinds of security measures put in place.

To be a bit cynical about the whole story, sometimes a theft can be an artist’s best friend. Though he lost this work, the curious nature of this theft has appeared in countless news outlets around the world, and he is getting a great deal of publicity.

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