Cezanne Recovered in Serbia

Boy in the Red Vest, Cezanne

There are reports today that one of the works stolen from the Emil Buehrle Collection in Zurich has been recovered in Serbia. ARCA’s blog has a good rundown of the current press reports. The work was stolen in 2008 along with 3 others.

The BBC report notes:

Authorities have not named the painting, but local media have reported it is The Boy in the Red Vest, which was taken from Zurich’s Emil Buehrle Collection. Police said three people had been arrested in connection with the theft. It added an art expert was being flown in to confirm the authenticity of the 1888 painting, worth $109m (£68.3m).

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.

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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

Federal Art Theft Charges


Stephen Kurkjian and Shelley Murphy have an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about the arrest of Robert Mardirosian, an attorney charged with attempting to possess, conceal, store, and sell stolen art. The Boston Herald has a story as well.

The 72 year-old Madirosian had been entrusted with the paintings by his client the thief nearly 30 years ago. This work, Paul Cezanne’s Pitcher and Fruits was stolen from Michael Bakwin, back in 1978. He recovered the work a few years ago, and it was sold by Sotheby’s for close to $30 million.

In a strange series of events, the paintings were hauled all over the world in an attempt to sell them, from Massachusetts to Switzerland, London and Monaco. As the Boston Herald’s AP article details:

In 1988, Mardirosian moved the paintings to Monaco, thinking he might have a legal claim to ownership or a 10 percent ”finder’s fee,” according to a May 2006 affidavit from FBI Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly, also unsealed Tuesday.

Lloyd’s of London was contacted in 1999 by an unknown person about insuring the paintings before sale, the affidavit says, and discovered they were listed with the database Art Loss Register as having been stolen. It says Julian Radcliffe, chairman of Art Loss Register, determined that the paintings were being sold by a Panamanian corporation called Erie International Trading Company, later found to be registered to Mardirosian.

Radcliffe contacted Bakwin and brokered a deal with unnamed agents of Erie, who agreed to return the Cezanne in exchange for the other six paintings. Two months after retrieving the Cezanne, Bakwin auctioned it through Sotheby’s in London for $29.3 million.

As part of the contract, the owner of Erie agreed to disclose his identity in a sealed envelope. A British judge later ruled the contract void because Bakwin ”signed it under duress.” He ordered the envelope unsealed, revealing Erie’s owner as Robert Mardirosian, and ordered the lawyer to pay Bakwin $3 million.

It’s fascinating stuff, and reveals a number of things about the current state of the market. First, the shroud of secrecy surrounding transactions is not productive. Second, import controls are not working. It is just not possible to adequately inspect most of what gets shipped around the world. Finally, how does an attorney expect to get away with this kind of thing? It seems the final straw was the fact that Madirosian’s colleague, Paul Palandjian, got tired of having the stolen works in his own attic and went to the police.

This prosecution is sure to generate a great deal of attention. These works high value continues to fuel illegal activity. The only sure way to prevent it is to erect safeguards in the market place. On one level, its very easy to criticize Mardirosian’s behavior. However, how many of us would think twice about turning over a $30 million work to the police, no questions asked? I would like to think most of us would, but that kind of money must be extremely tempting.

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