Hotels Not the Best Place for Art?

As a wise Museum Security Director once said, ‘It’s a hotel, why should we expect them to safeguard their art?’ On Saturday this Rembrandt sketch was stolen from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey, but has since been recovered near a church in Encino. the small drawing was removed from the exhibit Saturday night when the curator was distracted and the drawing was quickly stolen. This almost seems like a case where the work was poorly secured, and anyone could have walked up and stolen it. But there have bee other more elaborate thefts of Rembrandt’s works. For more on why Rembrandt is such a popular artist to steal, have a look at Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg’s new Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists.

  1. Rembrandt painting stolen from Marina del Rey art exhibit, officials say – latimes.com, (2011), http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/08/rembrandt-stolen-from-marina-del-rey-art-exhibit-.html (last visited Aug 16, 2011).
  2. Stolen Rembrandt recovered at church – latimes.com, (2011), http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/08/rembrandt-stolen-church.html (last visited Aug 16, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Forfeitted Pissarro Returning to France

A federal jury has ruled that this Pissaro painting, “Le Marché,” was stolen from the Faure Museum in Aix-la-Bains in France.  The work was seized by ICE agents from Sotheby’s in 2006, after its theft in 1981.  The thief took the work from the museum under his jacket.  The work has a storied history as the Department of Justice Press Release describes

It seems that in 1985 the thief, Emile Guelton, sold the work to Sharyl Davis who was using space art gallery in San Antonio owned by Jay Adelman.  Mr. Adelman seems to operate an antiques shop on the Riverwalk, and operate a website.  In 2003 the work was consigned to Sotheby’s by Davis.  Davis paid $8,500 for the painting in 1985, and estimated an auction price of $60-80,000.  However Sotheby’s asked about the history of the work and was told it was purchased from someone named “Frenchie”. But then Davis asked for “Frenchie’s” real name from Adelman, who told her it was Guelton and that he was from Paris.  That information appeared in the auction catalog with an image of Le Marché.”

Just before the auction, French federal law enforcement officers learned that Le Marché was at Sotheby’s. Based on the information in the auction catalog, the French officers located, contacted, and interviewed Guelton. Guelton confirmed that he knew Adelman, was living in Texas in 1985, sent a container of artwork from France to the United States in 1984, and sold Adelman paintings. The French officers, using a prior arrest photo of Guelton, created a six-person photo array, which they showed to the Faure Museum guard in October 2003.

 The Pissarro was then forfeited under the National Stolen Property Act.  Forfeiture allows prosecutors to bring a suit against an object which was part of a crime, and all claimants to the object come forward to challenge the forfeiture.  It is a powerful tool for prosecutors, and thus should be used carefully, else we may risk losing works of art for many years.  It seems like the right result was achieved in this case.  Mark Durney rightly points out that this round-about story reveals a lot about how difficult recovering stolen art is and how easy it is to acquire in “good faith”.

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

Roerich Thieves Arrested

The thieves who stole two paintings from the Roerich Museum in Manhattan were arrested last week as they tried to sell one of the stolen works to an undercover cop at a Starbucks:

On Sept. 3, Ryjenko and Croussouloudis — carrying the painting in a blue paper shopping bag — traveled to a Lower East Side Starbucks to meet with the detective, police said.

While Ryjenko waited outside, Croussouloudis met with the phony collector and asked for $20,000 for the painting. She even warned him that the work of art had been stolen and that he would be unable to freely display it in his gallery, police said.

The cop then asked her to come with him to his gallery where he would give her the money. As she and Ryjenko walked with him up Allen Street, they were arrested.

A law-enforcement source said the couple denied having stolen the painting.

Couple busted with Stolen painting [New York Post, Sep. 10, 2009].  

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

Recovered Picasso a Fake?

The work of art recovered by Iraqi forces last week may be a fake.  This label on the back of the work has some spelling mistakes, and indicates the Louvre sold the work to the Kuwait Museum.  However the Louvre has said it has never had a Picasso. 

From the AP:

The London-based Art Loss Registry said it has no record of any paintings missing from the Kuwait National Museum, and no record of this particular painting as missing at all.  The Picasso Museum in Paris and France’s national museum were searching their archives for signs of the painting, which Iraqi forces seized Tuesday during a raid on a house near Hillah, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad.  A local judge in Hillah, Aqeel al-Janabi, said Thursday the painting will be sent to Baghdad after an investigation but refused to provide details.  In a video released by the Hillah police, the man detained for trying to sell it, 33-year-old Maitham al-Issawi, said it belonged to his father, who gave it to him before his death. His father, al-Issawi, was an army officer who took part in the invasion of Kuwait, which led to the 1991 Gulf War.  In the video, officers hold up the canvas, which has fold marks on the front. Police have said the painting bears Picasso’s signature but would not comment further Thursday.

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

Looted Picasso Recovered in Iraq

This work by Pablo Picasso, which was looted by an Iraqi soldier during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait has been recovered by Iraqi security forces.  The painting has clearly been folded, and is badly damaged. As usual, the trick isn’t stealing a work, it is trying to sell it—even in Iraq. 

From the Times:

The soldier had been trying to sell it, allegedly asking for $450,000 (£278,000). The market value is estimated to be $10 million.  The masterpiece, which is signed by Picasso, was seized this week during a raid on the house belonging to the suspect near the mainly Shia city of Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.  A security official said that the painting was tracked to the property, but officers feared that the suspect would burn the artwork if they attempted a raid, so they lured the man into the street where he was arrested.  The suspect claimed to be an electrician, but the official says that he is a former member of the security forces who has a relative from Mukhabarat (Saddam’s former security force) that entered Kuwait.

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

Roerich Sketch Returned

Mark Durney reports that one of the sketches stolen from the Nicholas Roerich Museum has been returned in an “ordinary yellow, padded envelope, with a Brooklyn return address.”  He’s got a number of questions:

Was the sketch stolen to simply illustrate the need for the museum to improve its security measures? Were those who were in possession of the stolen art thwarted by the recent publicity the thefts have received? Should one expect the second sketch to turn up in tomorrow’s mail? And, what does one make of the Brooklyn return address?

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