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].  

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Renoir Recovered in Venice

This work by Pierre Auguste Renoir, stolen 15 years ago in Rome was recovered in Venice according to AFP.  Not too many details, but these from the wire reports:

“We carried out all verifications, with the help of Interpol and French and British police, and established that the painting — which depicts a mythical scene — belonged to a Roman family from whom it was stolen in 1984,” [an Italian Police Spokesman said].

Captain Salvatore Di Stefano, another police spokesman, said: “We don’t know the value but it must be pretty high because Renoir did not paint that many mythical scenes.”

With the Treviso resident unable to prove his claim that he bought it at a rummage sale, police seized the painting, dating from around 1895, in order to return it promptly to its rightful owners.

In September 2008, police in Italy, acting on a tip from an art critic, recovered a Renoir nude stolen 33 years earlier from a private collection in Milan. Three suspects were arrested.

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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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More on the Dutch Recovery

Is stolen the same as sold?  David Charter for the Times has more details on the recovery of eight works stolen 22 years ago.  He reports that in December a middleman in Dubai tried to sell the works back to the insurance company. 

The detective, Ben Zuidema, [who was hired to investigate the theft two decades ago] said that he was contacted out of the blue by a man wanting to sell the paintings back to the insurers for €5 million (£4.5 million). Included in the offer was €1 million for Mr Zuidema to facilitate the deal.

 The good news is the works were recovered, however many were folded and badly damaged, including this work by Jan Brueghel the Younger. 

The story gets stranger with respect to a still-missing ninth work.  As the private detective Zuidema told Dutch reporters this still missing work may have been destroyed by the gallery owner Robert Noortman who died two years ago.  That is certainly a very serious accusation, and one which Noortman is no longer alive to defend against.  He is quoted by the Dutch news agency Algemeen Nederland Persbureau that “I shared my findings about him with the police in Maastricht, . . .  But in the end it did not lead to the finding of the paintings.”
At the time Noortman claimed that “Stolen is sold”.  True enough for the bottom line, though it is a pretty distasteful sentiment as these works were lost for 22 years, and have emerged very badly damaged.  

(photo credit:  Ruben Schipper/EPA)

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8 Works Recovered 22 Years After the Theft

On Saturday Dutch prosecutors said three people had been arrested in connection with a theft which took place in 1987 from the Noortman gallery in Maastricht.  In the statement Dutch prosecutors said “The suspects were apparently trying to sell the art works to the insurance company that had paid out 2.27 million euros (£2m) after they went missing . . .  The investigation has yet to determine where the paintings have been for more than 20 years,”

 The works were by 17th Century artists David Teniers, Willem van de Velde and Jan Brueghel the Younger, as well as 19th Century painters Eva Gonzales, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Paul Desire Trouillebert.

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It Takes a Thief to Install an Alarm

File:Saliera.pngThis is the Cellini Salt Cellar, an elaborate gold and enamel table decoration, measuring only 10 inches in height. It was stolen on May 11, 2003 from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It was later recovered in January 2006 near Zwettly, Austria. The thief, Robert Mang was an alarm-systems installer with no criminal history. The theft was listed at one time as one of the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes.

He claimed to have had a couple of beers before the theft. He climbed into the museum which was covered in scaffolding at the time, and took the work. After hiding it under his bed for a couple of years he attempted to ransom it back. He sent a number of ransom notes to the museum’s insurance company threatening to melt the work down if he wasn’t paid €10-million. Though eventually a photo of him was circulated and he was forced to turn himself in to the authorities

Mang turned himself in to the police, and served two years and nine months in prison. Now it seems he will return to selling and installing alarm systems: (via) “he had distributed advertising leaflets and made appointments to check on the state of installed alarm systems or to install new ones . . . his lawyer Lukas Kollmann said: ‘He wants to be left alone in order to lead a normal life again.’

Photo Credit: Herbert Pfarrhofer/European Pressphoto Agency

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Italy Announces Recovery of 10 Works, Doubled Recovery of Stolen Heritage

The Holy Family, a 16th painting depicting Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus that one expert attributes to Flemish master Hendrick van den Broeck was one of 10 paintings recovered. Italian police have recovered 10 works which were stolen back in 2004. Among the recovered works is this 16th Century painting depicting the holy family attributed ot Hendrick van den Broeck.

Gen. Giovanni Nistri announced the works had a value of $5.3 million USD, noting the works were found in a trailer wrapped in newspaper. The were were stolen in 2004 from “an ancient religious complex in Rome” according to the AP story.

The Culture Ministry also announced today that it had returned over 2,000 antiquities to Bulgaria, many of which were coins.

Nistri also announced that works totaling $243 million had been recovered in 2008, more than double the amount recovered the year before. Also noted in a Bloomberg account: “The number of known illegal digs in Italy last year increased by 15 percent to 238, mostly in the area around Rome, the Carabinieri police said.” It seems most of this increase was due to the increased policing of unauthorized archaeological digs (which we might just call looting). How has Italy found the resources or will to increase its efforts? Perhaps its new heritage advisor Mario Resca, profiled in today’s Wall Street Journal has some ideas on how to earn revenue from this heritage.

Whether Resca is the man to make the necessary changes remains to be seen, but he:

points in particular to Pompeii — Italy’s most popular site with 2.6 million visitors in 2007 — where littering, looting and the dilapidation of 2,000-year-old buildings and frescoes prompted the government this summer to declare a “state of emergency.” His concerns extend beyond conservation to issues of marketing and service.

Preserving this massive body of heritage is a difficult undertaking, and I touched on the difficulties at Pompei briefly here, but just because Resca is an outsider does not necessarily mean his ideas will be bad. In fact many of his suggestions have been floated before.

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