AN ART THEFT EPIDEMIC?
If you are like us, you've probably been noticing the increasing number of art theft
stories that keep appearing in the weekly art and antique trade papers,
and even in general interest publications.
The recent theft
of a pair of Picasso etchings from a synagogue in Florida is the latest in
a series of high-profile robberies. In April, a bronze sculpture valued at
more than $10,000 was stolen from the Middlebury Antiques Center in
Vermont; in March a prized 19th-century oil painting was robbed from an
art gallery in Newport, Rhode Island; and — perhaps the biggest theft in
recent memory — a Cezanne worth 3 million pounds ($4,423,700 U.S.) was
swiped from Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum on New Year's Eve.
Theft is a part of the art business. And like most other
businesses, the world of art theft works on a basic supply and demand
principal. Unfortunately, the United States is on the demand side of the
equation, says Mary Lynn Voros, a spokesperson with the FBI in Chicago.
Paul Cezanne's Auvers-sur-Oise —
stolen New Year's Eve, 2000
"The artwork is usually stolen from a collector in
Europe," she says, "and sold to a collector here."
So, does that mean she thinks the Cezanne is somewhere in the States? Ms. Voros
wouldn't speculate on that particular painting, but she did say that, in
general, the chance of recovery is quite good. "If it's an identifiable
piece of art then the chance of recovery is about 80 percent." Luckily for
their legitimate owners, the Picasso etchings and the Cezanne painting are
good examples of recognizable works.
In Chicago, the FBI
investigates about 20 art thefts a year, says Ms. Voros, although there is
no special department, either locally or nationwide, that solely investigates art theft.
Instead, the bureau has established the National Stolen Art File, a computerized index of stolen art reported
to the FBI. The database can be used as a research tool, not only for the bureau, but for curators and collectors, as well.
And looming at the top of that list is the biggest unsolved art theft in U.S. history.
On March 18, 1990, thieves broke into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and carted off more than a dozen
paintings, including Vermeer's The Concert and Rembrandt's Storm
on the Sea of Galilee. The monetary loss has been estimated between
$200 and $300 million, and a $5 million reward has been offered for the safe return of the art.
Investigators and museum officials have had varying theories on the whereabouts of the paintings. Some
believe they've been secretly shipped off to collectors around the world,
while some say one person has the entire take. Still others believe that
these treasured works are collecting dust in an unknown Boston storage facility, unseen by anyone for more than 10 years.
Let's hope those recently stolen paintings don't suffer a similar fate.
Art Theft and Forgery Investigation:
The Complete Field Manual by Robert Spiel
The Gods Are Leaving the Country:
Art Theft from Nepal
by J\201rgen Schick
The Spoils of World War II:
The American Military's Role in the Stealing of Europe's Treasures
by Kenneth Alford
Introduction to Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records That Describe Art, Antiques, and Antiquities
by Robin Thornes
Old Masters Repainted:
A Detailed Investigation into the Authenticity of Paintings Attributed to Wu Zhen (1280-1354)
by Joan Stanley-Baker
The Art Forger's Handbook
by Eric Hebborn
by Isabelle Cahn
Paul Cezanne: Finished - Unfinished
by Paul Cezanne
by John Rewald
Cezanne: Landscape into Art
by Pavel Machotka
by Victor Perry, Louis Rapoport
Hundertwasser: Missing and Stolen Pictures (Postcardbooks)
The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt: Reproduced in Original Size by Rembrandt Van Rijn
Rembrandt: The Painter at Work by Ernst Van De Wetering