AN ART THEFT EPIDEMIC? 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. Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals

 

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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.

 


 

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