In the Fall 2011 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, editor Noah Charney reviews Sandy Nairne's book, Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners (Reaktion 2011):
Sandy Nairne is a busy man. He is director of London’s National Portrait Gallery, lectures widely on art history and his latest area of interest, art theft, and has a new book out, Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners (Reaktion, 2011). And the subject of his book will show you just how busy he was—for he is largely responsible for the recovery of two J.M.W. Turner paintings from the Tate collection that were stolen while on loan at an exhibition in Frankfurt.
Sometime before 10pm on 28 July 1994, thieves broke into the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and grabbed two Turner paintings (Shade and Darkness and Light and Color) as well as a Caspar David Friedrich painting (Nebelschwaden) as they hung on display. The thieves waited for the security staff to leave the gallery, closing it for the night. They bound and gagged the night watchman, but he managed to struggle free and alert the police around 10:45pm.
It is not clear if the primary motivation was ransom or whether that was secondary after a failed attempt to find a buyer, but in October 1999, five years after the theft, a lawyer was contacted to act as a go-between in an attempt to negotiate the return of the pictures. Links to the Balkan Mafia were strongly suggested. Two members of the Metropolitan police force were involved in the ultimate recovery of the paintings, nicknamed “Operation Cobalt.” Four individuals were arrested one year after the theft, but it took many years to recover the paintings.
Noah Charney is the Founder and President of ARCA and the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Art Crime. Recently a Visiting Lecturer at Yale University, he is currently Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Rome. He is the editor of ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009). His latest book is The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece (ARCA Publications 2011).
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