October 31, 2012

Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Theft: Journalist Colin Gleadell on "overvaluation" of the seven stolen paintings

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog

So much has been written about the October 16 theft of seven paintings from the Triton Foundation on display at the Kunsthal Rotterdam that it takes a long time to sift through so much of the published material to find original information on the internet.  However, Colin Gleadell writing for Britain's Telegraph grabbed my attention with the headline "Stone Dutch works wildly overvalued".

Last week ARCA's CEO Lynda Albertson wrote about the Triton Foundation here on this blog, finding that the collection assembled in the last two decades had been infrequently exhibited, had no website and had its first big show of 150 of the works this month at the Kunsthal Rotterdam ("Avant-Gardes").

This December, Yale University Press is publishing "Avant-Gardes, 1870-1970, The Triton Collection" ($125, cloth) , a 568-page book by Sjraar van Heugten, an independent art historian and a former Head of Collections at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (about 60 kilometers north of Rotterdam).  The Triton Foundation's collection contains approximately 250 paintings, drawings, and sculptures from more than 170 Western artists dating from 1870 to 1970  including George Braques, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Willem de Kooning, Lucien Freud, Roy Lichtenstein, Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Andy Warhol ("Avante-Gardes").

The statement attributed to the director of the Kunsthal Rotterdam Emily Ansenk posted on the art gallery's website identifies the stolen paintings adding that the investigation will be handled by the police.  As to the seven stolen paintings, Ansenk states: "Perhaps we should add that all stolen works have been internationally registered and described and are therefore unsaleable.  We are not prepared to comment on the value of the works."

Historically, published accounts of art thefts have attached a value to the paintings which thieves have used as a basis for a ransom demand.

However, Gleadell, who has written extensively on the art market, assesses the value of the seven stolen paintings between "£12.5 million and £16 million" based on experts familiar with the collection who wished to remain anonymous:  
Some pictures that were thought to be oil paintings were in fact much less valuable pastels or drawings on paper, and none of the stolen pictures measured more than 13in by 16in – handy enough for the thieves to tuck under their arms. Monet’s oil paintings of the Thames, made when he stayed at the Savoy Hotel in 1901, have fetched as much as £18 million at auction. But the two stolen Monets were small pastels the likes of which have never sold for more than £250,000 at auction.
The Picasso, a late work, was also a small coloured drawing on paper, not an oil painting.
Picasso’s large, late oil paintings have made £10 million at auction, hence a guesstimate by Forbes of £9.7 million. But late drawings of this size have never sold for over a million pounds, though the quality of this one may lift it to seven figures.
The International Herald Tribune came up with a punchy $130 million figure for the Picasso and Matisse alone, and while the Matisse was indeed an oil painting – larger, more sumptuous interiors of seated or reclining women have made £10 million or more – the small scale of this work and less seductive pose of the sitter led our experts to place a value of between £3 million and £4 million on it. 
Similarly, the Gauguin is an early painting from 1888, so is of historical interest, but would not command anything like the sums generated by his sought-after Tahitian pictures. Our experts granted it a £3 million to £4 million estimate. 
The self-portrait by the lesser-known Dutch painter Jacob Meyer de Haan is more difficult because so few of his works have been sold at auction and none for more than £600,000. A friend of Gauguin’s, he painted this when the two were in Brittany in the late 1880s. And while it is stylistically related to the Frenchman’s work of the time, it is a small masterpiece by de Haan; thus a figure of £2 million has been suggested. 
The only contemporary work to be stolen was a portrait of the young journalist Emily Bearn by Lucian Freud, painted in 2002. Although Freud’s late work tends to be less sought after, this is a remarkably tender portrait and has been included in several museum exhibitions. Our experts estimate that it should be worth about £3 million. 

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