August 27, 2019

Unsolved Art Theft: Revisiting the theft of Rodin's "The Man with the Broken Nose"

In broad daylight, during opening hours, in peak tourist season, two men entered the Rodin Hall of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen and quickly made off with a 25.5 cm bronze bust by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).  The museum heist was speedy and smoothly executed. 

Part of the Danish museum's collection for 95 years, the stolen artwork was one of approximately 200 busts Rodin created in the form of "The Man with the Broken Nose". The inspiration for which is believed to have been based upon the features of an elderly workman named “Bibi” from the Saint-Marcel district of Paris.  According to expert Jérôme Le Blay, formerly of the Musée Rodin and the founder of the Comité Rodin, these 200 artworks appear in as many as six distinct versions, some forty of which he believes are similar to the one stolen from the Glyptotek. 

Image Credit: 
Copenhagen Police
Having cased the museum nine days earlier, the brazen theft took place on the 16th of July in 2015.  During two separate visits the perpetrators disguised themselves as nondescript visiting tourists and entered into the Dahlerup Wing, the oldest part of the museum.  As verified by Copenhagen Police surveillance footage released one month after the theft, the two criminals were approximately 30 to 40 years of age and of average height, between 170-175 cm tall.

During their first reconnaissance foray inside the museum, the pair detached the bronze sculpture from its plinth, tilting it from its base and then replacing the object to its proper position when no alarm was signalled.  During their second visit, the two individuals entered the museum separately.  With no guard present in the gallery where the bronze was displayed, the first, wearing a greyish blue baseball cap, glasses, and a plaid shirt, feigned interest in another Rodin sculpture located in the same gallery, Les Bourgeois de Calais.  This allowed him to kill time without raising suspicion while awaiting the arrival of his accomplice.  

Image Credit: 
Copenhagen Police
The second man, wearing shorts, a light-coloured panama hat and dark sunglasses, entered the museum with two seperate mail bags, each strapped across his body; one in the front and one towards the back.  He is seen on CCTV stills release by police casually entering the Rodin gallery, where he is seen joining up with his accomplice.  

Once together in the Rodin Gallery, just off the museum's foyer, the straw hatted man removed his second bag and passed it over to his waiting accomplice.  This person in turn placed the empty bag on his own shoulder before the pair moved closer to the Rodin bust.  It is then that they made the first of two attempts to remove the statue from its pedestal.  Stalled briefly, mid-theft, when a visitor arrived, the two waited patiently while first one, then two individuals moved into and out of the gallery. 

Once the potential witnesses had left the gallery, the man in the straw hat continued to stand lookout from inside the gallery while also keeping his eyes on the connecting rooms.  When the coast was finally clear, his baseball hat-wearing accomplice deftly removed the bust from its unalarmed position and quickly placed the sculpture in the bag passed to him earlier.  The pair then exited the Copenhagen museum separately, with the museum's guards and guests none the wiser.

Rodin Gallery of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum. 
Arrow pointing to the pedestal were the sculpture once was.

"Man with the Broken Nose" by Auguste Rodin 
Stolen from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum
on July 16, 2015
Yet, despite sharing security footage with news agencies and a request to the general public should anyone recognized the thieves, few viable leads developed.   Having reached a dead end police formally closed their investigation without a recovery in April 2016.

What are the chances of this sculpture being recovered?

Despite the many counterfeit Rodin sculptures which have polluted the market, buyers' enthusiasm for the pre-eminent sculptor of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist era has not diminished and with time it is possible that this hot work of art might still bubble up on the art market.  In July 2015 Rodin's sculpture "Young Girl With a Serpent" (circa 1886), came up for auction at Christie's and was identified by staff working at Art Recovery International as an artwork stolen from a Beverly Hills couple's home 24 years earlier.

For now the curator's at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum have still to wait, very, very patiently.