Showing posts with label Art and Crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Art and Crime. Show all posts

March 20, 2014

Essay: Why Steal a Rembrandt if They are so Difficult to Sell?

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

French Police from the Criminal Brigade of the Judicial Police Nice and the central office of Cultural Property (OCBC) happily announced the recovery of the painting "Child with a Soap Bubble" attributed to Rembrandt yesterday.  While everyone knows that Rembrandt van Rijn was the master of the dramatic contrast of light and dark known as Chiaroscuro and unquestionably one of the world’s most beloved artists, no one quite knows why actual Rembrandt's paintings or those thought to be by Rembrandt, are repeatedly the target of thieves.

Scholars debate what was beneath his impetus to create illuminated figures that emerge from darkness.  Law enforcement officers instead question why more than 80 of Rembrandt’s paintings have been stolen over the last 100 years.  Here's a list of a six of the more disturbing cases.
Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee

Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee was painted in 1633.  The painting is the master’s singular known seascape and was snatched from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, Massachusetts, United States on March 18, 1990. During this exceptionally costly heist a total of three Rembrandt's were taken. 

A 1634 Rembrandt self portrait etching, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, was also stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum years earlier in 1970.  The painting had been snatched from the museum by a group of not-so-smart teenagers who created a diversion in the gallery by smashing a light bulb to make a loud noise. When the guard's attention was diverted, one of the culprits left with the small image. Unsellable, it was quickly recovered. 

Portrait of Jacob III de Gheyn

Portrait of Jacob III de Gheyn – A painting given the horrible moniker the “Takeaway Rembrandt” because it has been stolen four times since 1966.   Each time, the painting was abandoned anonymously making an indisputable statement that stolen paintings by the master are too hard to fence.  The last time this portrait was stolen thieves broke in through a seldom-used door leading into the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London.  The portrait was recovered on October 8, 1986, after being found abandoned on a luggage rack in a Münster, Germany train station.

Stolen two times in ten years, police last recovered Portrait of the Father on March 18, 2013 in the Serbian town of Sremeska Mitrovica, 40 kilometers south of the city of Novi Sad.  The portrait, attributed to Rembrandt and valued at almost $4 million had been stolen by two armed robbers who tied up a guard at the Novi Sad City Museum, making off with the Rembrandt and three other paintings.
Portrait of the Father

The second painting in a span of months to be recovered in Serbia, it seemed to prove that gangsters in the former Yugoslavia have no better luck fencing hot Rembrandts than their North American counterparts. Four accomplices were arrested as a result of the police blitz.

In December 2000 a small self-portrait, one of only five artworks carried out by Rembrandt on copper, was stolen during an spectacular armed robbery from the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.  During the heist, assailants ordered museum patrons to the floor and two car bombs were detonated on roads leading to the museum thereby allowing the thieves to make off with the Rembrandt and an additional two Renoir paintings.  All three paintings were recovered, the Rembrandt during a multinational law enforcement sting operation in Copenhagen in 2005. 
Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak

In an equally violent episode, two men strolled into the Boston Museum of Fine Arts around noon on April 14, 1975 and stole Rembrandt's portrait of Elizabeth Van Rijn titled Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak snatching it from a wall of on the second-floor.  When a guard intervened they pistol-whipped him and escaped out a rear door fleeing via a get-away car.  To add emphasis to their not to be messed with persona, the assailants fired three shots to discourage pursuit. Nine months later, notorious Boston-area art thief, Myles J. Connor Jr., used the return of this painting as a successful bargaining chip in a plea deal for another art heist and bail jumping in Maine leaving one to ponder if these thefts, when used to make a quick million, serve as a means to avoid longer prison sentences if caught for other offenses. 

**Image credits for this article include the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Wikipedia, Novi Sad City Museum, and Getty Images.

February 29, 2012

FBI Agent (Retired) Virginia Curry and former Scotland Yard Detective Richard Ellis Will Team Up This Summer to Teach An Art Crime Course at Stonehill College in Massachusetts

Virginia Curry and Dick Ellis holding a painting
 by David Teniers, Peasant Filling His Pipe,  stolen from the
Richard Green Gallery in London.
ARCA supports this short course program as a precursor to our Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Program.  Attendees to the Stonehill program will qualify for a fees reduction to ARCA's 10 week program if they attend both programs.  Please contact for more information.

Former Scotland Yard detective Richard Ellis and former FBI Agent Virginia Curry will team up to teach "The Fine Art of Crime and Art World Basic Primer" at Stonehill College from July 30 to August 3, 2012 at North Easton, Massachusetts.

Richard Ellis is a professional art crime investigator and a director of the Art Management Group. Based in London he is a former detective with New Scotland Yard, where he founded and ran the Art & Antiques Squad for over a decade.  FBI Special Agent (Retired) and Art Crime Team Investigator Virginia Curry is a FBI certified and highly successful undercover agent/instructor and former FBI Security consultant, now privately licensed by the State of Texas. This is the description for their course:
Presenting our partnership with Stonehill College, in which we take full advantage of the beautiful campus and the rich resources of the greater Boston area we offer participants a "hands on" connection and an exceptional experience of scholarship and professionalism with art.  There will be lecturers on campus each morning focusing on topics which initiate the novice aficionado to the economics of art, provide suggestions for researching their own areas of art interest and of course we will discuss crimes against art and share our first hand international experience, scholarship and current topics in the field. 
In the afternoons we visit several museums, premier art galleries and conduct practical exercises, such as participation in a mock auction at Stonehill, and learn about how auctions are conducted at a major Boston fine art auction house our behind the scenes visit.   We will meet museum professionals who will explain their function in regard to exhibition preparation and curation. We’ll try our hand at solving the most important unsolved museum heist in U.S. history. We will observe how conservation specialists work and how security managers manage the risk of the exposure of their treasures.  We'll speak with the curator of an important corporate collection to see how business collects and presents investment art. We'll experience the culture of Boston from the Red Sox at Fenway Park to the clambakes of Cape Cod.  This unique seminar adventure equips you to pursue your interest in collecting and appreciating art and understanding the diverse crimes against art like none other.

Lunches on site at Stonehill College are included.  Transportation for excursions is included.  Scheduled evening events and socials such as the opening Sam Adams Boston Lager toasting reception, Boston Red Sox game, and the closing clam bake, barring inclement weather or unforeseen emergency, are included.  All basic course materials (handouts, etc.,) are included.  Other evening meals and meals off campus are at personal expense.  Local lodging at a discounted rate is available, which includes breakfast and transportation to Stonehill College and return.  Discounted airfare has been arranged through American Airlines for travelers.
Cost: $2,250. A Deposit of $300 is required to reserve your place by May 1, 2012; balance must be received by June 1, 2012.  Kindly respond early since participation is quite limited.
For more information please contact:

November 25, 2011

New Zealand: Summer Intensive course – Art Crime during Armed Conflict

Hamilton, New Zealand
Down in New Zealand, the University of Waikato’s Te Piringa-Faculty of Law and the University’s Centre for Continued Education have recently announced a forthcoming five-day summer intensive course, entitled “Art Crime during Armed Conflict”.

The course can be taken for credit by enrolled students (in which case, email for enrolment details), or as a non-credit course by anybody – in this case, the course cost is a very reasonable NZ$215 (at current exchange rates, equal to about US$160, or €120). To enrol as a continuing education participant, go here or email .

The Course will be taught over five days, from 13 – 17 February 2012 (which is high summer in the Southern Hemisphere!), on the campus of the University of Waikato at Hamilton, New Zealand. The city of Hamilton is situated in a verdant dairy farming region of New Zealand, known as the Waikato after the great river that flows through the province, (and amongst many other attractions is located within an easy 40 minute drive of the location for the filming of J R R Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Tours of the extensive, and fully rebuilt, Hobbiton film set can be arranged at

Judge Tompkins
The Course’s developer and presenter is Judge Arthur Tompkins. Judge Tompkins developed the course for ARCA’s Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies, offered each year at Amelia in Umbria, Italy, and has taught the course there in 2010 and 2011. He will be returning to teach the course again in 2012.

During the first two days the course covers about 2000 years of history, from the sack of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70 through to art and cultural heritage crimes committed during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and very many instances of art and cultural heritage crime during times of war in between - including the Fourth Crusade, the Thirty Years' War, Napoleonic and Imperial France, and the First and Second World Wars.

On the third day, the course covers the fate of several famous libraries destroyed or displaced by war - including the Library at Alexandria, destroyed on several occasions starting with Julius Caesar's sending of fire ships into Alexandria Harbour in 48 BC, the removal of Library of the Palatinate (carried over the Alps from Heidelberg to the Vatican on the backs of 200 mules in the early 17th century), the destruction of the Library at Louvain in the First World War and likewise the devastation of National Library during the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.

Waikato University
On the last two days the international and private law response to such crimes will be covered, beginning with Cicero's prosecution of Verres before the Roman Senate in 70 BC, through to Grotius' Laws of War, the Leiber Code, and on to the Hague Conventions of 1907 and 1954. The two main hurdles in the way of private claimants seeking to recover looted art - Limitation Periods and the differing responses to the bona fide purchaser - will round out the last day of the course.

Throughout the course, the lectures will consider numerous case studies, and the lectures are copiously illustrated by accompanying and extensive Powerpoint presentations. Copies of these will be distributed to all participants, along with a detailed Course Outline and Bibliography.

For more information, email (for course-credit enquiries), or (for non-credit enquiries).

February 21, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Q&A with Paul Brachfeld, Inspector General of the National Archives and Records Administration

ARCA's Managing Director Joni Fincham interviews Paul Brachfeld, Inspector General of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Paul Brachfeld began his career in the federal government with the United States Secret Service before transferring to the United States Customs Service and ultimately to the Treasury Department Office of Inspector General. After leaving the Treasury Department, Brachfeld served as the first Assistant Inspector General for Audits (AIGA) at the Federal Elections Commission. Directly prior to assuming his post at NARA, he was the AIGA of the Federal Communications Commission, Office of Inspector General. Brachfeld is responsible for establishing the Archival Recovery Team (ART), which focuses upon detection, investigation, recovery, and prosecution of missing and stolen holdings.

Mr. Brachfeld discusses the creation of the Archival Recovery Team, social media, the tension between access and security, insider theft, and ways buyers can avoid purchasing stolen or fake historical documents or memorabilia.

To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.

October 7, 2009

Letter from the New Managing Director

Please let me introduce myself. In September 2009, I was named Managing Director of ARCA. As such, I'll be running the organization's daily operations, as well as helping to conceptualize, develop, and implement new projects. I hope to continue the great work founder Noah Charney and so many others have begun, but to do so, I will need your help.

Supporters like you have already allowed us to achieve a great deal in a short amount of time. In just the past year, ARCA launched the world's only Postgraduate program in Art Crime Studies, introduced the Journal of Art Crime, published the book Art and Crime, and consulted governments, law enforcement agencies, museums, places of worship, and other public institutions on art protection and recovery cases. In the next year, we will continue these endeavors and undertake numerous others, about which you'll be able to read in future posts on the ARCAblog.

There are many ways that you can become involved in this important work. Show your support by becoming a member, making a tax-deductible donation, subscribing to the Journal of Art Crime, purchasing Art and Crime, or studying in our Postgraduate program. Just as importantly, we need people to donate their time by volunteering or interning. And we are always looking for contributors to our journal, blog, and podcasts.

Thank you for your interest and support. If you have any questions or comments about our organization, I encourage you to email me. And you'll be hearing again from me soon on the ARCAblog.

I look forward to working with you!

Terressa Davis
director at

July 23, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009 - ,, No comments

ARCA Postgraduate Program in The New York Times

ARCA is pleased to draw your attention to an excellent feature article in The New York Times (Wednesday, 22 July 2009) on ARCA's Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Property Protection.

We at ARCA would like to clarify a few points raised by the article.

Among the speakers at the ARCA Conference this July 11 was a judge from New Zealand named Arthur Tompkins (not Ngarino Ellis, as listed in the article).

We wish to emphasize that ARCA is a non-profit, and the tuition for the Program goes exclusively to covering expenses. The tuition is on the low end for a similar European master-level programs, and the short, intensive nature of the program means that the total expenditure for all students is a fraction of the cost incurred by 9 or 12-month long postgraduate programs, when one calculates the living expenses for the year and the income lost by professionals who would need to take a year off of work. ARCA's ultimate goal is to run the Program, like its other activities, free of charge--but this target can only be reached if ARCA receives financial support through philanthropy and grants in the future. Further the Director of ARCA receives no monetary compensation for his work as Director.

Finally, the journalist inadvertently raised an excellent point about the lack of solid, comprehensive empirical data and statistics about art crime worldwide, when she mentioned that Interpol could not corroborate the statistics about art crime mentioned by various scholars at the ARCA Conference and discussed in ARCA's book, Art & Crime.

One of the greatest issues in art crime today is the lack of sufficient empirical data to back up experiential and anecdotal information provided by professionals in the field of art protection, the art trade, and policing. This is a point that we stress repeatedly in our book, Art & Crime, and in interviews with and lectures by ARCA staff. Based on discussions with prominent members of international police squads (including the Carabinieri, FBI, the Dutch Politie, the Slovene Policia, the Spanish Policia, Scotland Yard, and many more), art criminals, members of the art trade, museum security directors, archaeologists, art lawyers, and more, scholars such as those associated with ARCA have developed an understanding of the extent and impact of art crime that preceeds the availability of sufficiently extensive data to prove the widely-agreed upon speculation. Prominent informed sources have regularly listed illict art and antiquities as the third highest-grossing criminal trade (as in tradeable commodity) worldwide over the past forty years, behind only drugs and arms. This is a fair indication of the severity of art crime, and the involvement in art crime of organized crime groups, and the use of illicit art and antiquities to fund terrorist activities, are widely known. However the statistics have never been complete enough to draw the serious attention of most of the world's governments.

One problem has been the lack of data kept by police around the world. Most police are told to file stolen art along with general stolen property. This means that many art crimes go unreported by the police, as the theft of a Rembrandt is not filed in a manner distinct from the theft of a Buick or a DVD player. As a result, art crimes reported to the police are often lost, misfiled, and never reported to larger national police agencies, and therefore never reported to Interpol. But this issue is made more difficult by the fact that many art crimes go unreported by the victims. Museums and galleries may be loath to admit their own security failures, while private collectors may not have declared ownership of some objects in their collection, in order to avoid luxury tax. The result is that only a fraction of art crimes are reported and, as mentioned, those that are reported are likely as not to be filed in a way that makes it difficult to sort out art crime from general property theft. The looting of antiquities is another difficult component. Antiquities tend to be looted from remote sites, jungle tombs or coastal shipwrecks, that may go undiscovered for months or years, if someone comes across them at all. Even if an illegal excavation site is discovered, there will be no record of what was at the site to begin with, if the site was never before excavated. Therefore police may learn that a tomb has been opened, but have no idea what to look for, because the contents are known only to the thieves.

Police are too often unaware of the severity and nature of art crime for the very reason that good analyses of art crime are rare, due to the poor data available, which is itself caused by inadequate filing systems. The problem then becomes cyclical: with so little data available, professionals continue dismissing art crime as a trifling, and occasional misdemeanour, making good news stories and thrillers, involving the collectibles of the wealthy, whose affluence protects them from real misfortune. One of the goals of ARCA is to take a step outside of that cycle, by informing police and the art world about art crime, explaining how it functions, and why it is necessary to take it seriously.

This briefly illustrates the uphill hike that the united front of academics and art, police, and security professionals face in order to establish and develop this new field of the interdisciplinary and practical study of art crime. For more information and extensive discussions of this, please see Art & Crime (Praeger 2009).