Showing posts with label Stealing Rembrandts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stealing Rembrandts. 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 M√ľnster, 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.

August 17, 2013

In Bangor with Howie Carr: ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore Speaks About Art Crime

ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore, Director of Security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, joined syndicated talk show host and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr in "An Evening of Crime" Friday night at Spectacular Event Center in Bangor (Dawn Gagnon, "Howie Carr sold-out Bangor show talks 'Whitey' Bulger, art thieves'", Bangor Daily News, August 17):
For the past seven years, Amore has also served as the museum’s chief investigator into the 1990 theft of 13 priceless works of art from the museum. 
Author of “Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists” with investigative reporter Tom Mashberg, Amore discussed some of the most infamous art heists of the 20th century, involving works valued $1 billion in total. 
Chief among the heists involved one at the at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which alone resulted in the loss of $500 million worth in paintings, etching and other works that have yet to be recovered. 
In that case, two men posing as Boston police officers were buzzed into the museum on March 18, 1990, after saying they were responding to a disturbance. They handcuffed the two night guards who were on duty and took them into the basement, where they were secured to pipes and their hands, feet and heads were duct taped. 
Amore described how the thieves made off with priceless works like Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, A Lady and Gentleman in Black and a Self Portrait, Vermeer’s The Concert and Edouard Manet’s Chez Tortoni, according to the museum’s website. 
Not all art thieves, however, were so clever. Amore also regaled the audience with stories of robbers with more bravado than brains — among them Myles Connor, a notorious Boston art thief who unwittingly tried to sell works by Andrew Wyeth and NC Wyeth to an undercover FBI agent. He and several accomplices stole the paintings — along with several other famous paintings — from the Woolworth Estate in Monmouth, Maine, in the early 1970s. 
“When you steal these highly recognizable paintings, there’s no market for them. There’s no one out there who’s going to buy a painting that everyone knows is stolen. Especially when, even if you’re paying pennies on the dollar, you’re paying millions of dollars. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that people don’t spend lots of money on things they can never show anyone. 
“Myles found that out, he couldn’t find a buyer for these Wyeth paintings,” Amore said. “He looked and looked and looked and couldn’t find one. Then all of a sudden, he gets lucky and he comes across a guy named Bernie Murphy who wants to buy these paintings from him.” 
Murphy arranged to meet Connor in the parking lot of a Cape Cod IGA store to discuss a deal. 
“Myles is elated,” Amore said. “They go, they park next to each other, Myles opens his trunk and shows him the Wyeth paintings.” Unfortunately for Connor, the supposed buyer reaches into his pocket and pulls out his FBI badge.

March 25, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Journalist Tom Mashberg Weighs In

The FBI's press conference on the 23rd anniversary of the Gardner theft "was a hit, generating flashing Internet bulletins and global media coverage," wrote Tom Mashberg March 25 in "The Gardner Art Heist: The Thieves Who Couldn't Steal Straight" for Cognoscenti, Boston's NPR Radio Station.

Mashberg has covered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum case for 16 years. Of the FBI's press conference on March 18, 2013, Mashberg writes:
Since crowd-sourcing was the goal, the FBI should be pleased. But we didn't really learn anything new beyond the assertion that some of the stolen paintings made their way to Philadelphia a decade ago. I was invited to speak with investigators alone for a few minutes after the news conference. They are dedicated men to be sure, and they were candid: they told me that for now the train has "gone cold."
 It was attention grabbing to hear them say they know the identities of the thieves. (Keeping the names secret is wise from an investigative standpoint -- imagine the media swarm.) But any careful follower of the case can boil the list of likely robbers down to three men -- all Boston-area felons. My belief is that two of the thieves are dead, and the third is in prison. The dead men will tell no tales, but there is still a chance to squeeze the guy behind bars.
In this article, Mashberg proposes that the bank robber Robert F. Guarante (who died in 2004) took the art from the two original thieves who didn't know what to do with it.
A lot of these characters, chief among them a gangster named Carmello Merlino, also deceased, can be heard yapping on wiretaps about their plans to return the art for the $5 million reward money -- if only they could find it. It's the gang that couldn't steal straight.
Mashberg also proposes that it was Robert A. Donati (dead) who cased the Gardner Museum in the 1980s with art thief Myles J. Connor (in prison on the night of the Gardner Heist) who stole the fluted Chinese bronze beaker that night as a gift for Connor.

Mashberg, who co-write "Stealing Rembrandts" (2011) with Anthony M. Amore, states that "the crime was always a local job."

March 15, 2013

Novi Sad City Museum welcomes home "The old man with the fur cap" -- but did Serbian police recover a Rembrandt painting?

The Novi Sad City Museum welcomes home
"The old man with the fur cap"
This week did Serbian police recover a painting by Rembrandt or a known fake? The Portrait of the Father stolen from the Novi Sad City Museum in 2006 has been deemed a fake Rembrandt, according to ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg, authors of "Stealing Rembrandts" (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).

An appendix in "Stealing Rembrandts" includes Portrait of Rembrandt's Father as one of more than 80 "Rembrandt" artworks stolen in the past century (excludes works looted by the Nazis during WW II).

According to CODART, the specialists in Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide, the painting is likely a copy of a Rembrandt painting at Tyrolean State Museum in Austria: Old Man with Fur Cap, 1630.

The Novi Sad "Rembrandt" oil painting was recovered 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of Novi Sad (BBC) and more than four people have been arrested in connection with the robbery.

According to Nicholas Wood in The New York Times ("Rubens and Rembrandt, a Day's Loot for Balkan Gangs" February 19, 2006), two masked men carrying a pistol robbed the Navi Sad City Museum on January 8, 2006:
In just 15 minutes, they tied up an unarmed night watchman and a museum guide and, standing on antique furniture, lifted the paintings off the walls. One of the four works taken in the January theft was attributed to Rubens, another to Rembrandt.
The thieves then 'walked out the front door ... loaded their haul into a parked car and drove away, confident that the police had not been informed' because the museum did not have an alarm system. After years of war and a struggling economy, the city had scheduled a $50,000 alarm system to be installed on January 15 (the thieves struck one week early). The stolen paintings came from the collection of Branko Illic, a doctor. [Woods, NYT]

On March 13, the Novi Sad City Museum welcomed home "Old man in a fur cap"; three paintings remain missing: 

Unknown Flemish painter,
 Life Head of Christ, oil on panel
Rubens's studio,
the first half of the 17th century,
 bust of Seneca oil on board
Pier Francesco Mola (1612-1666)
Night landscape with fishermen, oil on canvas

July 23, 2012

"Stealing Rembrandts: the Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists" Reviewed in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Stuart George reviews "Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Mr. George is an award-winning writer, consultant and specialist in wine. Mr. Amore is the security director for The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Mr. Mashberg is a Boston-based investigative journalist.
Although over the last two decades or so other artists have overwhelmed his once vaunted prices, Rembrandt remains an iconic figure. Certainly, he is well known to thieves who were unable to resist gunning for works stored in galleries with negligible defense against robbery. Rembrandt’s 1632 portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III has the dubious honor of being the “most oft-stolen painting in the world”. As an International Herald Tribune headline once declared (with uncharacteristic wit), “Rembrandt Needed a Night Watchman.”
Authors Amore and Mashberg — the former the head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the latter an award-wining investigative reporter — explain how media hype of record prices can attract the attention of thieves. They cite the Goldschmidt sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 as the “triggering event” for high art prices that led to criminal interest in art. Three years later Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer became, at $2.3 million, the then most expensive painting ever sold. Doubtless, potential raiders noticed this.

June 30, 2012

Anthony Amore Discussing "Stealing Rembrandts" on "It's a Crime" Saturday afternoon on the radio

Anthony Amore, Security Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and co-author of "Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists", will be on "It's a Crime" on Saturday, June 30, at 1:00 p.m. The live radio show is hosted by Margaret McLean, an attorney and author of the legal thriller Under Fire (2011, Tor Forge McMillan). Here's a link to the program. "Stealing Rembrandts", written by Amore and journalist Tom Mashberg, will be released in paperback on July 3.

August 20, 2011

Anthony Amore, co-Author of "Stealing Rembrandts", on interviewing art thieves and whether or not James "Whitey" Bulger knows the whereabouts of the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in 1990

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

Anthony Amore, head of security of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is one the Board of Trustees of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and taught a course in Museum Security for the ARCA program in International Art Crime Studies in 2009. He co-authored "Stealing Rembrandts" with Tom Mashberg, an award-winning investigative reporter and the former Sunday Editor for the Boston Herald.

Thirteen works of art, including three Rembrandts, were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990. Both Amore and Mashberg spent years studying all aspects of the world's largest unsolved art theft.

Anthony writes in his foreword to the book:
 "One of the more intriguing characteristics of the Gardner heist is that two of the stolen paintings, "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" (1633) and "A Lady and Gentleman in Black" (1633), both by Rembrandt, were cut from their frames."
Amore puts forth the question as to why the two thieves, who spent a leisurely 81 minutes in the museum, risked damaging the paintings by slicing the two Rembrandt canvases from their stretchers:
"Were they so unschooled as to imagine they could manhandle the canvases without wreaking destruction on the paintings? That alone is a key insight into the culprits. Thieves schooled in art would have done no such thing. Moreover, the robbers anticipated that they were going to cut some paintings from their frames. Why else would they have brought along an instrument that was sharp and sturdy enough to slice through stiff, varnished paint and linen canvas? Two other major art thefts in Massachusetts (both involving Rembrandts, as the following chapters will show) were pulled off more than 15 years before the Gardner crime without anyone resorting to cutting canvases. Why do so now? Had these thieves learned their lessons in theft outside Massachusetts? Was this their first art crime?"
Anthony Amore's obsession with studying the ISGM theft and finding the paintings led him and co-author Mashberg to write about comparable thefts in this 245-page manuscript just perfect for summer reading in the hammock, on the beach, or in an airport. The language is accessible and the narrative strong, even when describing when and why Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) painted the artworks that are the subject of these thefts. The authors answer the question as to why anyone would care that these paintings have been stolen, remain missing, or how they were recovered.

ARCA Blog: The book tells of a heist at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts in 1972, orchestrated by Florian "Al" Monday, a man now in his seventies who was involved in art theft more than four decades ago.  Anthony, how did you contact Florian "Al" Monday and what was your experience interviewing him? Does he speculate about the whereabouts of the ISGM paintings?
Anthony Amore: I reached out to Al years ago to have a conversation about art theft. He still lives in Massachusetts and we know many of the same people so it was an interesting conversation. Al has been on the hunt for the stolen Gardner art for many years and can speak more knowledgably about the crime figures who do not have the art than he can about who does. Despite his criminal history and proclivity towards taking paintings that don’t belong to him, we’re friends and I quite enjoy talking to him.
ARCA Blog: Myles J. Connor Jr., an art thief, has authored a book about his adventures, including the theft of a Rembrandt painting on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. What characteristics do you think Connor and Monday share as art thieves?
Anthony Amore: Myles and Al share a unique characteristic that sets them apart from virtually all other art thieves, and that is that both of them appreciate fine art and are knowledgeable on the subject. While this sounds admirable, in many respects it makes their crimes all the more worse, since they have a better understanding of the cost to society than a common criminal. And make no mistake: though they art aficionados, they stole art strictly for profit, not to enjoy it.
ARCA Blog: Carl Earnest Horsley agreed to speak with you about a 1973 theft in Cincinnati. He was under surveillance when he collected the ransom and left two stolen art works. Anthony, why do you think he finally agreed to speak about his role in the theft? What do you think he had in common with Monday and Connor?
Anthony Amore: I believe that Carl saw an opportunity to get his story out but also to let the world know that he has turned his life around and is now a legitimate businessman. I see Carl as an exception to the rule that people never change. He seems to have made an earnest attempt to go straight.
ARCA Blog: After looking at all these thefts, do you feel any closer to creating a profile of the thieves who robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990?
Amore: Absolutely. I’ve felt that I have a clear picture of the sort of criminal who pulled off the Gardner heist.
ARCA Blog: Recently you were interviewed by John Wilson for BBC's "Front Row." On his blog, he speculates about the arrest of James "Whitey" Bulger and whether or not Boston's former crime boss has knowledge of the whereabouts of the paintings. Do you share Charley Hill's opinion (according to John Wilson) that the paintings have been in Ireland with some faction of the IRA?
Anthony Amore: I have the utmost respect for Charley Hill. His career is amazing, and, aside from being a wonderful guy, he is among the greatest art recovery agents in history. However (and Charley knows I feel this way), I do not share his belief regarding the IRA. I share the opinion of the Assistant US Attorney Brian Kelly that Bulger was not involved in the theft and has no information about it to share. We’re fortunate at the Gardner to have AUSA Kelly as the lead prosecutor for our case, as he is also the lead prosecutor in the Bulger case. He has put away all of Bulger’s cohorts, all of whom admitted to dozens of murders and other heinous crimes and have described all of Bulger’s exploits for juries and book readers alike. One would have to suspend an enormous amount of disbelief to think they wouldn’t admit to even the slightest knowledge about the Gardner theft. Add that to the fact that there’s not even the slightest bit of evidence pointing to an Irish connection, and I put that possibility very low on the list of likelihoods. Of course, all that being said, the paintings are still missing, so we cannot rule anything out. And if a person from Ireland shows up at our door with the art this afternoon, I’ll be very glad to admit that I was wrong!

August 13, 2011

ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore Interviewed in PRI's The World: "Stealing Rembrandts: Why the Dutch Master is so popular with thieves"

Rembrandt's Jacob de Gheyn III, sometimes referred to as "the Takeaway"
PRI's The World, a one-hour weekday radio news show on the BBC, features ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore discussing the book he co-authored with journalist Tom Mashberg, "Stealing Rembrandts", on the date of publication release in the UK. You can hear the show here on their website.

August 12, 2011

Anthony Amore, ARCA Board of Trustee and Security Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Will Be Discussing "Stealing Rembrandts" on BBC's "The World" Programme on August 12

Rembrandt's Jeremiah (1630)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's security director, Anthony Amore, an ARCA Board of Trustee, will be discussing his book, "Stealing Rembrandts" (co-authored with Tom Mashberg), on BBC's "The World" program on August 12 when the book is released in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Amore, who taught museum security at ARCA's International Art Crime program in Amelia in 2009, has written about the thefts of works by the 16th century Dutch artist, Rembrandt van Rijn. The 245-page volume published by Palgrave MacMillan in New York in July, features heists in Worcester in 1972; Cincinnati in 1973; and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1975.

Many other thefts of Rembrandt paintings are covered in the book, including that of a 1933 robbery of the residence of a Stockholm art collector, of which included Rembrandt's Jeremiah Mourning for the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630).  The painting had been "kept from view for years while in the possession of Russian count S. A. Stroganoff in St. Petersburg before the First World War."  The day after the theft, Amore and Mashberg recount, a workman at the residence "led investigators to the masterpiece, then valued at $100,000, which he had stashed in the woods near Stockholm.  Today it resides safely in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and is valued at $100 million." 

You may find more information about the program here on the website of PRI's The World.