Showing posts with label Sweden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sweden. Show all posts

January 27, 2014

Postcard from Skara, Sweden: An unexpected collection of Swedish art at the Jula Hotell and Konference

Skrämda, Anders Zorn 1912
by A.M.C. Knutsson

Having travelled quite extensively in the last year, I have had the privilege to come across some very interesting places, both planned and unplanned. Some of the least expected being the gallery-hotel, a hotel that houses a large collection of original art. Arriving late one night in one of Sweden’s oldest towns, Skara, I completely missed the large sign hanging by the side of the road announcing that the hotel I was approaching housed one of the largest private collections of paintings by Anders Zorn (1860-1920) in Sweden.

I was therefore completely unprepared for what awaited me upon entering the modern-looking hotel. The walls were tastefully dressed with masterly portraits and enticing nudes. The works accounted for most of the great names in Swedish art from Anders Zorn to Carl Larsson (1853-1919, the figurehead of the Swedish Arts and Crafts Movement).

Steeped, as I irrevocably am, in the world of art crime one of my first thoughts went to the security arrangements of this magnificent collection. My interest was met with great hospitality and the following morning I was met by the hotel manager, Catarine Larsson, for a talk about the collection.

The collection as well as the hotel are the creations of Lars-Göran Blank, founder of the Swedish company Jula, founded in 1979 to sell woodcutters now has shops across Sweden, Norway and Poland, supplying everything related to house and garden maintenance.

Watercolour by Carl Larsson
Lars-Göran Blank inherited his interest in art from his father and spent most of his childhood frequenting museums. Due to his entrepreneurial success, he suddenly found himself in a position to be able to act on his interests. In 2007 Jula Hotell and Konference was built and before long exquisite art started appearing on its walls. The employees, which included Catarine Larsson, were at first unsure how to react to the art that appeared around them. They had never been involved in protecting valuable art before. ‘We were worried,’ Ms. Larsson explained, ‘we didn’t know if we could tell anyone about the paintings. But then the owner put up a huge sign by the road, so then we understood that it was fine.’ 

Mr. Blank is proud of his collection, and rightly so. In addition to probably the largest private collection of Zorn paintings in Sweden, paintings by Carl Larsson, Bruno Liljefors (1860-1939, Wildlife painter), and some paintings by Blank’s own hand can be found in the hotel.

Through the help and assistance of the Jula Security department and an insurance company, an all-encompassing security policy has been developed for the collection. When the hotel was renovated in 2012, it was designed with the safety of the collection in mind; subsequently, a large portion of the paintings were moved from the dining room to a specially constructed art gallery. The hotel consulted a local museum about how to properly hang and display the collection which resulted in a tasteful and safe new home for the paintings. Great care was taken to secure both the paintings and the rooms themselves. Each painting is alarmed directly to the police and covered with protective glass to protect against all kinds of sticky fingers. When Ms. Larsson notes that ‘the paintings are as safe here as anywhere else’: with around the clock surveillance and reinforced night guards, the art as well as the guests can rest safely.

New art gallery completed in 2012
The hotel maintains good relations with the national police force and would be contacted directly if there were any rumours about an art-coup taking place in the area, allowing Ms Larsson to reinforce her security measures. The hotel works with its collections in various ways, including holding conferences in the art gallery and hosting art talks with speakers from the Zorn Museum. They are mentioned in local guidebooks -- even pre-school classes come to draw in the gallery.

This magnificent collection manages to straddle both the definition of public and private collection. Despite being a privately owned assembly of works, it remains accessible to the public. Over a glass of wine in the evening or a cup of coffee at breakfast, the visitors to Jula Hotel can enjoy art in the same way as a private collector but for the price of the beverage in hand.

The phenomenon of art in hotels takes on various forms, from being a tool of barter in Les Templiers in Collioure, France, to a cheap Van Gogh print in a forgettable place in New York. Most interestingly the practice of housing private collections in hotels could possibly negate the criticism of the private collection as elitist, as the paintings might even prove more accessible than in a museum, and might in actual fact convey art to a new kind of audience, that normally would not put their foot in a museum.

Even as I struggle to stay awake, solving my last Sudoku for the evening, my eye is caught by the nudes walking down towards the lakeside in Zorn’s 1912 masterpiece Skrämda. The very painting that Ms Larsson confessed to be her favourite, and which she would take if she would have her pick in the collection.

A.M.C. Knutsson earned a Master of Arts in General History from the University of St. Andrews and completed ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage in 2013.

December 25, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 - ,,, No comments

A flaming Swedish Christmas tradition – the annual burning of the Gävle-Goat

by A. M. C. Knutsson

On Saturday the 21st of December the Gävle-Goat was again found in flames after unknown men engaged in a 4 a.m. torching session of this enormous straw creation. The men have yet to be found but the police are searching vigorously for the culprits. If found they would be charged with inflicting gross damage to property.

The burning of the Gävle-goat is a ritual reaching back to 1966, the year when Stig Galvén prompted the first straw goat to be erected in Slottstorget in Gävle, central Sweden. The Yule time straw goat has a long tradition in the Scandinavian culture. It reaches back to pre-Christian days when the god of War, Thor, was said to have a carriage pulled by two goats; Tanngnjost and Tanngrisner.[1] The goat has long been associated with fertility and farming, as such the last wheat sheaf of the year was thought to embody the harvest spirit. As such it could be formed into a goat to boost next year’s crops.[2] As the Nordic countries were converted to Christianity, the goat became increasingly associated with darker powers. None-the-less the Yule goat maintained a prominent role in the Swedish Christmas celebrations. Long before Santa Clause’s arrival at the Swedish shore it was the Yule-Goat who was in charge of distributing gifts to children during the yuletide. He, however, was not quite as jovial as the present day Santa, and parents often threatened unruly children with the Yule-Goat.[3] As late as the end of the 19th Century when Santa Clause finally managed to navigate to the northern countries, it was the Yule-Goat who pulled his sledge. Nowadays there is little left to remind us of the goat but the straw Yule-Goats found in most Swedish homes.

When the Gävle-Goat first appeared in 1966, it was then a symbol recognisable to all Swedes, however its scale was something quite new. The goat was 13 meters (42.6 feet) high and 7 meters (23 feet) long, weighing an impressive 3 tonnes. Since then every year a gigantic straw goat has been installed on Slottstorget around the first of advent. On New Years Eve of 1966, Galvén’s goat was the first of many to feel the power of the flame.[4] As opposed to most other vandals, the first one was caught and charged with inflicting gross damage to property. This was followed by two years of peace for the goat after which it again was torched on New Years Eve 1969. Whilst many forms of vandalism have afflicted the Goat throughout the years the most common by far is arson. When the goat burnt on the 21st of Dec 2013, it was the 27th time the poor beast has met its end by the torch.

In 1985 the goat met with a new level of fame when it was included in The Guinness Book of World Records for its impressive 12.5 meter height, which was later beaten by the 1993 goat, which towered 16 meters above ground. Since 1986 two Yule-Goats have been found in Gävle, as two competing associations have been building them: the Southern Merchants (constructing the Gävle-Goat, the bigger goat, usually targeted by arsonists) and Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa (Constructing the Yule-Goat). Only two years later, the goat had met such repute that English bookmakers took up the challenge of the goat burning and ever since it has been possible to bet on whether or not the goat will burn. As the renown of the goat rose so did the police efforts to secure it. Whilst in 1990 volunteers had guarded the goat, by 1996 the first web cameras had been installed and it was now possible to follow the destiny of the goat online. The fame of the goat was such that in 2001, an American from New Orleans, having taken the burnings of the goat as a permitted tradition decided to torch it. A civilian caught him almost immediately and the police had to rescue him from the wrath of the people of Gävle.[5] The man later received a fine of 100 000 Swedish crowns (approx. $15,000) and a month in jail.[6]

Apart from the attempts at destruction by fire the most notable attack on the goat came in 2010, when two unknown men offered the goat’s guard 50 000 Swedish crowns (approx. $7,500) to leave the goat for a few minutes. The plan was to kidnap the goat and by helicopter bring it to Stureplan in Stockholm.[7]

Whilst flame-retardants have been used for some years, including this year, the goat has burnt to the ground for the last three years. In the Facebook group ‘Vi som vill bränna Gävle-bocken’ ('We who want to burn the Gävle-goat'), a comment appeared just a day before its destruction. “All who have guessed that the goat would burn today, maybe it is time to take matters into your own hands?”[8] A few hours later the goat was in flames. From its twitter account the Gävle-Goat announced “I'm so sad my friends that I have to leave you now! Thank you for this year! Take care and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”[9]

[1] "Mytologi (Nordisk)". Nordisk familjebok, 1913. Read 23 December 2013
[2] Karin Schager, Julbocken i folktro och jultradition, (1989)
[3] Caroline Lagercrantz, http://www.popularhistoria.se/artiklar/julbocken-i-maskopi-med-morka-makter/, (26 Jan 2007), Read 23 December 2013
[4] http://www2.visitgavle.se/sv/se-gora/a548364/gavlebockens-historia/detaljer
[5] Dennis Larsson, http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article10249963.ab (24 Dec 2001), Read 23 December 2013
[6] Josefin Karlsson & Niklas Eriksson, http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article18065246.ab (21 Dec 2013), Read 23 December 2013
[9] https://twitter.com/Gavlebocken, Read 23 December 2013

Further Reading:
"Mytologi (Nordisk)". Nordisk familjebok, 1913. Karin Schager, Julbocken i folktro och jultradition, (1989)
Karlsson, Josefin & Niklas Eriksson, http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article18065246.ab (21 Dec 2013)

The YouTube video above is from Gävlebocken 2012.

October 18, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013 - ,, No comments

Stamp theft: Coin expert and former head of a prestigious Swedish museum charged with stealing valuable stamps from auction house Philea in Stockholm

by A. M. C. Knutsson

A well-known coin expert and former head of a prestigious Swedish museum has just been charged with several stamp thefts from the auction house Philea in Stockholm. The man, a long standing client at the auction house, was suspected of stealing as early as February of this year. Whilst the staff were discussing what action to take, the man departed with the stolen objects. Philea reported the thefts to the police who suggested that as the man was a regular, they should plan a trap to acquire further evidence against the man.

On May 8th, the day of the next stamp auction at Philea, the police and the staff were ready. As soon as the coin expert left his home, the police shadowed him all the way to the auction house. Once there, the man took his regular corner seat which allowed him a full view of the room and the staff but not the CCTV camera straight behind him. Almost as soon as the stamps had arrived before him, the man started pocketing them. This lasted for an hour and a half. As soon as the man went to leave the building, the police emerged and arrested the culprit. Within his pockets, they found 94 stamps, with a total value of around 20,000 Swedish kronor. The man confessed to have stolen stamps on three separate occasions for a total loss estimated by the auction house of 100,000 kronor.

The expert targeted midrange stamps, ranging from 50 kronor up towards several thousands. According to Philea spokesman Christer Svensson, the most expensive stamps had a much higher level of security so the thief was clever to target the less conspicuous items.

The man who is well known in the museum world for his expertise in coins is also an avid stamp collector. The thefts started after he lost his position as the head of a well regarded museum. In interrogations, the suspect claims to have been suffering from depression and has been seeing a psychologist in order to deal with his stealing. According to sources, he is looking for help as he wants to control his stealing which he describes as a form of kleptomania. He firmly asserts that he has never stolen anything else. When the auction house sent a bill for the approximated amount of 100,000 kronor, the expert paid it promptly. In addition to this he was fined 9,500 kronor. The man has previously bought stamps at the auction house for about 1 million kronor but Philea has made clear that no one who steals is welcome back.

Further information:

August 19, 2013

Art Loss Register Press Release: "Rare, Stolen, 16th Century Astrolabe to be returned to Swedish museum"

Recovered: Astrolabe (Photo by ALR)
Martinus Weiler, silvered brass
 diameter 170 nm, depth mm
Today The Art Loss Register issued an 'Art Recovery Announcement' celebrating the return of Astrolabe to Skokloster Castle in a small ceremony on August 21, 2013:
It has been a good year from Swedish Museums. A few months after recovering Matisse's "Le Jardin" for Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art, Christopher Marinello, a lawyer who specializes in recovery stolen artwork, is returning to Sweden with a 16th century astrolabe stolen from a castle museum in 1999. 
The astrolabe, signed by Martinus Weiler and dated 1590, can be classified as an early "astronomical computer" used to tell time and to map celestial objects. It is valued at over $400,000. The astrolabe was stolen from Skokloster Castle, one of the world's greatest baroque castles near Arlandal, Sweden. In the late 1990's and early 2000's the museum suffered a series of thefts of small objects including a rare book. The thefts were reported to INTERPOL and the Art Loss Register in London but no one was ever arrested for the crime. 
Authorities suspect the notorious "KB man", a former head of the rare books department at Sweden's Royal Library, who admitted stealing millions of dollars worth of rare books and manuscripts from Swedish museums from 1986-2004. At the time of his arrest in 2004, KB told police that he quickly sold the stolen items to support his lifestyle of Armani suits, Cuban cigars, and Mercedes Benzes. A few weeks after his arrest and subsequent divorce, KB man committed suicide by cutting the gas line in his apartment, slitting his wrists, and then igniting the gas. The resulting explosion blew out the walls of his apartment forcing evacuation of his neighbours and causing a dozen serious injuries. 
Mr. Marinello works closely with law enforcement and the Art Loss Register, a database of stolen objects based in London. 
The astrolabe was being searched by a collector from Italy who had intended to offer it for sale in London. Once located, Marinello negotiated the return of the astrolabe with the lawyer for the Italian collector. He expects to return the work to Skokloster Castle later this week. 
Stolen inclimometer (ALR) 
"While a 16th Century astrolabe may not be as 'sexy' as a major Picasso or Matisse, for a geek like me, recovering such an important planespheric and horological instrument is just as gratifying," said Marinello. 
Bengt Kylsberg, the Museum's Curator commented, "Skokloster Castle is very grateful to Christopher Marinello and The Art Loss Register for their fantastic work. This instrument is an important part of our collection and has been at Skokloster Castle for more than 300 years. With this recovery, our scientific and rare instrument collection is nearly as complete as it was when Gustaf Wrangel, the founder of Skokloster Castle, died in 1676." 
STOLEN 
A gilt brass inclinometer signed by Johann Freidrich Franck and dated 1643 was also stolen from the castle and remains missing. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of this object is urged to contact: 
Bengt Kylsberg, Curator, Skokloster Castle
+46 (0)8-402 30 74
Christopher A. Marinello, The Art Loss Register
+44 (0)7702 206 913

August 8, 2013

Christopher Marinello on "Art Recovery: Negotiating with Criminals, Handlers, and Good Faith Purchasers" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Christopher Marinello writes on "Art Recovery: Negotiating with Criminals, Handlers, and Good Faith Purchasers" in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
There was a good deal of press coverage surrounding a recent art recovery I handled for the Museum of Modern Art in Sweden. A UK-based dealer with significant connections to the Polish art market searched Matisse's Le Jardin against the Art Loss Register database. The results showed that the work had been stolen 26 years earlier, from the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden and reported to the local police, INTERPOL, and the IFAR (later the ALR) database. 
Following confirmation of the match, my role was to ensure that the painting made its way into the UK, where I would secure the assistance of law enforcement in case a seizure of the work became necessary. I then proceeded to negotiate (with police approval) for the return of the work. 
Fortunately, I encountered a very cooperative dealer who was willing to listen to my analysis of the laws of Poland, the UK, and Sweden. (I think I might have bored him into submission). We engaged in considerable debate about what options he had available to him, knowing that he now held a stolen painting. Once obtaining his release, the painting was placed in a safe for eventual return to the museum in Stockholm. 
Many of the reporters covering the story wanted to know how much money was paid to the dealer, to obtain the release of this $1,000,000 painting. The follow-up question was just as direct, in wanting to know how much money the ALR was going to make from the recovery. The answer to both questions was, and is, zero.
Mr. Marinello's article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA (available electronically and in print via subscription and Amazon.com). The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.