Showing posts with label The Scream. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Scream. Show all posts

September 8, 2015

Charley Hill, Dick Ellis, and the Recovery of Paintings Stolen Six Years Ago

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Museum Security Network sent out a link to an article in the United Kingdom's The Daily Mail about the recovery of stolen art: "Millions of pounds worth of paintings stolen from the country mansion of cider heir found by 'The Scream' sleuth".

The Scream referred to in this article is the painting by Edvard Munch stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo in 1994 and the subject of Edward Dolnick's 2006 book The Rescue Artist (which won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime). The back of the book describes the investigation:
Baffled and humiliated, the Norwegian police turned to the one man they believed could help: a half English, half American undercover cop named Charley Hill, the world's greatest art detective... a complicated mix of brilliance, foolhardiness, and charm whose hunt for a purloined treasure would either cap an illustrious career or be the fiasco that would haunt him forever.
I have never met Charley Hill (here's a link to some background on Hill and The Scream), but over the years we have corresponded via email on subjects related to art crime that have been covered on this blog (such as this). So I shot off an email to Mr. Hill and asked for his comment. He responded that Dick Ellis would be the best person to quote because "it was his job" and that the recovery of the artworks taken from the Somerset estate of Esmond and Susie Bulmer had nothing to do with Hill's work in recovering "The Scream".

Dick Ellis is the retired founder of The Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiquities Squad at New Scotland Yard in London.  He is also an annual lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Emma Jones wrote about Ellis for The Financial Times in 2013 and CBC Radio interviewed him here. Ellis wrote an email today for the ARCA blog:
The recovery of the Bulmer's stolen paintings again focuses attention on to the increasing role of the private sector in the investigation and recovery of stolen art, antiques and cultural property. With many countries facing a continuing period of austerity cut backs, their law enforcement agencies have seen even fewer police resources being devoted to this area of crime.

In this particular instance, the victims suffered the trauma of a violent robbery at the hands of five masked criminals who bound the house sitter to the stairs where she remained for some 18 hours. The loss was substantial and included jewellery, sculpture ,and a canteen of silver cutlery in addition to the 16 paintings valued together at £2 million.

Whilst the police response to such a violent crime was swift, the investigation was uncertain as to the direction it should take.The lack of understanding of the commodity, stolen fine art and antiques, is common to many law enforcement agencies and not just to those in the UK underlining the lack of training that police receive in this subject.

In 2010, a year after the theft, the victims and their insurers turned to the private sector for help as it was here that they could utilise the services of professional art crime consultants and investigators. 

Working with the police but independently of them, I was able to revitalise an investigation that had lost both direction and police resources. With regular progress reports the police were able to continue to develop their investigation without devoting vast resources to the enquiry, leaving them free to attend to the day to day pressures of policing.

In June 2015, whilst I was lecturing to the ARCA students in Italy, Charley Hill took a telephone call from a friendly journalist and was introduced to her source who was willing to share the information he had. On my return to the UK, Charley introduced me to the intermediary and we were then able to work together to achieve the recovery of the stolen paintings.  

The recovery required working with the insurers, their lawyers and with the police and provides a model of how art recovery in the future will depend far more on the resources and expertise of the private sector working in partnership with law enforcement.

The inside story of the this recovery will form the basis of the lecture on the future of art recovery to be given during the 2016 ARCA course in Amelia, Italy which will also look at the authentication and forensic examination of stolen art.
In 2016, Ellis will be teaching "The High Stakes World of Art Policing, Protection and Investigation" June 8-10 and June 13-15 in Amelia, Umbria. You may find out more about ARCA and the postgraduate certificate program in Italy here.

September 6, 2015

Sunday, September 06, 2015 - ,, No comments

The Scream: 4 Versions, 2 Thefts, 1 Forced Sale


Expressionist artist Edvard Munch created four principle versions of Der Schrei der Natur, one of the world's most recognisable works of art.   Known in popular culture as The Scream, the artwork has become an agonised symbol of modern anxiety and alienation.

But how do you tell the differences between four of the world’s most talked about works of art when the dynamic composition and its enigmatic character remain so similar from version to version? Each of the works of art contain minor differences in the spectacular skyline, with figures in the background of a foot path, a prominent wooden railing and a view overlooking the peninsula extending into a fjord with a cityscape beyond.  But what truly sets these celebrity artworks apart from one another is the fact that two versions were stolen from different Norwegian museums in 1994 and 2004 and a third has been the subject of an ownership controversy that dates back to the Second World War. 

1893 Version - 35 3/4 by 28 7/8 Tempera and crayon on cardboard, with tell-tale wax drips by the date and signature in the corner.


On February 12, 1994, two men climbed a ladder and smashed through a window to enter The Nationalgalleriet in Oslo.  Using wire cutters, the art thieves clipped the framed painting free from the wall and made a speedy getaway.

The painting was recovered on March 7, 1994 with the help of an undercover operation by British detectives.  Tony Russell,and Dick Ellis of New Scotland Yard's famed Art and Antiques Squad worked closely with Detective Charles Hill who posed as an American art dealer representing The Getty.


1893 Version - 29 1/8 by 22 in., Crayon on cardboard 
Some individuals argue that this version of The Scream is Munch’s first attempt at rendering his historic image though there is no written evidence to substantiate that.  Its unfinished elements present as a more preliminary work and is remarkable in that one of the figures in the background appears to be looking out towards the fjord. This version is housed at the Edvard Munch Museet (Munch Museum) of Oslo and is the only one of the four "Screams" to not have had a checkered past. 










1895 Version - 32 by 23 1/4 in. Pastel on board
Sold for $119,922,500 at Sotheby's on May 2, 2012 billionaire Leon Black's purchase set the record for the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction. Mr Black is a trustee of MoMA and The Met. 

This version is Munch's most vibrant and some consider it more valuable due to a handwritten inscription the artist wrote on its frame.  


1910 Version -  32 7/8 by 26 in., Tempera, Oil and Crayon
This version and "Madonna", another of Munch's iconic works, were snatched from the he Edvard Munch Museet (Munch Museum) by two masked men dressed in black and brandishing guns, who forced museum staff to take the paintings down from the wall and hand them over.

When both artworks were recovered two years later, The Scream was found to have sustained worrisome damages.  Despite the efforts of conservators,who worked tirelessly to repair most of the damage, the bottom-left corner of the painting was left washed out and scarred by a dirty brown water mark. Some say the damage and the artwork's theft only add to its value. 

Perhaps envisioning the success of his artwork  or a premonition about their popularity with thieves Munch created approximately thirty Der Schrei der Natur lithographs in 1895, all with black ink, most on either white or cream paper. 

To get an idea what landscape inspired this iconic painting, one need only read the inscription etched into the frame of the 1895 version.  It reads "I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature. -TM"

Norwegians believe the artist was describing an overlook from a road called "Valhallveien" overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya from the vantage of Ekeberg Hill.  If you want to know where that is why not check out pop culture detective Bob Egan's fantastic website.  He has also pinpointed the exact spots where some of the most famous album covers of all time were photographed.

By Lynda Albertson

May 3, 2012

Sotheby's Sells Munch's "The Scream" for $119.9 in New York City -- the most expensive artwork sold at auction -- over the objections of the descendants of the Jewish collector Hugo Simon who owned it from 1926 to 1937

Sotheby's sold Evard Munch's "The Scream" for $119.9 million in New York City tonight.

Lot #20, identified from the 'Property of the Olsen Collection', a pastel on board in the original frame, measures 32 by 23 1/4 inches, executed in 1895, and signed 'E. Munch' and dated in the lower left corner.  It is one of four versions of an man with an open mouth, his hands clasped to the side of his head, recognizable to even middle school children.  The artist lived from 1863 and to 1944.

According to Sotheby's provenance information, Arthur von Franquet purchased the work in 1895.  The Berlin banker and Jewish art collector Hugo Simon had acquired it by 1926 and by October, 1993, Mr. Simon had left the painting on consignment with the art dealer Jacques Goudstikker in Amsterdam.  Simon left it with the Kunsthaus Zürich by December 1936.  Then it was on consignment for sale by Simon in January 1937 with M. Molvidson, Konst & Antikvitetshandel in Stockholm where Thomas Olsen, the current owner's father, purchased it.

Jori Finkel for The Los Angeles Times reported that the price of $119.9 million set the record for the most expensive artwork sold at auction:
The identity of the buyer, who was bidding by phone during the 12-minute auction, has not been confirmed.  Bidding started at $40 million, with at least five bidders.
Today the Holocaust Restitution Project posted a link on its Facebook page to an article in a German newspaper that the great grandson of Hugo Simon, now living in Brazil, told the newspaper "Die Welt" that the painting had been sold "out of necessity" when his family fled from Germany during the Nazi era. the Holocaust Restitution Project documents property losses at the hands of the National Socialists and their allies across Europe from 1933 to 1945.

January 14, 2012

CBC Radio's "Day 6" Interviews ARCA Instructor Richard Ellis in "To catch an art thief" about the use of art as collateral or currency "in criminal enterprises such as drugs or arms or people trafficking"

Brent Bambury, host of the show Day 6 on CBC Radio, "talks" with art crime expert Richard Ellis, founder of the Art and Antiquities Squad at The New Scotland Yard.

Bambury begins his show discussing this week's theft of paintings by Picasso and Mondrian from the National Gallery in Athens when thieves prompted security guards to turn off their security system by setting off a series of alarms that made the guards think the system wasn't working and shut the alarm system down. As Bambury recounts, the thieves then entered the museum in Greece and stripped three paintings from their frames; "everything was going according to plan" Bambury says until one of the thieves set off a motion sensor attracting attention of the security staff who watched them flee. [Officially the number of thieves has not been released.) One of the paintings was recovered when a thief dropped it during the escape, according to international reports.

Bambury asks Ellis what happens after a thief pulls off a successful heist that draws international attention.
Ellis: In one particular Picasso theft the chap got into a taxi in London and drove around and delivered it to the person who had asked him to steal it, so it depends entirely who you are and what your intentions are. Looking at the Greek experience recently, it was a well orchestrated theft, so they may have well have gone beyond planning the actual theft and have already worked out what they could do with the pictures. 
Bambury: How does a thief monetize a painting? What is the value of something that is so very difficult to sell? 
Ellis: Value is established unfortunately through the media. I say unfortunately because there is a tendency of following an art theft to try and arrive at the highest possible value because it makes for a better story. Criminals will take the highest published value and they will work anywhere between 3 to 7 or even 10% of that reported value as its black market value. Clearly if it’s a valuable painting it can still be a significant sum of money and they’ll use that as collateral or as a form of currency and it will then just be used as a way to pay for other criminal enterprises such as drugs or arms or people trafficking. 
Bambury: So a painting then becomes a token of value in the larger world of organized crime? 
Ellis: Exactly that. Last year … in October I recovered two Picassos in Serbia that had been stolen in Switzerland in February 2007. Now what I learned from that experience is that art is actually being used as a currency because it is easier to travel across international borders carrying a painting than it is to travel across international borders carrying a lot of money. If you’ve got money on you, the authorities are alert to money laundering and you will be questioned and you will have to justify your possession of that money. With paintings, unfortunately a lot of law enforcement are not to so familiar with the art scene, they don’t have easy access to databases of stolen art and antiques. The chances are that the criminals will be able to travel across international boundaries with a stolen work of art.
In the discussion on Day 6, Mr. Ellis goes on to dispel the myth of “Dr. No” the evil art collector hiring thieves to steal art masterpieces for his personal enjoyment. He then describes the operation to recover Munch’s The Scream, which had been stolen from the National Gallery of Norway in 1994 while authorities were distracted with securing the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. He also describes Canada’s role in the global market for stolen art.

When Bambury asks Ellis to speculate on the whereabouts of the two paintings recently stolen from the National Gallery in Greece, Ellis guesses that the "porous" borders of Greece with the Balkan countries may have provided an escape route to Montenegro or Serbia.

You can read a summary of the interview on CBC Radio’s website here “To catch an art thief” and listen here to the interview between Brent Bambury and Dick Ellis on the show “Day 6: Inside The World of International Art Theft.”

January 25, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part Three, The Thefts

By Therese Veier

Munch is one of a few Norwegian artists that have a global market of buyers and collectors. The value and prices for his art have increased, coinciding with an increase in thefts.

On February 23, 1988, in the middle of the night, the Munch painting “Vampyr” was stolen. The thief climbed into the Munch Museum through an open window. With no alarms attached, it was easy to steal the world-famous painting. This was not a planned theft, rather an act of impulse triggered by the open window. Iconic art such as “Vampyr” is impossible to sell, and not knowing what to do with the painting, the thief decided to return it. In August, he walked straight into the police station, carrying “Vampyr” under his arm, hoping this would lead to a milder sentence for a big jewellery theft he had committed in June. The thieves were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

Unfortunately, the National Museum in Oslo was not that lucky in 1993 when Munch’s "Portrett studie" a portrait of his sister, was taken from the walls during the museum’s opening hours. The painting has never been recovered. The experience of art crime investigators is often that if stolen art is not found shortly after the theft, it can disappear into the black market for years.

A year after this, in 1994, a few hours before the grand opening ceremony for the Lillehammer-Olympic Games, the National Museum in Oslo was again victim of a Munch theft. This time the museum’s version of "Skrik" (The Scream) was stolen. Knowing that most of the police force would be occupied with security at the Olympics, the confidant thieves planned and executed a theft they knew would take all media attention away from the Olympics and ridicule Norway. The thieves entered the museum using a ladder, smashed a window, climbed inside and stole “Skrik”. They pinned an art postcard on the empty museum wall with the words, “Thanks for the poor security”. The theft took 50 seconds. An inexperienced guard did not react correctly to the museum alarm, and camera images were poor. The theft created headlines worldwide. How could this happen? Was it really that easy to steal a national treasure? With the professional aid of Scotland Yard and Charley Hill, who managed to convince the thieves that the Getty Museum wanted to buy the work back, “Skrik” was recovered. It turned out that the brains behind this brazen theft was Pål Enger, who previously stole “Vampyr” from the Munch Museum. Enger was sentenced to six years in prison for this theft and other petty crimes, his companion, got three years. Museum security was declared a national issue that should be taken serious.

After a few quiet years the Munch Museum experienced Norway’s most brutal art theft so far. On the 22nd of August 2004, both “Skrik” and “Madonna” were stolen by armed robbers during the museum’s opening hours. Shortly after the theft a student at the art academy in Oslo, Malo (Hammaya Rashid), solicited a stunt claiming the thieves had burnt the artworks in fear of getting caught, and given him the ashes from which he had created a new work, “Munch masks”. Lars Fr. Svendsen, a philosophy professor, called the idea brilliant. If the masks really contained the ashes from “Skrik” and “Madonna” this would make Malo’s work one of the most important artworks in the 21 century, and even if they don’t it is still a very interesting and provocative work. Criminality as an art form has never really been explored, but will probably increase in the future, Svendsen stated to the press. Hopefully the majority do not share his views, and tests showed that Malo’s “Munch masks” did not stem from the stolen works.

Later investigation revealed that the theft was a diversion to get the police occupied searching for the paintings while the thieves could execute the largest money theft in Norway (57,4 million Norwegian kroner), the NOKAS robbery. When the NOKAS case came on hearing David Toska, the leader, offered to return the stolen Munch works if certain demands were met, like more frequent visits from his girlfriend. His demands where never granted. Toska and his gang were sentenced for the NOKAS robbery, but Toska was never tried for the museum theft. In May 2006, three men were convicted and sentenced for the Munch robbery, but the artworks remained lost. Two years and nine days after “Skrik” and “Madonna” were stolen from the museum the police found the artworks in Oslo. They were damaged, but could be restored. No reward was paid for the recovery of the works, and no new convictions issued.

To summarize, my impression is that thieves view art thefts as easy, a prank to get media attention, to brag about or as a cover up for their “real” theft. The thieves are tough criminals. Of course museums cannot always prevent art from being stolen, but research and knowledge about art crime, correct security measures and special art crime investigators is necessary.

Databases to register stolen art is an important tool; unfortunately, Norway does not yet have a national database for stolen art.