Showing posts with label art heist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art heist. Show all posts

December 17, 2013

Noah Charney in "Lessons from the History of Art Crime" writes on “Art-Burning Mother & Art Loss Register Issues” in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

In his column Lessons from the History of Art Crime in the tenth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Noah Charney writes on “Art-Burning Mother & Art Loss Register Issues”:
An arrest was made this summer of a Romanian thief who seems to have been behind the heist of artworks, including paintings by Matisse, from the Kunsthal Museum in the Netherlands about a year ago. The arrest would have made small headlines, but for the fact that the mother of the thief claims to have burned at least one of the stolen paintings after her son’s arrest, in an attempt to destroy evidence and help him avoid prison. Unfortunately, the mother’s statement is believable, as she described accurately the way an oil painting on canvas would have burned in her oven (“like tissues”), and charred fragments of canvas with paint on them, that could match the stolen Matisse, were found just where she said they would be.
This is not the first time that a foolish and ignorant mother has made a son’s art theft crime far worse by destroying the stolen art. The mother of Swiss waiter and art kleptomaniac Stephane Breitweiser, who stole over one-hundred paintings and kept every one, never attempting to sell them but rather adding to a compulsive private art collection, destroyed a number of the stolen works when her son was arrested. She threw some in a canal, and shoved others down her garbage disposal. When her son heard this, he tried to kill himself, so distraught was he at the grotesque stupidity of destroying art—art that he loved and cherished, albeit stole. 
There are almost no known cases in the history of art theft of thieves knowingly destroying stolen art, even when it seemed clear that they did not know how to profit from it. In the majority of known cases, thieves in such a situation have simply abandoned the stolen art, rather than destroy it—for destroying benefits no one, hurts everyone, and turns a kidnapping into a murder. This was the case for the 2004 Munch Museum theft—when thieves failed to find a buyer, and failed to secure a ransom for the stolen Munch paintings, including a version of The Scream, they simply abandoned the works in a parked car on a farm outside of Oslo. Art is sometimes damaged or destroyed inadvertently—the best information to date on the stolen Caravaggio Palermo Nativity, taken from the church of San Lorenzo in Palermo by members of Cosa Nostra in 1969 (the theft of which prompted the foundation of the world’s first art police unit, the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, in Italy), is that the Caravaggio was irrevocably damaged in an earthquake and subsequently fed to pigs, to destroy the evidence. But such stories are rare indeed, thank goodness.
Noah Charney holds Masters degrees in art history from The Courtauld Institute and University of Cambridge, and a PhD from University of Ljubljana. He is Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Rome, a Visiting Lecturer for Brown University abroad programs, and is the founder of ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a non-profit research group on issues of art crimes. Charney is the author of numerous academic and popular articles, including a regular column in ArtInfo called “The Secret History of Art” and a weekly interview series in The Daily Beast called “How I Write.” His first novel, The Art Thief (Atria 2007), is currently translated into seventeen languages and is a best seller in five countries. He is the editor of an academic essay collection entitled Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009) and the Museum Time series of guides to museums in Spain (Planeta 2010). His is author of a critically acclaimed work of non-fiction, Stealing the Mystic Lamb: the True History of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece (PublicAffairs 2011), which is a best seller in two countries. His latest book is The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting (ARCA Publications 2011). Upcoming books include The Book of Forgery (Phaidon 2014), The Invention of Art (Norton 2015), and an as yet untitled edited collection of essays on art crime (Palgrave 2014).

Design for this issue and all issues of The Journal of Art Crime is the work of Urška CharneyHere's a link to ARCA's website on The Journal of Art Crime (includes Table of Contents for previous issues).

April 13, 2013

Francisco Goya's 1978 "Witches in Air" is subject of auction house theft in Danny Boyle's fictional film "Trance"

Francisco Goya's Witches in Air, 1798
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

In Danny Boyle's fictional movie, Trance, Francisco Goya's $25 million painting is stolen during an auction in a choreographed heist. One of the thieves, Simon (James McAvoy), works at the auction house. Simon betrays his accomplices before a bump on his head precedes a case of amnesia. Rosario Dawson is the hypnotherapist and Vincent Cassel (who played an art thief in Oceans 13) is the criminal boss applying the pressure on the bewildered lad with the big blue eyes and Scottish brogue to recall where he hid the stolen painting.

In reality, Goya's Witches in Air is owned by the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. The 1798 oil painting is not on display:

Three bare-chested characters wearing dunce caps hold a fourth, nude character in the air while another lies on the floor, covering his ears, A sixth figure flees, his head covered with a white cloth. With his hand, he makes the gesture intended to protect him from the evil eye. At the right of the scene, a donkey stands out against the neutral background.
This was one of six canvases Goya sold to the Duke and Duchess of Osuna in 1798, as decoration for their country house in La Alameda. They are linked to the etchings from his Caprichos series, in which he presented scenes of witches and witchcraft similar to this one.
This painting was acquired by the Prado Museum in 1999 with funds from the Villaescusa legacy.
The film also includes references to Rembrandt's "Sea of Galilee" stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 (the whereabouts of Dutch master's only seascape is publicly unknown) and an imagined room of "lost paintings" including Caravaggio's Nativity (stolen from a church in Palermo in 1969 and rumored to have been eaten by pigs).

October 20, 2012

October 16, 2012

Press conference on Rotterdam art heist

Lucien Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed"
Journalist Niels Rigter of in The Netherlands pointed to the press conference on today's art heist in which seven paintings were stolen from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam.

Mr. Rigter forwarded to the ARCA blog the link to the Rotterdam-Rijnmond Police's website and the two press releases on this art theft:
Police show pictures of stolen Kunsthal paintings
Police investigating burglary at the Kunsthal

Here on museum officials announce that the Kunsthal will reopen on Wednesday, that no security guards were on site at night, and that the paintings were insured.

 Henri Mattise's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune
 painting before theft.  Photo credit Reuters

Two hooks on the wall mark the place where
 the stolen Henri Mattise's La Liseuse en Blanc
 et Jaune 
painting was hanging.
Photo credit Reuters

September 16, 2012

Movies "The Maiden Heist" and "St. Trinian's" offer fun comic twists on the art heist caper

Worcester Art Museum's Renaissance Court (WAM)
by Catherine Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

In Southern California from where I edit this blog, the hot weather here is a great time for cleaning out offices and watching art crime movies.  Here's this week's picks:

The Maiden Heist (2009, now on DVD) tells of how three bland security guards (played with dry humor by Morgan Freedman, Christopher Walken, William H. Macy) steal their favorite works of art which have been targeted to move from Boston to Denmark.  The art works featured were created for the movie.  The Maiden Heist is a love story about the personal magnatism of art and its ability to transform our lives by love as shown in the movie's subplot (Marcia Gay Harden plays the wife of Christopher Walken, a hardworking beautician with dreams of a warmer climate).  This heist movie was partially filmed at Massachusetts' Worcester Art Museum.  In December 2007 the Worcester Art Museum "allowed movie makers to transform its Renaissance Court and galleries into a set for the $20 million feature film The Maiden Heist" (ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore and journalist Tom Mashberg in their book Stealing Rembrandts (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Forty years ago, on Wednesday, May 17, 1972, two men hired by Florian "Al" Monday entered the Worcester Art Museum late in the afternoon and removed four paintings from the walls 'in such a methodical manner' that museum 'visitors assumed the thieves were museum employees doing their jobs' (Stealing Rembrandts, page 42).   Then the two thieves 'remembered to pull down the blue-and-orange ski masks' (SR), placed the selected paintings into sacks, and walked to the main entrance of the museum.  Unfortunately, museum guard Philip J. Evans grabbed one of the thieves and was shot.  The four paintings (Gauguin's Brooding Woman and Head of a Woman, Picasso's Mother and Child, Rembrandt's St. Bartholomew) were later recovered.

The DVD for The Maiden Heist showed a trailer for St. Trinian's, a comedy about free-spirited girls who save their boarding school from bankruptcy.  Under the tutelage of a criminal played by Russell Brand, the students concoct a plan to steal Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring from the National Gallery in London (this painting is owned by the Mauritshuis in The Hague). The caper involves blowing up sewer gates, high wire climbing, and dancing through security beams. A copy of Vermeer's painting is sold on the 'black' market and the original is found by a couple of St. Trinian's schoolgirls.

Both movies can be viewed by middle-school and high-school students.

Other paintings of St. Bartholomew by Rembrandt can be found at the Timken Museum of Art in San Diego's Balboa Park and Los Angeles' Getty Center.

August 31, 2012

Approaching 40th anniversary of Canada's largest art theft: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 4, 1972

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Forty years ago, someone was plotting the largest art theft in Canadian history.  The plan was to steal the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ masterpiece paintings over Labor Day Weekend.  Although the thieves aborted the job and ended up taking fewer paintings, the three men who entered the museum on September 4, 1972, have never been arrested or imprisoned for this robbery.

In 1972, the art collection was housed in a three-story building that was already 60 years old.  Workers had been on the roof repairing a skylight for weeks.  The thieves may have been one of the people who had sat in chairs on the roof seeking relief from the sweltering August heat.  They would have had the opportunity to watch the routines of the security guards, typically unarmed university students also charged with managing the parking and traffic around Canada’s oldest art institution.

Summers in Montreal are typically hot and humid and nearly empty.  Residents traditionally retreat to the Laurentian Mountains or south of the Canadian border to escape the heat.  On that weekend, the museum’s president of the board of trustees, its director, and security director had all fled to the United States and Mexico for their holidays leaving Bill Bantey, the museum’s director of public relations, the most senior museum official on duty that weekend.

Mr. Bantey, a political and criminal journalist who had also worked for two decades for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was my mentor in 2009 when I traveled to Montreal to study this unsolved museum theft.  I was not allowed to read the police files on this still-open case although I met twice with a semi-retired Montreal police officer, Alain Lacoursière, who told me what he recalled from his investigation and his recollection of the information in the files.  Mr. Lacoursière appeared to have been the only one to investigate the case in recent years.  Both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière had appeared in a film, Le Colombo d’Art, which identified a suspect in the theft who refused to confess or release information as the whereabouts of the stolen paintings supposedly by Rembrandt, Jean Brueghel the Elder, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, Narcisse-Virgile de la Peña, Thomas Gainsborough, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jean-François Millet, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Peter Paul Rubens, and François-André Vincent.

The museum opened its archives to me and I spent days reading about the stolen paintings and jewels.  Many articles had been written in the more than 35 years since the robbery on the theft, the attempted ransom, and speculation on the whereabouts of the missing 17 paintings.  In separate conversations with me, both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière believed that the paintings had not been destroyed and had probably been sent out of the country to a jurisdiction friendly to members of organized crime who spent Quebec’s cold winters in warmer southern climates.

On this anniversary I find myself wondering about the three thieves who climbed up onto the roof of a three-story building, opened up an unsecured skylight, and vaulted down ropes into the museum.  At least one of the three carried a gun and shot off a round when the first guard hesitated to drop to the floor.  Then the thieves tied up three guards and spent about one-half to an hour in the museum selecting 39 paintings, which also included works by El Greco, Picasso, Tintoretto, and a second Rembrandt.  The thieves piled up the paintings and then one of them opened the door into the garage where they had planned to use a museum van to escape.  However, the alarm to that door was engaged and frightened the thieves who did not know that the alarm was not hooked up to a source outside of the museum.  The thieves panicked, grabbed the paintings they could, and supposedly escaped on foot out of the museum down Sherbrooke, a major east-west boulevard that transverses the city from some of the wealthiest residential neighborhoods passed McGill University and the École des beaux-arts.

I think about the three thieves running supposedly unseen down the street with more than $2 million worth of insured paintings.  Was this their first theft? Did they steal again? Were they art students paid to rob the museum for an ‘art dealer’ who’s clients were willing to purchase stolen paintings?

In the 1966 art heist movie How to Steal a Million starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, two thieves rendezvous in the bar at the Ritz Hotel in Paris the day after committing the robber: “We did it! Did you see the paper and the television? Did you hear the radio? It’s the crime of the century, practically, and we did it!”

Who wants the bragging rights to having robbed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts more than four decades ago?

You may read more about Canada's largest art theft on my blog here.

June 20, 2011

Article Adapted from Anthony Amore's Book "Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists" Published in The Boston Globe

Anthony Amore, the director of security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and an instructor in 2009 for ARCA's International Art Crime Studies Program, has co-written a book with journalist Tom Mashberg, "Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Thefts" (MacMillan Publishers, July, 2011). You may read an article adapted from the book in today's Boston Globe here.

May 21, 2010

Time Magazine on the Paris Heist

ARCA commentary was featured in a variety of publications and news programs on the recent Paris art theft. These include the following:

ARCA Trustee Dick Ellis was interviewed for the BBC:

ARCA President Noah Charney was interviewed for TIME Magazine: