Showing posts with label museum theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label museum theft. Show all posts

September 2, 2013

Museum van Bommel van Dam Art Theft: A Perspective on the stolen and recovered paintings and how the ALR distributes information

www.wikicollecting.com:
 'R69-32' (left) and the completelydifferent 'R69-39' (right) 
In August, the ARCA blog reported the recovery of paintings stolen five months earlier. In this post, one of this year's ARCA student provides background on the theft.

by Jacobiene Kuijpers

At five in the early morning of 22 March 2013, the Dutch Museum van Bommel van Dam was robbed. Two hooded thieves forced open the entrance door and took three papier-maché reliefs by the Dutch artist Jan Schoonhoven and a canvas by Tomas Rajlich. They managed to leave the museum and drive away by car before the police arrived. All of the stolen works were part of the Manders Collection, a private art collection that was currently exhibited in the museum. The museum director contacted Art Loss Register directly to report the theft and spread images of the works over the internet and television to get tips for the police investigation.

All of the artworks are predominantly white and show geometric structures. Schoonhoven was a renowned minimalist artist, part of the ZERO network, and has works of art in important collections such as the MoMA. Recently, Schoonhoven is seen as a rising star and the value of his works has gone up, which was clearly visible in a sale at Christie’s Amsterdam last October, where some works were hammered for almost double the estimate.[1] The stolen works by Schoonhoven were by far the most valuable works of art of the entire Manders Collection. The Rajlich painting is similar in representation and was hung in the same corner as the Schoonhovens -- one may suggest the thieves thought the works were all by the same artist.

On June 27, Sotheby’s London sold a work by Schoonhoven, titled R69-39, via the Amsterdam offices where this relief was brought before the end of April. Sotheby’s has no salesroom in Amsterdam anymore, thus the work was put up for the London auction, where its provenance mentioned it was part of an inheritance and the work was directly transferred from the artist to the first owner.[2] In the image printed in the auction catalogue, the artwork appeared identical to the stolen Schoonhoven with the title R69-32, except that the work was turned on its side. This similarity made the ALR alert the auction house that the work possibly represented a stolen work in their database. Sotheby’s checked this and replied that the title on the back of the work didn’t match the ALR record. No further measures were taken on both ends.

The work was sold to two galleries in Amsterdam and London who specialize in the ZERO network and often collaborate in acquisitions. When the Amsterdam gallery owner saw an image of the work for the first time on July 2, he was confused as he had possessed a work with the same title before, and this was not that work. He realized that the artwork was similar to one of the stolen Schoonhovens and contacts the London gallery holder. He expressed his doubts and requested a picture of the back of the painting, which he compared to a picture of the stolen work. He claimed it was fairly obvious the number 2 was changed into a 9, stickers and labels were removed, but the signature and title were identical.[3] Sotheby’s halted the sale and contacted the police.

In Amsterdam, investigations start to find the man who brought the work to Sotheby’s. At the beginning of August, private detective Arthur Brand was contacted by this man, who claimed he bought the three stolen Schoonhoven reliefs for 100 euros and showed a receipt of the transaction. Brand convinced the man to bring the two works he still had to the police. On August 14th the man walked into an Amsterdam police office holding a plastic bag with the two reliefs and was arrested immediately. The following day the director of the museum happily confirmed the identity of the artworks. The painting by Rajlich remains missing.

The director of the Museum van Bommel van Dam raised an interesting point in his commentary on the Sotheby’s sale of the stolen artwork. He points out that the alerts from the ALR are only directed towards the auction houses and dealers, and how it would be more helpful if these alerts were more public.[4] The museum or the private collector could have aided in the identification of the piece, which would have made the police intervene before the work was put up for auction.

August 16, 2013

Art Investigator Arthur Brand assists in the return of artworks stolen in March from the Museum Van Bommel van Dam in Venlo

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog

Istanbul - Last night I received an email from art investigator Arthur Brand that he had just solved a museum robbery in The Netherlands. Mr. Brand's news was that three of the four artworks stolen on March 22 from the Museum Van Bommel van Dam in Venlo were delivered to Amsterdam police.

Arthur Brand wrote in an email to the ARCA blog: “We were smoking a cigarette outside the police-headquarters before going in. The guy knew that he would be arrested and discovered that he had no money left. He asked me for some to be able to buy some extra food while being detained. I gave him all I had with me, 35 euros. We embraced each other and walked in with a cheap plastic bag containing the stolen works of art.”

According to the police press release, due to an investigation by the Dutch police (Politie) and in cooperation with employees of an auction house, the police have recovered artwork by Jan van Schoonhoven:
This is one of four works stolen with an estimated value of more than 1 million euros. Last Wednesday a bag containing two of the other three remaining stolen artworks was delivered to the police headquarters in Amsterdam. The defendant, against whom an investigation was related to the work of art offered at auction, was immediately arrested and the bag with the two works confiscated. The suspect was surrounded and taken into police custody. The two works of art in the bag are probably also from the hand of Jan van Schoonhoven and almost certainly  from the theft in Venlo. The authenticity of these reliefs is yet to be determined. Detectives from the serious crime department worked under the supervision of the Amsterdam prosecutor. The Amsterdam detectives researched the theft of the paintings and the police unit in Limburg investigated the burglary and theft. The suspect will be brought before the magistrate on Friday, August 16.
Here in this Dutch newspaper is the story (loosely translated by Google):
Art investigator Arthur Brand reported on Twitter that he had returned two stolen artworks to the Amsterdam police. Dagblad de Limburger reported that the man who was arrested was in the presence of Arthur Brand. The police do not want to discuss the role of Brand who deals in tracking stolen and forged art. Amsterdam Police had been tracking the paintings before they were returned. The authenticity of the works has yet to be determined, but they are probably the three stolen works by the Dutch artists Jan Schoonhoven. The fourth work stolen from the Collection of Tomas Manders, is still missing. Together the works  have a total insured value of 1.1 million euros.

April 5, 2013

Easter Theft at the Villa Giulia: Reports from online publications in Italian

Almost one week after thieves robbed the Villa Giulia in Rome and stolen jewelry, this is what information has been published online in Italian (indirectly quoted from translated material):


Il Giornale dell'Arte.com reported that at least ten gold necklaces with emeralds, pearls, and rubies from the 19th century Castellani Collection were stolen on Easter weekend when thieves smashed the display cases on the floor above the entrance to the museum. Police are investigating if there could have been inside help as the 112 alarm (Italy's version of 911) didn't go off immediately. 
The pieces may have been selected as a "theft by commission" or because it might be easier to remove the precious stones and resell these piece on the market as the Etruscan one's are well documented and these less so.
For now investigators are focusing on the the entry point downstairs, an assessment of the 50 or so staff associated with the museum's surveillance, and with reviewing tapes CCTV tapes both during the theft and in the days preceding the assault in the hopes that perhaps the assailants cased the museum in the days preceding the event passing themselves off as visitors.
Corriere della Sera reported that the Carabinieri are still waiting for a formal inventory of the stolen pieces and that other objects were damaged when the casing was smashed.
Given the execution of the event, law enforcement is placing a higher focus on the statements of the various staff responsible for the museums security watch to look for irregularities or contradictions of their recollection of the events as they occurred during the theft.
There is also speculation as to if the smoke was used to possible create a diversionary fire, create a smokescreen to hide the thieves movements or to perhaps signal their pick-up at the completion of the theft.
Law enforcement are also investigating other thefts of local residences in the area to look for similarities.
Libero Quotidiano reported that the Regional Association of Roman Goldsmiths, in cooperation with the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, has been working on a project that to document the complexity of the Castellani Collection in relation to historic archaeological finds in jewelry making and 19th century recreations and creativity. Part of the project involved preparations for a traveling exhibition that highlighted the School Castellani Goldsmiths in relation to previous Roman and Etruscan jewelry, with an emphasis on how these original styles were/are being utilized in contemporary jewelry. 


As first reported in La Repubblica on March 31, Easter Sunday:
The thieves arrived from the back of the museum. At 11.30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, thieves locked the guards in the gatehouse, went upstairs to the Hall of Gold, smashed three display cases, and stole jewelry collected by the Castellani family in the 19th century. The thieves used a smoke bomb to obscure images on the surveillance camera.
Neither the police nor the museum have identified which items were taken although one government official says that the items were not from the valuable archaeological collection of the National Etruscan Museum. The extent of the theft was limited by the appearance of the police who were alerted by the guards. Officials are reviewing footage from the CCTV cameras.

Daniele Particelli writing for Crimeblog.it on March 31:
Thieves launched tear gas to obscure the surveillance cameras as they entered the museum.
An alarm system was triggered when the first display case was smashed in the Hall of Gold; two guards had alerted the police whose arrival reduced the thieves time to grab objects.
Roma Daily News published on April 2:
Police investigators are reviewing hours of surveillance tape, looking for suspects who may have visited the Etruscan museum in the days leading up to the theft. The number of thieves is identified as three. The thieves used plastic ties to obstruct access to the gates surrounding the museum grounds.

April 4, 2013

Easter Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Roundup of information published in English

Almost one week after the Easter theft of unidentified pieces from the Castellani jewellery collection at the Villa Giulia, what details have been published in English?

Gazzetta del Sud.online reported on April 2 the criticism the Italian government is facing over the museum theft in Rome:
A robbery over the Easter weekend at Rome's Villa Giulia Etruscan museum led to calls Tuesday for improved measures to secure Italy's culture ministry. "It took a multimillion (euro) theft to point attention to one of the longstanding problems that weigh on the management, protection and safety" of Italy's cultural sites, said Giuseppe Urbino, the national secretary of the Confsal Unsa Beni Culturali union.
Late Saturday, robbers stole dozens of rare items, including ancient jewelry. "Thefts have become routine, but never has any minister - at least in the last 20 years - tried to carry out a healthy safety policy". The union leader pointed the finger at spending cuts, following outgoing Premier Mario Monti's "spending review", which have left few resources for training, security upgrades and personnel, with many museum guards performing double shifts. "The management class at the culture ministry has demonstrated incompetence, and it is also for this reason that something must change in order to help culture in our 'bel paese' rise again," Urbino said.
Wanted in Rome.com reports:

The thieves gained entry after forcing open one of the entrance doors. They smashed two cabinets on the upper floor containing items from the important Castellani collection comprising more than 6,000 whole and fragmented artefacts including ancient and modern gold, and amber pendants dating from the early 7th century BC. 
However this activated the alarm system and before fleeing the thieves only stole some 19th-century jewelry, not among the museum's most valuable items.
Investigators believe that the thieves visited the museum before the robbery, possibly posing as tourists.

April 1, 2013

Theft at the Villa Giulia, Rome: Background on the The Jewellery in the Augusto Castellani Collection

The Castellani Collection is located on the site
plan in the dark green (one half circle and
 another rectangle) above the entrance.
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The Short Guide to The Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum (second reprint 2008) includes a description of the jewellery in the Augusto Castellani Collection.

The article dated March 31 in La Repubblica reporting the theft at the Villa Giulia last Saturday night did not identify the items stolen.

The Collection Castellani is described as being in Room 19 (half circle) and Room 20 (smaller rectangle) on the upper floor above the entrance to the Villa Giulia. The Short Guide places the jewellery in Room 20.

The Castellani jewellery collection at the Villa Giulia includes 'ancient articles in gold along with the "modern" pieces produced over the years by the Castellani goldsmiths."

The collection was assembled in the latter half of the 19th century - a time when intensive and indeed fruitful excavations were being carried out on the great sites of Etruria and Latium - thanks to the enthusiastic initiative of the family progenitor, Fortunato Pio. This friend and disciple of Michelangelo Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, began to collect antiquities "to replace in our city of Rome what the Pope sold to France in 1860".
The archaeological gold objects include a 'splendid pectoral in gold and amber' and 'three finely-wrought figured pendants in amber' from the early 7th century BC Galeassi tomb discovered in Palestrina in 1861. A necklace with miniature amphora pendants (Castellani reconstruction from two necklaces of similar typology, style and chronology) is from Tarquinia in the 4th century BC.

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

February 6, 2013

Portrait of a Museum Theft Case: The 2007 Robbery of the Museum of Fine Arts in Nice

Jan Brueghel the Elder's
 "Allegorie de la terre"
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Last night after looking up stolen snuffboxes on INTERPOL's Works of Art database, I curiously looked up Recovered Items and found a pair of paintings by Brueghel, Allegorie de la terre and Allegorie de l'eau, recovered in Marseille in June 2008. INTERPOL provides thumbnail images of the paintings; descriptions (in this case, for example, exterior scene with figures and animals, not religious); measurements; and the date of recovery. The rest of the information can be found from articles published online:


Brueghel's "Allegorie de l'eau"
On August 5, 2007, at about 1 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, five masked thieves with weapons entered the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nice and left five minutes later with the two paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder and two Impressionist works: Claude Monet’s 1897 “Cliffs Near Dieppe” and Alfred Sisley’s 1890 “Lane of Poplars at Moret-sur-Loing” ("Four Masterpieces Stolen from French Museum", The New York Times, August 7, 2007).

Alfred Sisley's "Lane of Poplars at Moret"
Ten months later, French police recovered the four paintings in Marseilles and detained more than 10 people in Nice and Marseilles ("French police recover stolen art by Monet, Brueghel", Reuters, June 4, 2008).  The sting operation had involved undercover FBI Agent Robert Wittman posing as an American art dealer ready to purchase the stolen art for more than $4 million in cash ("From the Art World to the Underworld", Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2008).  In Wittman's memoir Priceless (Crown Publishers, New York, 2010), the then senior investigator of the FBI's Art Crime Team says that as of March 2007 he had "spent nine painstaking months undercover" as "some sort of shady American art dealer" trying to recover the paintings stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

In a Factual Proffer (United States v. Bernard Jean Ternus), the defendant, in an effort to cut a deal with prosecutors and avoid a trial, admits that from August 2007 to June 2008 he and his "co-conspirators" "knowing that the Nice paintings had been stolen" "brokered the sale" of the four works to undercover FBI and French National Police agents (the legal statement details those negotiations).  When the Nice paintings were recovered in Marseilles, Ternus was arrested in Florida. On July 8, Ternus pleaded guilty to "conspiring to transport in interstate and foreign commerce four stolen paintings knowing that they were stolen":
According to plea documents, on Jan. 19, 2008, Ternus met in Barcelona with undercover FBI agents and with an unindicted co-conspirator. At the meeting, Ternus and his unindicted co-conspirator negotiated a two-part transaction with the undercover FBI agents. They would sell all four stolen paintings to the undercover agents for a total of 3 million Euros. Two of the paintings would be transferred in exchange for 1.5 million Euros, and the remaining two paintings would be transferred on a separate date for 1.5 million Euros. According to information entered at court, the defendant and his unindicted co-conspirator structured the two-part transaction to retain leverage with law enforcement in the event anyone was arrested upon the sale of the first two paintings. If this occurred, they intended to use the remaining two paintings to bargain for the release of anyone who was arrested. (Department of Justice)
Ternus had a criminal history:
In addition to the conspiracy charge, Ternus also pleaded guilty to a visa fraud charge before U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia A. Altonaga in Miami. During the plea, Ternus admitted that he fraudulently concealed his French criminal history to obtain a U.S. visa, which he then used to enter and remain in the United States. During the plea, Ternus admitted that, prior to applying for his U.S. visa, he had been arrested in France on at least seven separate occasions, and that he had been convicted in France of assault with a deadly weapon. Ternus also admitted that he knew the visa he obtained and used had been procured by falsely claiming to have no French criminal history. (Department of Justice)
In this April 2009 article by Michael J. Mooney of The Broward Palm Beach New Times, "Trail ends in Florida",  the Nice museum thieves are identified as Pierre Noël-Dumarais "an escaped felon with a long record"; a former boxer; an "Armenian drug dealer living in Marseilles"; and two others.  Mooney tells of a fifth painting targeted in the theft but left on the floor when it couldn't fit into the bag for stolen loot.  According to Mooney, Ternus, living in Florida, got involved in brokering the sale of the Nice paintings via the Armenian drug dealer two months after the theft.  Ternus, according to Mooney, came to the dubious art broker from Philadelphia (Wittman) through local drug traffickers involved in selling cocaine from Colombia. In September 2008, Ternus was sentenced to five years in prison at the Federal Detention Center in Miami.

In March 2010, Ternus' conviction was affirmed ("Art thief appeals verdict") by the Eleventh Circuit:
Ternus challenges his conviction, arguing that the foreign commerce element in 18 U.S.C. § 2314 is “jurisdictional.” He contends that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his case because there was insufficient evidence in the record that he conspired to transport the stolen paintings in foreign commerce. Ternus’ guilty plea waived all non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings against him.

In November 2011, the seven men on trial in Aix-en-Provenance claimed that the FBI had instructed them to steal the four paintings from the museum in Nice four years earlier.  A few days later, the French court passed out sentences of two to nine years to the guilty (Noël-Dumarais, who had used a weapon in the heist, received the longer term).

January 24, 2013

Portrait of a Museum Robbery: The 1998 Theft of Tissot's "Still on Top" from the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

At ten minutes past 11 o'clock in the morning on Sunday, August 9th, 1998, a man with a shotgun entered the Auckland Art Gallery, threatened nearby visitors, then went directly to one of the collections most valuable paintings, James Tissot's "Still on Top" (c 1873).  The thief ripped the painting from the wall, smashed its glass into the painting, and used a crowbar to pry the canvas out of its frame.  He then ran outside the gallery into a nearby park and escaped on a motorcycle.  The robbery took less than four minutes.

Here in this YouTube video, Auckland Art Gallery - Restoring Tissot, is surveillance footage of the crime, the story of the damaged painting recovery nine days later, and the long process of restoration for public display.

James Tissot's "Still on Top"
Many of the original newspaper stories published in The New Zealand Herald can be ordered via email through the Auckland City Council Library here.

The man arrested eight days later had demanded a ransom of more than $260,000 from the Auckland Art Gallery and hidden the damaged work underneath a bed.  One year later, Anthony Sannd was found guilty and sentenced to nearly 17 years in jail, including charges related to two armed robberies of a security van and a bank branch.

The New Zealand art museum accepted $500,000 for the loss in value for the damaged Tissot painting and was able to repair the work and return it for public display three years later.

On February 1, 2005, the thief, Anthony Sannd (also known as Ricardo Genovese), escaped from a prison farm and eluded recapture for almost four weeks (during which time he was alleged to have stolen a BMW and burgled a home).  Two more years was added to his sentence.  Sannd was released from jail in March 2012.  Then Sannd filed a claim that the government owed him $100,000 for keeping him in jail six months longer than he had been sentenced.

October 26, 2012

Theft Anniversary: Two artifacts (Assyrian and Roman) stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Art last year


by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Last year on October 26, someone stole two ancient sculptures from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Three months later, the Montreal Gazette and AXA Art, the insurance company which insured the pieces, released a video on YouTube from the surveillance camera inside the museum showing a suspect wanted for questioning in the investigation.

AXA Art Insurance issued a press release dated February 13, 2012: "AXA Art Offering Substantial Reward for Safe Recovery of Rare Artifacts".  The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts issued no press release in 2011 or 2012 regarding the theft, a reward, or an ongoing investigation -- at least it's not listed on the museum's website.

The Sûreté du Québec's Art Alerte publicized the stolen works  and the poster in English and French offering the "Substantial Reward" also on February 14 (Alain Dumouchel responded in an email at that time that the Montreal police were in charge of the investigation).  The Art Alerte for Case File: 11-98 also included a picture of the suspect captured by the museum's surveillance cameras.

Reward Poster

The "Head of a guard" (fragment of a low relief) is estimated to as old as 5th century BCE from Persepolis (Persia), the capital of the Achaemenid dynasty (558-330 BC).

Assyrian low relief Sandstone, 21 x 20.5 x 3 cm
A marble head dating from the Roman
 Empire 20,2 x 13,3 x 8,5 cm
The second object, Head of a Man (Egypto-archaizing style) of yellow Numidian marble, is dated from the Roman Empire around 1st century A.D.

Neither of these objects was highlighted in the MMFA's museum guide.

In 1972, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was the site of Canada's largest art theft when three thieves stole 18 paintings, including a painting attributed to Rembrandt.  The theft remains unsolved after an aborted ransom attempt and 17 of the paintings are still missing.

June 11, 2012

Boston Globe: FBI plans public awareness campaign aimed at recovering paintings stolen from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

I am always curious when a new article is published more than two decades after the world's largest museum theft, the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  It has been almost one year since James "Whitey" Bulger was apprehended in Santa Monica, California, briefly giving rise to expectations that one of the FBI's formerly "Most Wanted" criminals would talk about the stolen paintings as a way to negotiate favorable treatment after his arrest.

The Boston Globe's article by Milton J. Valencia and Stephen Kurkjian, "Public's aid sought in '90  Gardner Museum heist", explains that the FBI plans a "public awareness campaign" to recover the paintings, much like the strategy used to capture fugitive Bulger.  Let's all hope that the efforts are successful and that the museum's security director, Anthony Amore, will finally put the artworks back into the empty frames hanging on the institution's walls.

May 9, 2012

Reuters: "Poussin among stolen art found in Corsica carpark"

Fesch Palais, Corsica
Reuters reported May 5th that the four paintings stolen from the Fesch museum in Corsica more than one year ago have been found parked in a car on the island.

An anonymous phone call alerted the police to the location of the paintings, according to Reuters.

Poussin's "Midas at the Source
 of the River Pactolus"
The four paintings include Nicolas Poussin's "Midas at the Source of the River Pactolus"; Giovanni Bellini's "Virgin and Child"; an anonymous Umbrian artist's "Virgin with Child in a glory of Seraphins"; and Mariotto di Nardo's "Pentecost".

You may read about the February 2011 theft here on the ARCA blog. The theft had been reported as two parts: first a security guard in financial trouble removed the paintings from the museum, then someone else lifted them from his car.

January 9, 2012

Bonne Année: Museum Theft in Greece Ends Holiday Weekend

Picasso's Woman's Head
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Reports from Istanbul bumped by museum theft in Greece.

A few kind and loyal readers have emailed me as to the lack of posts on this blog for the past month. I truly had intended to post from either Ankara or Istanbul but between preparing for a Christmas in a Muslim country (easier than you would think) and re-exploring the cultural institutions of both cities, I fell victim to the charms of Turkish life.

In Istanbul I feasted on roasted chestnuts from street vendors and dreamed of Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire as I traveled daily on the municipal ferry which carried me from Asia where I lodged to Europe where I wandered the narrow streets of Pera near the Galata Tower, perfecting the pedestrian survival skills needed to dodge the fearless drivers of this 8,000 year old city of 13 million people.

Sketch by Caccia
Back in my sunny garden in Pasadena, with my back to the dried squirrel blood left by the hawk who had moved into our yard during our absence, I had planned to start this week with a series of posts about Anakara's Anatolian Civilizations Museum and Istanbul's Archaeology Museum; however, the news coming in from The Museum Security Network this morning featured a robbery at Greece's National Gallery.

According to Reuters: After setting a series of false alarms, thieves broke into the National Gallery in Athens and stole two paintings, Pablo Picasso's 1939 painting "Woman's Head" donated by the artist to the Greeks in 1949 and Piet Mondrian's 1905 "Mill", and one sketch by Italian painter Guglielmo Caccia:
"It all happened in seven minutes," said a police official who declined to be named.

To mislead the guard, the thieves activated the gallery's alarm system several times before breaking into the building at 4:30 a.m. (0230 GMT). The guard turned off the alarm only to later spot one of the thieves through the motion detector.

Before escaping, the thief dropped another 1905 Mondrian painting, the "Landscape," police said. [Reporting by Renee Maltezou, editing by Paul Casciato]
Piet Mondrian's "Mill"
(Photo provided by National Gallery/AP)
Reuters reported that the number of thieves is unknown.

CBC News reported that the stolen artworks were "stripped from their frames":
The museum, which features mostly 19th and 20th century Greek paintings, had just concluded the exhibition Unknown Treasures.  On Monday, it has been scheduled to shut down for an expansion and restoration project. [CBC]
BBC News reported that Picasso donated "Woman's Head" to Greece for "the country's resistance to Nazi Germany." According to BBC, the gallery has not established the value for the stolen artwork but closed its doors on Monday as a result of the burglary.

Mark Durney writes today in Art Theft Central that budget cuts may have affected the effectiveness of museum security.  Mr. Durney has also written of the pattern of museum thefts during the holiday season -- and last Friday, January 6, on the Greek Orthodox calendar was the Theophany, or the Epiphany, the celebration of the Three Kings or Wise Men bearing gifts to the Baby Jesus.

In another example of the vulnerability of a cultural institution, the aging National Gallery in Greece was scheduled for an expansion and renovation, just as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was in 1972 before it was robbed (also on a holiday weekend, Labor Day in September in that case).

We can only hope that the thieves will be unable to sell the paintings on the black market and will return the artworks as in the case reported recently by Lee Moran of The Daily Mail when thieves contacted an art expert to return René Magritte's Olympia stolen from Musée Magritte in Brussels in September 2009.

June 29, 2011

From Poaching to Theft: The Recent “Trend” of Rhino Horn Thefts in Europe

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA Blog Contributor

When thinking of museum thefts, what first comes to mind of what might be stolen? Painting, smaller sculptures, jewels, manuscripts—essentially pieces of cultural heritage that are both valuable and aesthetically pleasing. Sitting in the Fiddler’s Elbow in Florence last weekend, rhino horns certainly did not come to mind. Not until reading the Florence Newspaper that is.

In the past month rhino horns have been stolen from multiple museums in Europe. On May 27, a rhino head was stolen from the Haslemere Educational Museum in Surrey, England. It was the only item missing from the museum. The theft of a rhino horn was discovered at Bamberger’s Nature Museum in Germany, though the time of the theft is unknown. The Natural History Museum (La Specola) in Florence, Italy, had three rhino horns stolen from the collection on June 8, including one that was over a meter long.

It is believed that the horns have been stolen for the illicit attainment of ivory. This is certainly supported by the fact that some of the rhino heads that have been stolen have been recovered but without the horn. It seems that those in the illicit ivory trade have taken a step away from murdering living rhinos for their horns to robbing museums of their stock—meant to preserve what may not be left behind if poachers continue to kill off the rhino population. La Specola’s president, Giovanni Pratesi, is convinced that these horns are destined for the Asian market, which would sell them for medicinal uses and as aphrodisiacs.

Museums have been advised to take their rhino-related items out of display so as to not encourage further thefts. Surrey’s Haslemere Educational Museum has even posted a notice on their website:
Rhino Material Removed from Premises
Following the recent theft of a rhino head from display, the remaining rhino head has been removed from the premises and the museum will no longer store rhino material.
This recent rash of thefts has certainly put a dint in the display of rhino heads and horns in museums. Fortunately—and unfortunately—the same cannot be said for works of art that are susceptible to theft.

You may read more by Kirsten Hower on her blog, The Wandering Scholar.

February 15, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Essayist Catherine Schofield Sezgin Speculates on Paris Theft, May 2010

In an essay entitled “The Paris Art Theft, May 2010,” Catherine Schofield Sezgin relates the events of the theft of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in the 16th arrondissement in Paris and speculates about how the thief may have stolen five paintings.

Christophe Girard, deputy culture secretary in Paris, estimated the value of the stolen paintings at 100 Euros ($123 million). The five missing paintings are reported as: “Le pigeon aux petits-pois” (The Pidgeon with the Peas), an ochre and brown Cubist oil painting by Pablo Picasso worth an estimated 23 million euros; “La Pastorale” (Pastoral), an oil painting of nudes on a hillside by Henri Matisse about 15 million euros; “L’olivier prés de l’Estaque” (Olive Tree Near Estaque)by Georges Braque; “La femme a l’eventail” (Woman with a Fan) by Amedeo Modigliani; and “Nature-more aux chandeliers” (Still Life with Candlesticks) by Fernand Leger.

According to Paris’ mayor, Betrand Delanoe, the museum’s security system, including some of the surveillance cameras, has not worked since March 30 and has not been fixed since the security company is waiting for parts from a supplier.
"In 2009, early January, I was ending a two-week holiday in Paris. We had been staying next door to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris but had not been inside it. On Saturday evening, the night before leaving, I left my children in the apartment and walked next door to check out the permanent collection which was free. The museum would be closing in a few minutes. I headed downstairs and started looking at paintings, somewhat sure that after days and days in Paris at the Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre and the Musée National d'Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou that there wasn't much more for me to see in such short time. And then I saw this painting of trees that amazed me, and discovered that it was by Braque, titled, in English, Olive Tree Near Estaque. I just loved it and am happy to share these photos now." -- Catherine Schofield Sezgin.
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.

January 23, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part One, An Artist's Life


In honor of the Norweigan artist Edvard Munch who died 67 years ago this week, the ARCA blog is posting a three-part series about the life and legacy of the artist associated with two famous art thefts. The author, Therese Veier, attended ARCA’s International Art Crime Conference in July 2010. Ms. Veier has majored in art history and is now completing a final examination in law at the University in Oslo.

By Therese Veier, ARCA blog guest writer

Today, January 23, is the 67th anniversary of the death of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch who lived to the age of 80. People from all over the world travel to Oslo to visit the Munch Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Oslo. His paintings Skrik (The Scream) and Madonna are iconic. The Scream is one of the most reproduced art images, almost equal to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Munch painted several versions of The Scream, as he did with many other motifs. Frequently used themes in his art were love, fear, death and melancholy. Munch did not like to sell his art, which he often referred to as his children. He usually sold works once a year and lived the remaining year on the income from the sales.

According to Munch’s will, the Oslo council inherited approximately 1,100 paintings; 15,500 prints; 4,700 drawings; 6 sculptures; and almost 500 print plates, tools, documents, photographs, note books and furniture which went to the Munch Museum collection. The value today is hard to estimate precisely, but a rough estimate of the collection’s value was set at 20 to 40 billion Norwegian kroner (NOK) some years ago. Inger, Munch’s sister, inherited his collection of letters, 100 prints of her own choosing, and a considerable sum of money. Upon her death, Inger left the museum Munch’s letters as well as several art works. With additional gifts, the museum today owns over half of his paintings and all of his print motifs, which places it in a unique position internationally, and provides the basis for special exhibitions within the museum, worldwide exhibitions, and research. The museum exhibits approximately 70-80 paintings and 70-80 prints at all times. The remaining part of the inheritance remains in storage, except from a small selection of works on loan to exhibitions abroad. In addition, the National Gallery of Art in Oslo and Stenersenmuseet also have important works by Edvard Munch in their collections. The businessman and art collector Rolf E. Stenersen supported and bought Munch’s art early on, and upon his death, the Oslo council inherited his art collection as well. Stenersen and Munch became close friends and Stenersen wrote a biography about the artist.

Because Munch’s will did not specify anything about his large private house at Ekely, his studios and the furniture, all this was given to his heirs, and then bought by the Oslo council in 1946. The idea of building the Munch Museum on Ekely was proposed early on; however, the council tore down the main house in 1960 and built a parking lot, then decided to build the museum in Tøyen, as a result of a political decision to spread the cultural institutions in Oslo. Ekely is behind the Vigeland Park in the west part of Oslo. Tøyen is east in Oslo, and the museum is situated next to the Tøyen Botanical Garden. Luckily, Munch’s studio on Ekely was saved and is used today as residency for artists. The Munch Museum opened in 1963, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The expenses for the new museum building were financed with profits from Oslo Cinematography, a state-owned company that owned the cinemas in Oslo. The Munch Museum’s website in Oslo is mainly written in Norwegian, but some information is translated to English.

How has Oslo council treated the inheritance left them by Edvard Munch, the most important Norwegian artist, in terms of conservation, priority, adequate funding, study and research?

The following two stories will first address the state of the Munch Museum, followed by a selection of Munch thefts from museums in Norway.