Showing posts with label unsolved art theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label unsolved art theft. Show all posts

July 6, 2014

Sunday, July 06, 2014 - ,, No comments

Jewel Heist Anniversary: The Irish Crown Jewels Stolen from a safe in Dublin Castle on January 6, 1907

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Here's an article ("Hunt for stolen crown jewels failed to solve great mystery") filed last year by Ralph Riegel in The Irish Independent about the unsolved theft of Ireland's 'crown jewels' stolen almost a century ago (today's date marks not the date of the actual theft but the date of discovery of the loss).
... The gems were stolen from a safe in Dublin Castle on July 6, 1907, in arguably Ireland's most famous robbery... The gems, valued in 1983 at over IR£2m, have a current value of around €14m. They were donated to Ireland by King William IV in 1830 to be used on ceremonial occasions by the Order of St Patrick. They were stored in a special safe in the library of the Office of Arms in the Bedford Tower of Dublin Castle. However, the safe was not installed in a special strong room because the room was accidentally constructed with too narrow an entrance to allow it to be fitted. The gems were dramatically stolen in 1907 just days before King Edward VII was due to begin a state visit to Dublin. The theft was hugely embarrassing, both for the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Castle authorities, because King Edward was due to invest Lord Castletown as a knight in the Order of St Patrick. Even more embarrassing was the fact that the Dublin detective headquarters was located barely 100 yards away. ...
 From the National Archives is a description of the jewels:
The regalia of the Order of St Patrick – the so-called “Crown Jewels” were kept in the Office of Arms in the Bedford Tower in Dublin Castle. The jewels consisted of the insignia of the Grand Master of the Order of St Patrick (the Lord Lieutenant) and the collars and badges of the Knights of St Patrick. The insignia of the Grand Master comprised a star and a badge. The jewels forming the star consisted of Brazilian diamonds with eight star-points with a central shamrock made of emeralds and a cross of rubies in the centre on a background of blue enamel. The badge also had emerald shamrocks and a ruby cross surrounded by blue enamel and rose diamonds and within Brazilian diamonds. The jewels been the property of Queen Charlotte, then of King George IV and finally of King William IV. This king thought that they would form fine ceremonial decorations for the Order of St Patrick and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to wear on ceremonial occasions and so he presented them to the Order in 1830. In 1907, these jewels were valued at £33,000.
You can read the National Archives' "The Theft of the Irish 'Crown Jewels'" for more details.

In 2008, Francis Shackleton Jr.'s name came forward as the prime suspect in the theft.

January 18, 2014

Unsolved Museum Thefts: The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

PARIS - My visit to the Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris yesterday reminded me of another museum with not one but two unsolved thefts.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was robbed in 1972 and had 18 paintings stolen by three thieves who have never been convicted and the paintings have not been seen since the thieves failed to show up to collect a ransom for the kidnapped paintings (you can read about Canada's largest theft here).

In October 2011, a man walked out of the museum in Montreal with two objects from antiquity.

Can you think of other unsolved museum thefts?

How about the 1990 theft of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum?

Those are the mysteries that bother me the most -- what are your most problematic museum thefts?

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.