July 31, 2012

Retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry Notes a "Lively" Beginning to Stonehill College's Art Crime Symposium with former Scotland Yard Detective Richard Ellis


July 30th was the first day of the art crime symposium conducted by retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry and retired Scotland Yard Detective Richard Ellis at Stonehill College outside of Boston.


A lecture on the economics of art began the day followed by lunch on campus. Then the sold-out class reviewed an auction preview at Kaminski Auctions in Beverly, Massachusetts, Ms. Curry reported to the ARCA blog. Diane Rivas led a "lively" discussion about the auction market, Curry wrote.

Alex Bond (ARCA 2011) is at the Stonehill Symposium and is pictured here with Ms. Curry and Mr. Ellis.

Richard Ellis also teaches at ARCA's post graduate certificate program in International Art Crime Studies.

July 30, 2012

One to watch: “The Missing Piece” The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa

by Tanya K. Lervik (ARCA 2011)

On Sunday, July 29th, a private screening of “The Missing Piece” was held in a Georgetown theater for about 100 invitees in Washington, D.C. For some 30 years, filmmaker Joe Medeiros has been captivated by the challenge to clarify the true motivations behind Vincenzo Peruggia’s 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum in Paris. In this charming documentary, he shares his journey of discovery with the joyful wit and irreverence which served him well as head writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Medeiros’s years of research began to coalesce when he discovered that Peruggia’s daughter was still living. He travelled to Italy to interview Celestina Peruggia while simultaneously arranging access to numerous experts and an important trove of primary resources. Of particular interest are letters Peruggia wrote home to his family and the notes from his psychological evaluation after the theft.

The final conclusions reached may not prove surprising to those familiar with the case. However, Medeiros convincingly debunks alternative theories, for example, that a conman mastermind named Eduardo de Valfierno had commissioned the theft in order to make copies to sell to unscrupulous buyers, or that it was really Peruggia’s friend Lancellotti who had committed the theft and hidden the painting. Above all, the film humanizes Vincenzo Peruggia, a man who had become an obscure figure even within his own remaining family. It’s a fascinating look at one of the most infamous art crimes and an engaging account of Medeiros’s personal quest for answers.

The film has recently been entered into numerous film festivals worldwide, the rules of which prohibit the sale of DVDs or public release until after the festival season ends. However, this is definitely a project to watch. Updates are forthcoming on Facebook, Twitter and the project website (http://monalisamissing.com/welcome.html).

July 27, 2012

"Leonardo's Lost Princess" by Peter Silverman and Catherine Whitney reviewed in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

John Kleberg reviews "Leonardo's Lost Princess" (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2012) by Peter Silverman with Catherine Whitney in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
This book is a fascinating, fast-moving and educational account of the authentication of a previously unknown work by Leonardo da Vinci. Detail about the drawing is first reported in the Antiques Trade Gazette, 12 October 2009, which includes a detailed description of the process of technology applied to authentication. The book covers in depth the suspicions of the owner regarding the drawing to which he was attracted after several years of having not purchased the work when first admired and for sale. A second lucky but unexpected opportunity is presented to purchase the work some years later.
John Kleberg is a retired Assistant Vice President at The Ohio State University where he was instrumental in organizing the program described as well as having administrative responsibility for security, police, and other business and finance operations. He also has been a law enforcement administrator, trainer, and educator in Ohio and Illinois. His undergraduate degree is from Michigan State University, graduate degree from the University of Illinois, and he has done post-graduate work at The Ohio State University and Kent State University. He is the author of numerous articles on campus safety and security issues and is a consultant on campus security issues, including campus museums, libraries, and galleries.

July 26, 2012

Aviva Briefel's "The Deceivers: Art Forgery and Identity in the Nineteenth Century" Reviewed in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

ARCA Founder Noah Charney reviews Aviva Briefel's book, "The Deceivers: Art Forgery and Identity in the Nineteenth Century" (Cornell University Press, 2006) in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
Forgery fascinates. Whether a forged painting or Shakespeare play, our interest in fakes and forgeries is akin to our interest in magic. A fake is an illusion, created by a magician/forger who awes us with his (and almost all known forgers have been male) sleight of hand. There is also a Robin Hood element to many forgers. Because unlike art thieves, they tend to work alone or with one colleague, and are not linked to more sinister organized crime, we can admire them from a moral comfort zone. Their crimes are more like pranks in our mind, and they traditionally do not cause more damage than to the owners and the experts who might accidentally authenticate them. And so we can smile at these illusionists called forgers and, with relatively few exceptions, do so without guilt.
This concept of forger-as-magician-as-working-class-hero, showing up the elitist art world, has origins that date back to the 19th century. They likely began before, and the history of forgery (a book on which I am just finishing) dates back far longer. But the 19th century is when individual instances shifted to sociological phenomenon. That story is elegantly described in Aviva Briefel’s The Deceivers: Art Forgery and Identity in the Nineteenth Century.

July 25, 2012

Joshua Knelman's "Hot Art" Reviewed in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

ARCA Blog Editor Catherine Sezgin reviews Joshua Knelman's "Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Art" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Interpol and UNESCO listed art theft as the fourth- largest black market in the world (after drugs, money-laundering, and weapons). But what did that mean? After I’d been following Czegledi’s career for several years, one point was clear: don’t look at the Hollywood versions of art theft – the Myth. This is a bigger game, with more players, and the legitimate business of art is directly implicated. A lot of the crimes are hidden in the open. Stealing art is just the beginning. Then the art is laundered up into the legitimate market, into private collections, into the world’s most renowned museums. – Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art Toronto journalist
Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art (Tin House Books 2012), introduces to the general reader the international problem of art crime and the limited resources of legal authorities in fighting this problem in the first decade of the 21st century. In 2003, Knelman was just a 26-year-old researcher for the Canadian magazine Walrus, when he stumbled down the rabbit hole of art theft and recovery. A gallery owner hesitant to speak about the theft of $250,000 worth of photographs stolen two years earlier opens up when police arrest a thief who has some of the pieces. Knelman asks to speak to the suspect’s lawyer, leading to a midnight phone call from the thief who has been investigating Knelman. The two meet in a café in Toronto. The aspiring reporter is physically threatened, given stolen art, and then lectured by the thief about how the secretive business practices in the legitimate art market actually support art crime. Thus begins Knelman’s adventures through the world of thieves and investigators of looted art.

July 24, 2012

James Cuno's "Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum" Reviewed in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

David Gill reviews James Cuno's book, Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum (The University of Chicago Press, 2011) in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.  Dr. Gill is Head of the Division of Humanities and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk, at Ipswich, Suffolk, England.  James Cuno is president and CEO of The J. Paul Getty Trust.
Cuno is passionate about the contribution of the encyclopedic museum to the cultural landscape of our cosmopolitan world. The implicit statement of his title is a change from the earlier questions that he has raised: Whose Muse? (2004), Who Owns Antiquity? (2008), and Whose Culture? (2009) [see reviews by Gill in JAC 1, 1, Spring 2009, 65-66; 2, 1, Fall 2009, 99-100]. The four core chapters on the Enlightenment, the Discursive, the Cosmopolitan, and the Imperial Museums had their origins in the 2009 Campbell Lectures at Rice University.
Cuno avoids turning his attention to the issue of antiquities. Yet they lurk on the periphery of his text. As I walked around the Greek and Roman galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (a good example of an Encyclopedic Museum) in the first weeks of 2012 I had Cuno’s words in my mind as his imaginary viewer engaged with objects on display: “why it looks the way it does, how it might have been made, by whom and where, and what purpose and meaning it may have had for the first people who saw it and all who subsequently came into contact with it before and after it entered the museum’s collection” (pp. 3-4). Signatures of statue bases as well as on Athenian figure-decorated pots may point us to artists of both high and low status. The iconography may provide insights into Athenian social values and indeed myth. Residual paint on funerary stelai reminds us that not all marble was brilliant white. But what about the viewers? How can we understand the reception of such ancient objects when their contexts have been permanently lost? And so often the pieces have no declared collecting histories that will trace their passage from the ground (or even their archaeological context) to museum gallery.

July 23, 2012

"Stealing Rembrandts: the Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists" Reviewed in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

Stuart George reviews "Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Mr. George is an award-winning writer, consultant and specialist in wine. Mr. Amore is the security director for The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Mr. Mashberg is a Boston-based investigative journalist.
Although over the last two decades or so other artists have overwhelmed his once vaunted prices, Rembrandt remains an iconic figure. Certainly, he is well known to thieves who were unable to resist gunning for works stored in galleries with negligible defense against robbery. Rembrandt’s 1632 portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III has the dubious honor of being the “most oft-stolen painting in the world”. As an International Herald Tribune headline once declared (with uncharacteristic wit), “Rembrandt Needed a Night Watchman.”
Authors Amore and Mashberg — the former the head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the latter an award-wining investigative reporter — explain how media hype of record prices can attract the attention of thieves. They cite the Goldschmidt sale at Sotheby’s in 1958 as the “triggering event” for high art prices that led to criminal interest in art. Three years later Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer became, at $2.3 million, the then most expensive painting ever sold. Doubtless, potential raiders noticed this.

July 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Edgar Degas: Works Recovered and Still Missing


Edgar Degas.  Count Lepic and His Daughters.
 1871.  Oil on canvas. 65.5 x 81 cm.
E.G. Bührle Collection, Zurich.

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA European Correspondent

 Today we honour the birthday of French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917).  Best known for his depictions of dancers, Degas was both a sculptor and painter who combined tradition with change in the 19th century art world.  Like many famous artists, his work has been admired and fallen prey to the criminal world.  One of his paintings, Count Lepic and His Daughters of 1871, was part of a four year recovery that was only recently announced upon its completion in April of this year.
   On the afternoon of Sunday, February 10, 2008, three masked gunman stole four paintings from the E.G. Bührle Collection in Zurich—one of the greatest Impressionist and Post-Impressionist museums in Europe.  The four paintings, one each by Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh, and Monet, were valued at $163 million and have all been recovered as of April 2012.[i]  Degas’ painting was actually recovered in 2009, but this information was kept quiet until the recovery of the final and most expensive painting, Cézanne’s The Boy in a Red Vest, was recovered in 2012.  There was some damage to the paintings which had been cut from their frames, including the Degas which thankfully only suffered damage to the edges of the painting.[ii] 
  Degas’ group portrait of Count Lepic and his two daughters has an entirely Impressionist look, particularly the girls who look rather Cassatt-like, though it has moments of looking far more like charcoal or watercolour rather than an oil painting on canvas.  Lepic’s face appears unfinished, his expression just shy of unreadable save for the attentive gaze of a father for his daughter.  The two girls stare out at the viewer with gazes both knowing and angelically innocent.  One can imagine even a hardened criminal becoming uneasy under such a gaze, especially after having damaged the painting during the theft.
   Thankfully for Degas, this particular theft of his artwork had a happy ending.  Five works by Degas do not have such a happy ending and are currently missing in conjunction to the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft of 1990, including Cotège aux Environs de Florence (pencil and wash on paper).  Hopefully these works will one day have their happy ending as well.

Kirsten Hower is the Academic Program Assistant for ARCA.  She is currently finishing her MLitt at Christie's Education.


[i]Uta Harnischfeger and Nicholas Kulish, “At Zurich Museum, a Theft of 4 Masterworks,” New York Times, February 12, 2008.
[ii] Swissinfo.ch, “Stolen Degas recovered damaged,” April 27, 2012.

July 18, 2012

Noah Charney on "Art Crime in North America" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

A shorter version of this lecture was delivered via Skype to the conference entitled “Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation, and Prosecution of Art Crime,” organized by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policingand Security (CEPS) at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia on May 1-2, 2012. An extended version, including citations and new edits, will be published in two upcoming academic publications, both organized by CEPS.
Today I’m pleased to speak about art crime in North America. It is refreshing for me not to have to introduce art crime in general—if anyone knows about it, it will be my fellow speakers. So many of us are obliged to begin talks with an introduction to art crime, because the extent of it, and the facts obscured by fiction, film, and media misinterpretation, create a screen that can be difficult to see beyond. Even the facts, presented by reputable sources like the US Department of Justice, are not always clear and coherent. They rank art crime as the third highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide, behind only the drug and arms trades. This is based on a study that my friend and colleague, Vernon Rapley, could tell you more about—it was a combined Interpol and Scotland Yard study that was also integrated into the UK Threat Assessment in 2006/2007. Another number that we hear is that art crime is worth $6 billion per year. Of course no one has any real idea, and that number is little more than an arbitrary guess. It could only reflect the estimated black market value of art registered as stolen (meaning 7-10% of its estimated auction value, which is itself an unscientific measurement). If that number is correct, then art crime cannot be the third highest- grossing criminal trade. The number is far too low, and human trafficking, even illegal traffic of plants and animals, might be considered higher. We simply don’t know, which can be frustrating—it is also one of the reasons why art crime has gone relatively understudied until recent years. Criminologists shy away from a field such as this, which lacks extensive and accurate empirical data, and relies on macro-analysis from anecdotal material and the experience of those in the field, often related orally or even through the unreliable filter of the media.

July 17, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - ,, No comments

Spotlight on Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations and Repatriations

By Colette Loll Marvin

On July 12th, I attended a cultural repatriation ceremony at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, DC. The ceremony was conducted in order for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to formally return to the government of Peru 14 stolen and looted cultural paintings and artifact. The items were recovered in 5 separate investigations by special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Returned to the people of Peru were 9 beautiful 18th century religious paintings from the Cusco region of Peru, a Spanish colonial silver and gilt enamel monstrance from the 1700’s that was stolen from a church altar, and 4 archeological items that date back more than 2,000 years. The return of these items was the culmination of a year’s long investigative effort by ICE special agents, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Interpol, and the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.

Participating in the repatriation ceremony were ICE Director John Morton, Peruvian Ambassador to the United States Harold Forsyth, and U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

“The plundering of cultural property is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime and has become a world-wide phenomenon that transcends frontiers” said ICE Director John Morton. He then added, “Why do we care about cultural heritage crimes when we could be chasing drug smugglers, human traffickers and gang members? If we ignore these crimes, we debase our past.”

“This repatriation is an example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement partners and government leaders from around the world work together in pursuit of a common goal” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Because of the proactive and thorough investigative and undercover work by special agents, these items were able to be returned to their country of origin. Several were up for auction at a Christies, some were being sold at numerous galleries, and still others were offered for sale on EBay. HSI investigations revealed that all of these objects were taken out of Peru in violation of Peruvian law and brought into the U.S. in violation of U.S. Customs law and regulations. Specifically, the items had been removed in violation of a U.S.--Peru bi-lateral agreement negotiated by the U.S. Department of State and enacted in 1997, which restricts the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious objects into the United States without proper documentation.

Federal importation laws give HSI the authority to take a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property and art. Customs laws allow HSI to seize cultural property and art brought into the United States illegally, especially when objects have been reported lost or stolen.

ICE agents bring valuable artworks into the Peruvian Embassy ICE agents inspect works that are intended for repatriation