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March 6, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2011: Diane Joy Charney reviews Nathaniel Herzberg

In the Fall 2011 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Diane Joy Charney reviews Nathaniel Herzberg's Le Musée Invisible: Les Chefs-d'oeuvre volés (Nouvelle Edition, 2010):
This handsome edition by “Le Monde” journalist, Nathaniel Hertzberg, begins provocatively: 
“It’s the largest and richest museum in the world— works by Picasso, Renoir, Rembrandt, Monet, Matisse, Warhol, the great Italian Primitives, a whole range of Flemish masters with Vermeer at the top of the list. Also works of sculpture, furniture, rare books, musical instruments, precious timepieces. No period or important artist is unrepresented in this unique establishment, Le Musée Invisible—the greatest museum in the world, but no one can see it. Its collections, stolen over the course of centuries, pillaged from historic sites, taken from museums, churches, chateaux and private collectors, and never recovered.” 
In homage to these missing works, Herzberg has created this imaginary museum. As a backdrop to the works he has chosen for the collection, he paints the strangely diverse world of criminals responsible for the thefts, but especially a world where to steal a work of art is easier than to resell it. 
The above Introduction is actually preceded by an explanation of why a new edition was necessary so soon after the first appeared. As Herzberg explains, “...the May 2010 thefts of five masterpieces from the Paris Musée d’Art Moderne, the most important theft of a French museum in the past quarter century had occurred, and the book made no mention of it.” 
To no one’s surprise, there were other major thefts during the interval between the first and second editions: a Breughel stolen from an art fair in Brussels, an anonymous portrait from a Polish church, a Degas pastel from the Musée Cantini in Marseilles, an anonymous sculpture from a Venezuela museum, a lavishly decorated marble plaque from a Teheran mosque, and an antique statue stolen from a private collection in Copenhagen. In 2009 alone, 1751 works of art were reported stolen in France.
Diane Joy Charney teaches French Literature at Yale University, where she is also Tutor-in-Writing and the Mellon Forum Fellow of Timothy Dwight College.

You may read the full review by subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime.