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March 31, 2013

Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Another European Museum Hit by Thieves

by Lynda Albertson, CEO, Association of Research into Crimes against Art

ROME - In the last thirteen months several museums in Europe have been hit with dramatic thefts.

In February 2012, two men stormed the Archeological Museum of Olympia in the early morning and tied up a female guard. Wielding hammers, the robbers proceeded to smash five reinforced glass display cases, stuffing 68 pottery and bronze artifacts into their bags before making a hasty escape. 

In a less violent robbery, thieves walked into the Kunsthal in Rotterdam at 3 am on October 16, 2012 and stole seven paintings from the Triton Foundation, a private foundation of the family of the late Willem Cordia. Inside the museum for less than two minutes, the thieves cherry-picked valuable art works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud, packing them into rucksacks before exiting the same way they came in. 

In January goal-oriented burglars struck an art museum in Bergen, Norway for the second time in less than three years. Using high-beam headlights and crowbars, two thieves smashed display cases and stole 23 rare Chinese artifacts in just over ninety seconds.

This past weekend, over the Easter holidays, Rome’s Villa Giulia joined the list. 

Arriving around midnight, the thieves announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade. This effectively occupied the attention of the night watchmen and bought the thieves the precious seconds needed to climb a garden wall and break into the museum.  It also provided them with a thick cover to obscure their movements on the museum’s close-circuit cameras. 

While the guards investigated the smoke and notified the police of the evening's irregularity, the criminals began making their way through the museum.  Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms that house the objects that make up the vast 6000-piece Castellani collection.

Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of the four double collection display cabinets, setting off the museum’s alarm and grabbing an as yet, unnamed number of jewelry pieces before making their escape unseen.

If their selection was random or purposeful has not been indicated by the Italian investigators.  What has been said is that the shattered display cases housed 19th century Castellani jewelry reproductions based on Etruscan designs while the collection cases facing and alongside those hit containing original Etruscan pieces were left untouched.

Anyone familiar with ancient jewelry making techniques knows that the loss of these antique reproductions is likely to be quite significant. In December of 2006 Sotheby's sold a Castellani Egyptian-revival gold, scarab and micromosaic necklace with matching brooch to a private collector for $475,200. Nine other Castellani pieces sold in that same sale for six figures a piece.

To create his Etruscan replicas, Alessandro Castellani studied original Etruscan artifacts in great detail to try to unravel their method of fabrication. Experimenting with various granulation techniques, he hand-applied minute gold grain onto high-karat gold surfaces producing labor intensive and intricate gold baubles that were as exquisite as their ancient counterparts.

The finest examples of jewelry in this style were produced between the eighth and second centuries, B.C.E. Even with modern tools and knowledge, few goldsmiths today have sufficient skill to compete with either the Castellani jewelers or the original Etruscan masters of the craft.  The jewelry pieces in the Villa Giulia collection were created in a time when human hands were more abundant that the precious metals needed to produce an item and many of the collection’s signature pieces required hundreds of hours of painstaking workmanship.

As back history to the stolen pieces, Fortunato Castellani, opened his family’s jewelry business on the Via del Corso in Rome in 1814 growing the family enterprise into a goldsmith dynasty. Alongside its founder, three generations of Castellani family members and jewelry artisans based their reputations on creating what they called “Italian archaeological jewelry,” inspired by the precious Etruscan, Roman, Greek, and Byzantine antiquities being excavated at the time. 

Characterised by its thoughtfully worked gold, many Castellani revival pieces utilise labor-intensive micro mosaic insets, or were ornately paved with cameos or semi-precious stones.  The costliest pieces were purchased by well-heeled clientele, some of whom included Napoleon III; Prince Albert; Queen Victoria's daughter, Empress Frederick of Prussia; Queen Maria Pia of Savoy; and Robert and Elizabeth Browning, who even wrote a poem about one of their rings.

For now, the authorities at the Villa Giulia and the Carabinieri TPC are remaining mum publicly as to which 19th century pieces were taken, their value and what, if anything, the museum’s closed circuit surveillance tapes have revealed in terms of clues.

What we do know is that this not the first time that a burglar has made use of a cinema-worthy smokescreen to foil security cameras or to carry out a brazen museum theft on a holiday. 

In 1999 Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise was stolen from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England during New Year celebrations.  The bandit broke through a skylight, rappelled down a rope ladder into a gallery and blinded security cameras with a smoke bomb before making off with the £3m painting.

A smoke bomb was also detonated inside the Ukraine's Lvov Picture Gallery in 1992 during a noon-day heist.   In this violent robbery, two bandits stole three 19th century paintings and shot two museum employees - one a manager and the other a section manager - who tried to prevent their escape.

What will become of the pieces stolen from the Villa Giulia collection is subject to speculation, as is the rationale behind most modern museum thefts.  Some here in Rome think that the recent UK and European robberies highlight that austerity measures and the recession have created a financial climate that on surface value makes museum collections appealing targets.

What happens after, when the high profile goods are difficult to sell, remains to be seen.

March 28, 2013

Blanca Niño Norton Wins ARCA's 2013 Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art

Blanca Niño Norton -- Consultant Peten Development Project for the conservation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Ministry of Environment of Natural Resources/Inter-American Development BAnk and Delegation of World Heritage Guatemala -- won ARCA's 2013 Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art. This award usually goes to an individual or institution in recognition of many decades of excellence in the field. Past winners: Carabinieri TPC collectively (2009); Howard Spiegler (2010); John Merryman (2011); and George H. O. Abungu (2012).

Ms. Norton is an architect and an artist, starting her career with an interest in Vernacular Architecture and completing her architectural thesis on this subject while working on collection inventory projects as a student in Guatemala and other countries of the region. In addition to her architectural degree, Blanca Niño Norton holds a masters degree in diplomacy and completed her thesis on “The action of consular and diplomatic affairs in relation to illicit traffic” which received recognition as the best thesis on diplomatic studies.

In her later years, Ms. Norton created the office of World Heritage in the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and directed it for 4 years, during which she worked on the presentation of the tentative list of World Heritage sites of Guatemala and worked on the theme of Intangible Heritage.

As such, Ms. Norton was elected and continues to serve as council member of ICCROM for the next 3 years. (3 times elected in General Assembly) and has participated in the meetings regarding international law in UNESCO Paris on the anniversary of the convention on World Heritage.

Blanca Niño Norton has participated in workshops in Italy with the Carabinieri, and lectured in Argentina, Roma, Paraguay, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Colombia. With the Carabinieri TPC especially with Dr Pastore, Blanca Niño Norton was able to do important training in Guatemala. Through this collaboration with the Carabineri TPC they conducted 4 courses for more than 80 people, each with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy and Ministero per i Bieni Culturale.

March 27, 2013

Australian Law Professor Duncan Chappell Wins ARCA's 2013 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship

Duncan Chappell, Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney, Australia, won ARCA's 2013 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship that usually goes to a professor or author. Past winners: Norman Palmer (2009); Larry Rothfield (2010); Neil Brodie (2011); and Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, jointly (2012).

Duncan Chappell, an Australian lawyer and criminologist now based at the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney, has had a long-standing interest in art crime which dates from the period during which he was the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology (1987-1994). Since that time he has been engaged in research and publishing on a range of art crime topics but with a particular focus on patterns of illegal trafficking of objects of cultural heritage in the South East Asian region. Much of this research and publishing has been undertaken in collaboration with a friend and colleague at the University of Melbourne, Professor Kenneth Polk.

Duncan Chappell’s publications include two coedited texts: Crime in the Art and Antiquities World. Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property (2011) Springer: New York (With Stefano Manacorda) and Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation and Prosecution of Art Crime (In Press) Ashgate: London (With Saskia Hufnagel). He has also had published a number of journal articles and book chapters on various aspects of art crime including fraud and fakery in the Australian Indigenous art market; the impact of corruption in the illicit trade in cultural property; and the linkages between art crime and organized crime.

In addition to his research and writing on art crime Duncan Chappell has acted as an expert in regard to court proceedings involving art crime and also been a strong supporter of  measures to enhance public awareness of the evils of looting behaviour and to strengthen the engagement of law enforcement agencies in investigation and prosecuting those responsible. In his present capacity as Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in Policing and Security, he has sought to foster a far more proactive approach to the prevention and detection of art crime both in Australia and its neighbouring countries within the South East Asian region.

March 26, 2013

Cambridge Researcher Christos Tsirogiannis Wins ARCA's 2013 Award for Art Protection and Security

Christos Tsirogiannis, a researcher at Cambridge University and formerly an archaeologist with the Greek ministries of Culture, Justice and Home Office, has won ARCA's 2013 Award for Art Protection and Security. Tsirogiannis provided evidence that a marble statue and three limestone busts had been trafficked by the antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici and Robin Symes, respectively, before appearing at an auction in Bonhams (London) in April 2010. All four antiquities were withdrawn from the auction due to this evidence.

This award usually goes to a security director or policy-maker. Past winners: Francesco Rutelli (2009); Dick Drent (2010); Lord Colin Renfrew (2011); and Karl von Habsburg and Dr. Joris Kila, Jointly (2012).

Tsirogiannis is completing his Ph.D thesis on the International Illicit Antiquities Network (“Unravelling the International Illicit Antiquities Network through the Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides archive and its international implications”). His thesis is a result of his extensive experience as a forensic archaeologist at the Greek Ministry of Culture (1998-2002 and 2004-2008), the Greek Ministry of Justice (2006-2007) and as the only forensic archaeologist at the Greek police Art Squad (Home Office, 2004-2008, having participated in more than 173 investigations cases and raids). His participation in a 6-member core of the Greek Task Force contributed to the successful claim of looted and stolen antiquities from institutions and individuals, such as the Getty Museum (2007), as well as the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection and the Cahn Gallery in Switzerland (2008). Among many cases, he considers most memorable the raids at the summer residence of Dr Marion True (former curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum) and at the premises of the top illicit antiquities dealers in the world, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides, in the Cyclades, where the famous archive was discovered.

Over the last five years (2007-present), Tsirogiannis has been identifying looted and ‘toxic’ antiquities at the most prominent auction houses (e.g., Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams) and galleries (e.g., “Royal-Athena Galleries”), as part of a project with the renowned academics Professor David Gill (University Campus Suffolk) and Dr. Christopher Chippindale (University of Cambridge). Some of the results of his research have been already demonstrated in The Journal of Art Crime (“Polaroids from the Medici Dossier: Continued Sightings on the Market”, 2011:27-33, with Professor David Gill). This part of his research has contributed to the withdrawal of antiquities (e.g., Bonhams case, April 2010) and to the disclosure of many scandals in the field (e.g., Christie’s June 2010, April 2011, December 2011). Tsirogiannis’ primary aim is to notify governments to retrieve their stolen cultural property and to raise public awareness regarding antiquities trafficking, through media coverage of these cases.

March 25, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Journalist Tom Mashberg Weighs In

The FBI's press conference on the 23rd anniversary of the Gardner theft "was a hit, generating flashing Internet bulletins and global media coverage," wrote Tom Mashberg March 25 in "The Gardner Art Heist: The Thieves Who Couldn't Steal Straight" for Cognoscenti, Boston's NPR Radio Station.

Mashberg has covered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum case for 16 years. Of the FBI's press conference on March 18, 2013, Mashberg writes:
Since crowd-sourcing was the goal, the FBI should be pleased. But we didn't really learn anything new beyond the assertion that some of the stolen paintings made their way to Philadelphia a decade ago. I was invited to speak with investigators alone for a few minutes after the news conference. They are dedicated men to be sure, and they were candid: they told me that for now the train has "gone cold."
 It was attention grabbing to hear them say they know the identities of the thieves. (Keeping the names secret is wise from an investigative standpoint -- imagine the media swarm.) But any careful follower of the case can boil the list of likely robbers down to three men -- all Boston-area felons. My belief is that two of the thieves are dead, and the third is in prison. The dead men will tell no tales, but there is still a chance to squeeze the guy behind bars.
In this article, Mashberg proposes that the bank robber Robert F. Guarante (who died in 2004) took the art from the two original thieves who didn't know what to do with it.
A lot of these characters, chief among them a gangster named Carmello Merlino, also deceased, can be heard yapping on wiretaps about their plans to return the art for the $5 million reward money -- if only they could find it. It's the gang that couldn't steal straight.
Mashberg also proposes that it was Robert A. Donati (dead) who cased the Gardner Museum in the 1980s with art thief Myles J. Connor (in prison on the night of the Gardner Heist) who stole the fluted Chinese bronze beaker that night as a gift for Connor.

Mashberg, who co-write "Stealing Rembrandts" (2011) with Anthony M. Amore, states that "the crime was always a local job."

Sharon Cohen Levin Wins ARCA's 2013 Art Policing and Recovery Award

Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, won ARCA's 2013 Art Policing and Recovery Award.

Past winners: Vernon Rapley (2009), Charlie Hill (2010), Paolo Giorgio Ferri (2011), and Ernst Schöller (2012).

Ms. Levin been instrumental in securing the return of innumerable antiquities and other cultural property to foreign governments, and artworks and other cultural property to the families of Holocaust victims from whom they had been looted or subjected to forced sale by the Nazis.

In 2010, Ms. Levin's office resolved the case of United States v. Portrait of Wally with the Leopold Museum in Vienna.  This case, involved the Estate of Lea Bondi Jaray and lasted over ten years that resulted in: payment of 19 million dollars to the Estate (reflecting at least the full value of the painting); an exhibit of the painting at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, before it returned to the Leopold Museum, and permanent signage to accompany the painting at the Leopold Museum and anywhere else in the world where it is exhibited, which sets forth in both English and German the true provenance of the painting and the legacy of Lea Bondi Jaray. The Wally case is credited with focusing the world's attention on the problem of Nazi-looted art.

In the past six years, the Southern District of New York has forfeited nearly $6 billion in crime proceeds. Ms. Levin pioneered the use of federal forfeiture laws to recover and return stolen art and cultural heritage property. The SDNY Asset Forfeiture Unit has initiated dozens of proceedings under the forfeiture laws -- seizing and returning artwork and cultural property to the persons and nations who rightfully own them.  Notable examples include the forfeiture and repatriation of stolen paintings by Lavinia Fontana, Jean Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, Serge Poliakoff, Anton Graff and Winslow Homer; drawings by Rembrandt and Duhrer; an Etruscan bronze statute dated circa 490 BC; an antique gold platter dated circa 450 B.C.; a rare Mexican manuscript; a medieval carved wood panel which was originally inside the historic Great Mosque in Dvrigi; an Ancient Hebrew Bible owned by the Jewish Community of Vienna and stolen during the Holocaust and most recently, a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton looted from the Gobi desert in Mongolia.

March 24, 2013

Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Heist: Looking at the Paintings Stolen from the Triton Foundation (Provenance Information Added)

Lucian Freud, Woman with Eyes Closed
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The seven paintings stolen from the Kunsthal Rotterdam on October 16 remain missing. On January 21, Romanian police arrested three men in connection with the gallery heist. March 4, Dutch police arrested a Romanian woman believed to be an accomplice. On March 13, a German man who arrested for blackmail after an alleged attempt to sell the Triton stolen paintings back to the foundation. The mother of one of the defendants arrested for the theft has claimed that she destroyed two of the paintings.

Last December Yale University published Avant-Gardes 1870 to the Present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation which offers more information on the stolen paintings stolen from the Triton Foundation. This catalogue is written by Sjraar van Heugten, former head of collections at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and an independent art historian. Here the catalogue's information on the stolen paintings:

Lucian Freud: Woman with Eyes Closed (2002), oil on canvas, 30.5 x 25.4 cm. Provenance: Triton Foundation, acquired from the artists, 2002.

Paul Gauguin, La Fiancée 
Paul Gauguin, Woman Before a Window, 'The Fiancée, 1888, an oil on canvas. annotated in the lower right in red paint (damaged) La Fiancée; signed and dated lower right beneath annotation in black paint P Go 88, 33.8 x 41 cm. Provenance: Private collection, England; Kunsthandel (art dealer) Franz Buffa, Amsterdam; collection Allan and Nancy Miller, Solebury, Pennsylvania, 1949; auction Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 17 June 1960, no. 87 (unsold); auction Sotheby's, London, 4 July 1962, no. 75 (unsold); auction Christie's, Tokyo, 27 May 1969, no. 302; collection Samuel Josefowitz, Lausanne, circa 1981; auction Drouot-Montaigne, Paris, 3 April 1990, no. 58; Triton Foundation, 1997.

Matisse's Reading Woman
Matisse's Reading Woman in White and Yellow, 1919 was painted in the South of France in the suburb of Cimiez. The 31 x 33 cm work is "oil on canvas mounted on board" and "signed lower left Henri Matisse". Comment: Certificate of authenticity by Wanda de Guébriant, 12 Mar. 1996. Provenance: Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, acquired from the artists on 23 June 1919, no. 21624; Bernheim-Jeune Frères, acquired on 20 May 1931; collection Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, 1931; Bignou Gallery, New York; private collection, New York, 1947; collection Dr. Peter Nathan, Zurich, 1953; collection Emil G. Bührle, Zurich, acquired from the above on 8 December 1953; Foundation Emil G. Bührle Collection, since 1960; Triton Foundation, 1999.

Jacob Meyer De Haan, Self-Portrait

Jacob Meyer De Haan (Amsterdam 1852 - Amsterdam 1895), Self-Portrait against Japonist Background, circa 1889-1891, oil on canvas, 32.4 x 24.5 cm. Provenance: Collection Marie Henry, Le Pouldu; collection Ida Cochennec, daughter of the artists and Marie Henry; auction Cochennec Collection, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 24 June 1959, no. 77; Marlborough Fine Art Ltd, London; collection Mr. and Mrs Arthur G. Altschul, New York, acquired in July 1961; Triton Foundation, 2002 (on long-term loan to the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2002-2004).

Sideways view of Monet's Waterloo Bridge
Claude Monet: Waterloo Bridge, London (1901), pastel on brown laid paper, signed lower right Claude Monet, 30.5 x 48.0 cm. Provenance: Collection Werner Herold, Switzerland, circa 1917; private collection, USA, 1970; Triton Foundation, 1998.

Another sideway's view: Monet's
Charing Cross Bridge, London
Claude Monet's Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1901, pastel on brown gray laid paper, annotated and signed lower right à J. Massé/au jeune chasseur/d'Afrique Claude Monet, 31.0 x 48.5 cm. Provenance: Collection J. Massè, gift from the artist; auction Hôtel des Ventes, Enghien-Les-Bains, 24 Nov. 1985, no. 39; auction Hôtel des Ventes, Enghien-Les-Bains, 18 Mar. 1989, no. 6; private collection, Triton Foundation, 1998.

Picasso's Head of a Harlequin
Painted the year before the artist's death, Picasso's Head of a Harlequin (1971) is in "pen and brush in black ink, colored pencil and pastel on thick brown wove paper" (38 x 29 cm) and is "signed and dated in the lower right Picasso/12.1./71. Provenance: Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris; private collection, Europe; Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery, New York; private collection, USA; Finartis Kunsthandels AG, Zug; private collection, USA, 2004; Triton Foundation, 2009.

March 23, 2013

Gardner Heist: Night watchmen Rick Abath Gives Exclusive Television Interview to Randi Kaye in "81 Minutes Inside: The Greatest Art Heist in History" which aired on Anderson Cooper 360 on March 22

Rick Abath, one of the nightwatch men on duty March 18 when two men stole 13 paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, gave his first television interview to Randi Kaye for her story "81 Minutes Inside: The Greatest Art Heist In History" which aired on Anderson Cooper 360 CNN on March 22.

Rick Abath, who had working at the museum for about a year, began his night shift at 11.30 p.m. He explained that guards took turns walking through the museum and manning the security desk next to the employee entrance. On the night of the theft, Abath's "usual partner had called in sick" "so they paired him with a daytime gallery guard".

Ms. Kaye narrates:

Abath takes the first round which takes longer than usual. The fire alarm goes off for no apparent reason -- so does another alarm on the fourth floor. Then the other gallery guard does the round. It is 1.24 a.m. and Rick is alone at the guard desk. Two men dressed as Boston police officers buzz the side entrance and tell Abath that they are there because there's been a disturbance on the property.
Anthony Amore, Director of Security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner, explains to Ms. Kaye that it was against museum policy for the nightwatchman to let anyone into the museum.

While Abath concedes that this may have been the written policy, Abath says that the "culture" was to let museum employees in at night "at least once a month", including the director of the museum. "So it wasn't unusual for Rick to hear that buzzer go off," Ms. Kaye narrates.

Rick Abath explains that he had no reason to believe the men were not police officers until it was too late to reach the panic button.

The panic button on the guard's desk was not easy to reach. "It was the same kind of panic button at a bank or something," Rick Abath said. "It was up on the underside of the desk. But it was a fairly long desk and the computer that you had to be at to do your job was all the way to your left and it was all the way to the right so it just wasn't within arms reach."

March 22, 2013

Anderson Cooper 360 Features Documentary on Gardner Art Heist

Tonight Anderson Cooper 360 features a documentary, "81 minutes: Inside the Greatest Art Heist in History" at 10 p.m. ET (US). The show claims an exclusive television interview with Richard Abath, the night watchman who admits he was the guard on duty who "buzzed in" the two thieves disguised as police officers.

The segment also includes Anthony Amore, Security Director of the ISGM, walking journalist Randi Kaye through the known events of the 1990 theft in the early morning hours of March 18.

March 21, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Author Ulrich Boser Writing in The New York Times on "Learning from the Gardner Art Theft"

Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), in The New York Times March 21 in "Learning from the Gardner Theft", comments on the long investigation into the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990:
Twenty-three years may seem like an inordinate amount of time to solve a burglary, but the Gardner case has actually come a long way from the days when it sometimes seemed to sit on the F.B.I.’s investigative back burner — and the robbery has done a lot to change the way that museums protect their art.
Mr. Boser offers his observations in writing about the case:
Over the years, it hasn’t seemed as if federal investigators have always made the case a top priority. When I first started reporting on the theft, for instance, the museum’s director, Anne Hawley, suggested that she had not always been satisfied with the bureau’s commitment to the case. Ms. Hawley, the director since 1989, said that the first agent assigned to the case seemed very green. “Why didn’t the F.B.I. have the capacity to assign a senior-level person?” she asked me in 2007. “Why was it not considered something that needed immediate and high-level attention?”
Mr. Boser also comments on the unnamed thieves the FBI has identified in its investigation:
As for the men who robbed the museum, there’s been some good evidence over the years regarding their identities. In my book on the theft, I pointed the finger at the Boston mobster David Turner. As part of my reporting, I examined F.B.I. files that indicated that Mr. Turner was an early suspect, and he bears a strong resemblance to the composite drawing made of one of the thieves. In a letter to me, Mr. Turner denied any role in the theft, but he also told me that if I were to put his picture on my book’s cover, I would sell more copies. 

More important, there are signs that the paintings may hang on the walls of the museum again. At the news conference on Monday, the F.B.I. announced that in the years after the theft, someone took the stolen Gardner art to Connecticut and Philadelphia and offered it up for sale. This suggests that the canvases might still be in good condition.

March 20, 2013

Boston Globe: Tip to Authorities in 2010 Led to Turning Point in Gardner Heist Investigation

Boston Globe: Photo by Steven Senne/AP at FBI conference
The Boston Globe reports that a 2010 tip to authorities led to the identity of the two men who robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, according to today's article "Tips pour in on Gardner Museum art theft" by Milton J. Valencia, Shelley Murphy, and Stephen Kurkjian.
The FBI and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum ­received a flood of tips from around the country Tuesday, as new details emerged about the turning point in the investigation of the notorious Gardner Museum heist 23 years ago. 

The latest, exhaustive phase in the inquiry is based on a tip that a caller made to authorities in 2010, according to Anthony Amore, the Gardner Museum’s head of security and chief investigator. 
He said Tuesday that the tip was so fruitful — leading to the announcement that investigators know the identities of the thieves and could trace the art from Boston to Connecticut and Philadelphia — that the FBI has since rededicated significant resources to investigating the heist. 
“That tip, plus thousands of man-hours, led to where we are today,” Amore said.
The Boston Globe article also comes back to Robert Gentile as a suspect:
The latest focus has been on Robert Gentile, a 75-year-old ailing Mafia figure with ties to organized crime in Philadelphia and Boston. His Connecticut home was searched last year in relation to the heist. He was charged with drug dealing and possession of an illegal firearm in what his lawyer called a tactic by the FBI to pressure him to disclose information about the heist. 
Gentile, who pleaded guilty and is slated to be sentenced in May, faces a lengthy prison term. His lawyer, Ryan McGuigan, has maintained that Gentile knows nothing about the heist or the whereabouts of the artwork. 
But investigators seem to have trained their focus on Gentile in the recent phase of the investigation. 
A person with knowledge of the FBI investigation, who asked to remain anonymous ­because of the sensitivity of the inquiry, confirmed Tuesday that investigators found a list of the art stolen from the Gardner, and the estimated value of the works, during the search of Gentile’s home. The discovery of the list was first ­reported by The Hartford ­Courant. 
Gentile also had close ties to organized crime figures in Philadelphia and in Boston, including the late Robert Guarente, who has been tied to almost every­one mentioned as a person of interest in the heist. 
Guarente, for instance, was close with the late Carmello Merlino, who ran an auto body shop in Dorchester and who, according to FBI reports, once tried to negotiate the return of the artworks. No deal ever came to fruition, and Merlino was later convicted in a scheme to rob an armored car depot in Easton. He said that he was set up by informants and that the FBI was pressuring him for ­information regarding the Gardner heist. Merlino died in prison in 2005 at age 71. 
Two other men were also convicted in the armored car depot scheme and received lengthy prison sentences, though they have denied knowledge of the heist or the ­location of the artwork. ­Stephen Rossetti, 54, who is Guarente’s nephew, is slated to be released in 2044, and David Turner, 45, is set to be released in 2025. 
Guarente died in 2004 at age 65. His wife has told authorities in recent years that she saw him give Gentile at least one painting some time around 2003, around the time authorities say some of the art was offered for sale in Philadelphia. The wife, however, did not describe the painting as one of the works taken from the Gardner.

ISGM Security Director Anthony Amore Calls Hunt for Stolen Gardner Paintings "an exercise in finding 13 needles in a haystack by making the haystack smaller"

FBI: An empty frame in the Dutch Room of the ISGM
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The FBI and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum have offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the return of the paintings.

The day after the FBI announced that they have identified the thieves responsible for the 1990 art heist, ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore, Director of Security for the Gardner Museum, told the ARCA Blog:
"As I have said many times in the past, this investigation is an excuse in finding 13 needles in a haystack by making the haystack smaller. The information we provided at the press conference shows that we continue this work, and that the haystack is smaller than ever."
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the U. S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts continue to work on this investigation with the FBI.

You may find more information here on the FBI's website.

And here's a link to an article in Harvard Magazine featuring Anthony Amore.

March 19, 2013

Boston Globe Correspondent Stephen Kurkjian Interviews ISGM guard who let in the thieves in 1990; Abath says he's never been ruled out as a suspect by investigators

Boston Globe Correspondent Stephen Kurkjian reported March 10 in "Decades after the Gardner Heist, police focus on guard" who opened the door to the robbers more than 23 years ago in the largest art theft:
Night watchman Richard Abath may have made the most costly mistake in art history on March 18, 1990, when he unlocked the doors of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for two robbers who stole 13 works of art valued at more than $500 million. For years, investigators discounted the hapless Abath’s role in the unsolved crime. But, after 23 years of pursuing dead ends, investigators are focusing on intriguing evidence that suggests Abath might have been in on the crime all along.
According to Kurkjian, investigators blamed Abath's actions on 'his excessive drinking and pot smoking':
But, after 23 years of pursuing dead ends, including a disappointing search of an alleged mobster's home last year, investigators are focusing on intriguing evidence that suggests the former night watchman might have been in on the crime all along -- or at least knows more about it than he has admitted.
Why, they ask, were Abath's footsteps the only ones picked up on motion detectors in a first floor gallery where one of the stolen paintings, by French impressionist Edouard Manet, was taken? And why did he open the side entrance to the museum minutes before the robbers rang the buzzer to get in? Was he signaling to them that he was prepared for the robbery to begin? 
No one publicly calls Abath a suspect, but federal prosecutors grilled him on these issues last fall. And one former prosecutor in the case has written a recently published novel about the Gardner heist in which the night watchman let the thieves into the museum to pay off a large cocaine debt."
Abath insists that he had nothing to do with the heist, Kurkjian writes.
'Abath, then a rock musician moonlighting as a security guard, said he opened the doors that night because he was intimidated by men dressed as police officers who claimed to be investigating a disturbance. His own uniform untucked and wearing a hat, Abath knew he looked more like a suspect than a guard.'
The 46-year-old Abath agreed to speak to The Globe to gain publicity for a book he is writing about the ISGM theft, according to Kurkjian. Abath told Kurkjian that the former security guard 'realized he was under suspicion four years ago when FBI agents asked to meet him at a Brattleboro, Vermont, coffee shop.'
"After years of not hearing a word the people charged with the task of solving the Great Museum Robbery, they popped up; they wanted to talk," Abath wrote in the manuscript he shared. To his surprise, one agent told him, "You know we've never been able to eliminate you as a suspect."
Kurkjian writes that Abath said that on the night of the robbery he had been sober and had just given his two-week notice. James J. McGovern, who worked on the federal investigation for the US attorney's office in 2006, wrote a novel, Artful Deception (2012), portrays a night security guard who was an accomplice in the Gardner heist [Kurkjian].

Jennifer Levitz for The Wall Street Journal: FBI Will Begin Media Campaign in Philadelphia to flush out art stolen from Gardner Museum in 1990

In the article "Clearer Picture of Art Heist", Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Levitz outlined the media blitz FBI will understake to flush out art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990:

Although it doesn't know the current whereabouts of the art, the FBI believes it might still be in the Philadelphia area. So the agency will launch a publicity campaign, soliciting tips using social media and, within a few weeks, putting up digital roadside billboards in and around Philadelphia, where it believes someone may have glimpsed—or even bought—the art without knowing of the tainted origin. The museum is offering a $5 million reward for a tip leading to the recovery. The theft represents the largest property crime in U.S. history, according to the FBI.

The Hartford Courant's Edmund H. Mahoney Links Hartford Mobster Robert Gentile to FBI's Latest Press Release

In the Hartford Courant article, "FBI Releases Surprising, New Detail on Gardner Museum Heist", journalist Edmund H. Mahony writes:
In a stunning development in the investigation of the world's richest art heist, law enforcement officials said Monday they know who stole $500 million in master works from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and disclosed new detail about their interest in Hartford mobster Robert Gentile.
"The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft," said Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston office. "With that same confidence we have identified the thieves who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England."
In order not to jeopardize the continuing investigation, Mahony writes, that the FBI 'would not answer specific questions about Gentile, a 75-year-old gambler and confidence man long associated with the rackets in Hartford.'
But since 2010, Gentile has been questioned repeatedly about his membership in the Boston branch of a Philadelphia-based criminal organization, as well as leads that place at least some of the stolen paintings in Connecticut and the Philadelphia area.

The Great Gardner Heist: 2010 Interview by "On Point" Tom Ashbrook

On the 20th anniversary of the theft of the ISGM, NPR's "On Point" Tom Ashbrook interviewed Anne Hawley, Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Anthony Amore, Director of Security. Amore, an ARCA Trustee, takes Ashbrook down to the basement to where the  museum's two security guards were handcuffed and duct-taped during the robbery.

March 18, 2013

FBI Announces New Information Regarding the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Theft

FBI composite of paintings stolen from ISGM in 1990
On the 23rd anniversary of the largest art theft, an FBI press release announced: "FBI Provides New Information Regarding the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Theft".

The press release is issued by the FBI Boston office in cooperation with with Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, released new information about one of the largest property crimes in U.S. history—the art theft:
The FBI believes it has determined where the stolen art was transported in the years after the theft and that it knows the identity of the thieves, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, revealed for the first time in the 23-year investigation. “The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that in the years after the theft, the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region, and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia, where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft.” DesLauriers added, “With that same confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.” After the attempted sale, which took place approximately a decade ago, the FBI’s knowledge of the art’s whereabouts is limited. 
Information is being sought from those who possess or know the whereabouts of the 13 stolen works of art—including rare paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer—by publicizing new details about the case and continuing to highlight the $5 million reward for the return of the art. Although the FBI does not know where the art is currently located, the FBI is continuing its search, both in and beyond the Connecticut and Philadelphia areas. “With this announcement, we want to widen the ‘aperture of awareness’ of this crime to the reach the American public and others around the world,” said DesLauriers. 
Anthony Amore, the museum’s chief of security, noted that the reward is for “information that leads directly to the recovery of all of our items in good condition.” He further explained, “You don’t have to hand us the paintings to be eligible for the reward. We hope that through this media campaign, people will see how earnest we are in our attempts to pay this reward and make our institution whole. We simply want to recover our paintings and move forward. Today marks 23 years since the robbery. It’s time for these paintings to come home.” 
“The investigation into the Gardner Museum theft has been an active and aggressive effort, with law enforcement following leads and tracking down potential sources of information around the globe. Over the past three years, I have visited the museum several times, and each time I entered the Dutch Room and saw the empty frames, I was reminded of the enormous impact of this theft. I do remain optimistic that one day soon the paintings will be returned to their rightful place in the Fenway, as Mrs. Gardner intended,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “As we have said in the past, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will consider the possibility of immunity from criminal prosecution for information that leads to the return of the paintings based on the set of facts and circumstances brought to our attention. Our primary goal is, and always has been, to have the paintings returned.” 
To recover stolen items and prosecute art and cultural property crime, the FBI has a specialized Art Crime Team of 14 special agents supported by special trial attorneys. The team investigates theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines, with estimated losses running as high as $6 billion annually. The FBI also runs the National Stolen Art File, a computerized index of stolen art and cultural properties that is used as a reference by law enforcement agencies worldwide. 
The FBI stressed that anyone with information about the artwork may contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the museum directly or through a third party, said Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly, who is the lead investigator in the case and a member of the Art Crime Team. “In the past, people who realize they are in possession of stolen art have returned the art in a variety of ways, including through third parties, attorneys, and anonymously leaving items in churches or at police stations.” Tips may also be submitted online at 
The publicity campaign announced today includes a dedicated FBI webpage on the Gardner Museum theft, video postings on FBI social media sites, publicity on digital billboards in Philadelphia region, and a podcast. To view and listen to these items, visit the FBI’s new webpage about the theft:

ARTNews' George Stolz on "Authenticating Picasso"

Pablo Picasso at 90 Photographed by Ara Güler
 in the South of France in 1972
ARTnews contributing editor George Stolz presents the story on "Authenticating Picasso" in the January issue. What is and what isn't an artwork by Pablo Picasso is being sorted out amidst conflict amongst the artist's heirs, Stolz writes:

"Forty years after Picasso's death, while his paintings are among the most expensive ever sold, the problem of how to authenticate his work remains a challenge. To avoid mistakes, four of his five surviving heirs have clarified the process but have not included his eldest daughter."

Poor health of Maya Widmaier-Picasso (b. 1935), Picasso's daughter by his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter (1927-37), and the tension between Maya and her half-brother Claude, Picasso's son with his mistress Françoise Gilot (1943-53) have left the family's authentication business solely to Claude since last September. Stolz explains:
The right to authenticate Picasso's work, however, is considered an inherited moral right, or droit moral. Only individual heirs have this right. When Claude exercises his droit moral to authenticate works by his father, he does so as an individual heir (as does Maya), not in his capacity as the estate administrator. Under French law, an artist's descendants are presumed to have an innate understanding of - or at least a privileged firsthand familiarity with -- the art created by their progenitor, and are thus entitled to issue certificates of authenticity.

March 17, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013 - , No comments

Courbet Museum in Ornans welcomes home "The Oak of Flagey" from Japan after French town raises purchase price

Gustave Courbet, The Oak of Flagey, 1864
Today in Ornans the Courbet Museum provides free admission for public view of the 4 million euro painting local inhabitants helped purchased from Japan last year to return to Gustave Courbet's hometown. You may read more here in France 24 in "French town raises 4 million euros to bring Courbet painting home".

The Oak of Flagey (The Oak of Vercingetorix) painted in 1864 was formerly exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia before entering the collection of Michimasa Murachi in Japan.  

March 16, 2013

Kunsthal Rotterdam art heist: German prosecutor arrests middle-man for blackmail after attempt is allegedly made to sell back stolen paintings to Dutch owner Triton Foundation

Harlequin Head by Pablo Picasso
On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 13, German prosecutors arrested a 46-year-old German man for attempting to sell seven of the paintings stolen from the the Kunsthal Rotterdam on October 16 back to their Dutch owner, the Triton Foundation [David Rising and Toby Sterling reporting from Berlin and Amsterdam, respectively, for the Associated Press ("Police name man claiming to sell back Picasso, Monet in $100 million heist"].
Three Romanian men suspected of carrying out the heist were arrested Jan. 22 in Bucharest and remain in custody there. A 19-year-old Romanian woman was arrested in Rotterdam on March 4 on suspicion of assisting the thieves.
Police believe the works were brought shortly after the theft to a home in Rotterdam where the young woman was staying and removed from their frames.
The suspect has contacted two lawyers in Cologne to negotiate the return of the paintings back to the owner and has been arrested for blackmail. reports in "Romanians implicated in Kunsthal art heist to face trial at home" that the three men arrested for the theft will not be extradited to The Netherlands.
None of the works have been recovered and the mother of one of the defendants told a local Romanian broadcaster she had destroyed two to help her son [].
The suspects would prefer to avoid prison and Romania and have claimed that the paintings will never be seen again if their trial is not held in the Netherlands: "They have made this very clear," their lawyer said.

Here's another view of the  value of the stolen paintings.

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

March 14, 2013

Nominees for ARCA's 2013 Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art Award

Here are the four nominees for ARCA's 2013 Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art, which usually goes to an individual or institution in recognition of many decades of excellence in the field). Past winners: Carabinieri TPC collectively (2009), Howard Spiegler (2010), John Merryman (2011), and George H. O. Abungu (2012).

Ton Cremers, Museum Security and Safety Consultant, founded the MSN. Mr. Cremers is active in security and safety in museums, archives, libraries, churches with valuable collections, monuments, and old Dutch windmills for the past 30 years. He is the former director of security and safety of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the founding director of the Museum Security Network. The MSN mailing list, presently a Google Group, was the first WWW list-serv dedicated to the subject of museum security and has been active for over 15 years. In those years over 45,000 messages have been send to some 1,000 subscribers (average) in more than 50 countries. Ton Cremers was one of the founding members of the Leiden network on trade in illegal antiquities, dedicated to the struggle against the illicit trade in art and antiquities. Other founding members: Neil Brody, Colin Renfrew a.o.'s. Ton Cremers has been active in over 450 museums etc., in several European, and African countries, such as Zimbabwe where he audited the security and safety of all national museums, national archives, and national galleries.
Cremers  has published numerous articles in international magazines, and was the codeveloper of a self-audit software tool with which museums are able to investigate their security and safety. Thus far Cremers is the first non-American to have received the prestigious Burke Award for the protection of cultural property.  His publication about emergency management in museums is a standard in the Dutch language world. At the moment Cremers is working on a new initiative to build a museum in Athens, Greece and is active in 17 museums on six islands in the Dutch Caribbean, teaching and training museum workers.
Dr. David Gill is Professor of Archaeological Heritage and Head of the Division of Humanities at University Campus Suffolk, England. He is a former Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome, and Sir James Knott Fellow at Newcastle University. He was a curator in the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, before moving to Swansea University where he was Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology.
He has published widely on archaeological ethics, often with Dr Christopher Chippindale (University of Cambridge). Their research has promoted the material and intellectual consequences of looting. Gill has provided a commentary on the impact of such activity through his research blog, “Looting Matters”. This research has formed part of the effort to restore antiquities to Italy and Greece in the wake of the “Medici Conspiracy”.
Maurizio Seracini is a pioneer in the use of multispectral imaging and other diagnostic as well as analytical technologies as applied to works of art and structures. He joined UC San Diego in 2006, more than thirty years after graduating from UCSD with a B.S. in bioengineering in 1973 and  a Laurea in “Ingegneria Elettronica” from the University of Padua in 1976.
He has studied more than 2,500 works of art and historic buildings, ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper” and Botticelli's "Allegory of Spring", to Caravaggio’s “Medusa”. Founder and Scientific Director of EDITECH (Electronics, Diagnostics and Technology) in 1977, the first center for authenticating works of art in Italy.
Blanca Niño Norton is an architect and an artist, starting her career with an interest in Vernacular Architecture and completing her architectural thesis on this subject while working on collection inventory projects as a student in Guatemala and other countries of the region. In addition to her architectural degree, Blanca Niño Norton holds a masters degree in diplomacy and completed her thesis on “The action of consular and diplomatic affairs in relation to illicit traffic” which received recognition as the best thesis on diplomatic studies. In her later years she created the office of World Heritage in the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and directed it for 4 years, during which she worked on the presentation of the tentative list of World Heritage sites of Guatemala and worked on the theme of Intangible Heritage.  As such she was elected and continues to serve as council member of ICCROM for the next 3 years. (3 times elected in General Assembly) and has participated in the meetings regarding international law in UNESCO Paris on the anniversary of the convention on World Heritage.
Blanca Niño Nortonhas participated in workshops in Italy with the Carabinieri, and lectured in Argentina, Roma, Paraguay, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Colombia. With the Carabinieri TPC especially with Dr Pastore, Blanca Niño Norton was able to do important training in Guatemala. Through this collaboration with the Carabineri TPC they conducted 4 courses for more than 80 people, each with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy and Ministero per i Bieni Culturale.