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July 17, 2013

Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Heist: Journalists weigh in on reports of stove ashes evidence that suspects' mother destroyed stolen paintings when a buyer could not be found

Was this painting destroyed in Romania?
Alison Mutler for the Associated Press reported on July 16th in "Romania: Museum checks if paintings burned" that Romania's Natural History Museum is examining the ashes found in the stove of Olga Dogaru, the mother of Radu, one of the three suspects charged with stealing seven paintings from the Triton Foundation while on display at the Kunsthal Rotterdam on October 16, 2012.
Dogaru told investigators she was scared for her son after he was arrested in January and buried the art in an abandoned house and then in a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She said she later dug them up and burned them in February after police began searching the village for the stolen works.
Ms. Mutler quotes prosecutor spokesman Gabriela Chiru as saying that it will take months to confirm Olga Dogaru's story.

In late May, the Agency France-Presse reported that Romanian prosecutors suspected that the paintings had been destroyed. Here's a link to that ARCA blog post and others about the art heist.

The Washington Post published an article ("Ash from the stove of woman who claims she burned stolen artworks contains canvas, paint") from the wire service the Associated Press claiming that the results from analyzing the ashes in the stove will be presented to the prosecutors next week:
A Romanian museum official said Wednesday that ash from the oven of a woman whose son is charged with stealing seven multimillion-dollar paintings -- including a Matisse, a Picasso and a Monet -- contains paint, canvas and nails.
The finding is evidence that Olga Dogaru may have been telling the truth when she claimed to have burned the paintings ... Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, director of Romania's National History Museum, told The Associated Press that museum forensic specialists had found "small fragments or painting primer, the remains of canvas, the remains of paint" and copper and steel nails, some of which pre-dated the 20th century.

"We discovered a series of substances which are specific to paintings and pictures," he said, including lead, zinc and azurite.
He refused to say definitively that the ashes were those of seven paintings stolen from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery last year, because he said it was not his postion to do so. He said justice officials would make that decision. 
He did venture, however, that if the remains were those of the paintings, it was a "crime against humanity to destroy universal art." 
"I can't believe in 2013 that we come across such acts," he said. 
Oberlander-Tarnoveanu said forensic specialists at the museum have been analyzing ashes from Dogaru's stove since March, and will hand their results to prosecutors next week.
In The Atlantic Wire, Alexander Abad-Santos speculates that the mother of one of the thieves burned the stolen paintings because the thieves could not find any buyers for the artworks:
According to Romania-Insider, an English-language news site, the suspects stashed the paintings at Olga's house because they were having trouble finding buyers. And citing a local report from Romania, the NL Times is reporting that experts have confirmed that the ashes are the burned remains of Monet and Picasso work. It should be noted, however, that the AP story conflicts with that local report, saying that the main prosecutor and officials said it could take months for the results to be confirmed.