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

February 2, 2020

Dick Drent returns to Amelia to teach "risk management and crime prevention in museum security” at ARCA's 2020 Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. This week I speak Dick Drent, the Van Gogh Museum's former security director and on of the worlds leading experts on museum security.

Dick Drent
Though Dick and I both located in Amsterdam, I have to this interview via Skype as Dick is constantly flying around the world to assist museums from the US to the Far East and in between. When I talk with him to discuss his return to Amelia in 2020, Dick is heading for Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the first two emirates to talk about bringing proactive security to the UAE. Soon to follow by the other emirates.

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

My background is based on law enforcement with the Dutch police, where I worked for 25 years, mainly involving international investigations hinging on organised crime. In that capacity I worked for 15 years in the Undercover and Sensitive Operations Unit on counter-terrorism projects and on setting up, running and managing (inter)national infiltration projects. I also worked as the Liaison Officer for the Dutch Police to the UN War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, a tribunal set up in 1992 for the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law set up following the war in what is the former Yugoslavia.

In 2005 I was approached by the Van Gogh Museum to serve as their Director of Security, responsible for dealing with their threat and risk issues as it relates to the museum’s complex physical security as well as it's the museum’s approach to organizational, construction and electronic risk management. Leading up to my hire, these were not sufficient for a museum of this calibre and had resulted in the 2002 burglary of the museum in which two Van Gogh paintings were stolen. So, I was mandated to change and overhaul the museum’s overall security which I did, developing and implementing a new proactive security strategy which effectively assessed risk and minimized the potential of future breaches. Next to that I was pinpointed as chief investigator with the goal of getting the museum's two stolen Van Gogh paintings back. In 2016 after many years of tracing and tracking tips, gathering information, connecting with informants and conducting investigations all over Europe we were ultimately successful. Fourteen years after the robbery, and in close cooperation with Italy’s Guardia Di Finanza of Naples, we were able to recover the paintings at a house connected to one of the bosses of the Camorra organized crime clans in Naples. There, the paintings were seized by law enforcement authorities and when authenticated, were returned to the Van Gogh Museum where they have been restored and are now once again a part of the museum’s collection.

Recovery of the Van Gogh's
In 2014 I left the Van Gogh Museum to further develop my own business enterprise where I continue to be successful in an advisory and consultancy capacity, a segment of which is specialized on providing security and risk training as it relates to protecting cultural heritage. I have also expanded my company Omnirisk through a merger with the International Preventive Security Unit (IPSU) where knowledge and expertise is combined. We will operate under the name International Security Expert Group. (ISEG). ISEG works with experts from law enforcement and special forces from the military and will cover the full range of training and courses in security and safety for any situation in the world. Next to this I’m still busy with assisting museums and cultural projects all over the world to improve their security. At the moment I’m in touch with Mark Collins, a law enforcement officer from Canada and an ARCA alumnus, to set up training programs on proactive security in Canada.

What do you feel is the most relevant part of your course?


Dick Drent on a field trip during the
2019 program
As it relates to my course with ARCA, aside from creating security awareness in the broadest sense of the word, especially for those participants who have no security experience in their backgrounds, the most relevant part of my course involves a change of mindset. This is done by literally letting them climb into the skin of the criminal or terrorist, where they are asked to assume an adversarial role or point of view in order to understand how easy it is to commit an art-related crime. By considering, how they themselves would set about attacking a museum or an archaeological site or infiltrating a private institution with the intent and goal of stealing or destroying something, they are better able to see and understand the site's security vulnerabilities, by simulating a real-world attack to evaluate the effectiveness of a site’s security defenses and policies.

What do you hope participants will get out of your course? 

I want them to understand that the protection of cultural heritage doesn’t begin with chasing stolen, falsified, counterfeited, looted, plundered or destroyed art or heritage. I want them to learn that it starts with thinking about threats and actors, and risk in advance of an incident and exploring how we can prevent incidents before they happen. By changing from a reactive method of security as we know it, ergo, reacting to incidents after they occur, where, per definition, you are already too late to have prevented it), to a proactive strategy is what is needed for comprehensive security strategies. Pro-activity involves identifying the hazardous conditions that can give rise to all manner of risk, which we address in a variety of methods, including predictive profiling, red teaming, utilizing security intelligence and other proactive approaches which lead to the actual protection of cultural heritage.

A second thing I know for sure the participants come away with from my course is that when finished they will have a strong understanding of how security should, or more correctly, has to be an intrinsic part of any organisation. It’s not unusual for those who study under me, to say afterwards that they will never be able to walk into museum again without looking for the security issues at hand and in their head making a survey how easy it would be too…… For them, the days of solely enjoying a museum or art will be over. Forever.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants? 

Next to reading everything that is mentioned on the advanced reading lists we provide to participants, I would highly recommend reading the book: Managing the Unexpected (2007) by Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe. This book discusses the ideas behind the High Reliability Organization (HRO) and it's principles. In my opinion every organization that is involved in the protection of cultural heritage, should be managed as an HRO. Read it and you will find out why.

Is there anything you can recommend about the program or about it being in Amelia or Umbria? 

Coffee break during the conference
An added value to your investment in following this program in Amelia is the opportunity to develop one’s network with other participants and with all the professors and lectures who come to Umbria because of ARCA and the ARCA conference. This sometimes isn’t obvious in the beginning, but I am still in contact with a lot of the participants and presenters from the previous year’s courses and conferences and have also been able to connect them to other people in my network long after the summer is over. So, for a future career, even it is not clear yet what or how that career will look, this program offers opportunities too good not to make use of! Tip: Print business cards to give to the people you contact and ask for theirs. Make them notice you, by your questions and drive to learn

Regarding Amelia, Umbria and of course Italy as a whole, there are not enough words even to begin to explain why someone should travel around in this big playground where every stone represents a part of history. Not to mention the beautiful food, wines and various dishes they serve in all the different regions and the friendship you can experience if you are really interested in the people and the country. It’s worth soaking up and living it!

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June?

Throughout the years that the Amelia Conference has taken place, I have watched it become more and more focused and specialized. The number of attendees has also grown from 40-50 at its start to well over 150 attendees, even without using publishing or marketing tools. That is what a conference should be about, interesting topics, good speakers, interesting discussions and the opportunity to network and get to know people. Due to my work, I am not always able to attend every year and feel this as a missed opportunity to grow and to extend my knowledge and network. For the participants it is very important to be there and to connect with the people that could be interesting for their line of work or career or just because it is good to meet interesting people. This applies also the other way around. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the participants during this coming 2020 program!

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For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org 

Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

January 31, 2020

Gallery Theft - Dalí authorized sculptures taken from the Galleri Couleur in Stockholm


A large number of authorized bronze sculptures, created with the permission of the Spanish Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, were stolen in the early morning hours of 30 January 2020 from the Galleri Couleur in Stockholm.  In a smash and grab theft at approximately 4 am that also damaged additional pieces left behind, the thieves are believed to have made off with ten works of art at the gallery.  Peder Enström, the owner of the Galleri Couleur, has given an estimate that the stolen sculptures are worth between 200,000 and 500,000 Swedish Krona each, though next to nothing on the legit market, given they no longer have their accompanying paperwork and are easily identifiable. 

Stolen: Dalí - Profile of Time
While Dalí­ was alive, he sometimes made maquettes of his creations, using hollow wax forms and sold the rights to their use these for recasting his work as authorized sculptures. 

These sculptures have a specific serial number and are accompanied by a certificate that certifies that the sculpture is an authorized Dalí­ multiple, with the number of copies made in the series a critical determinant in the object's pricing.  The rarer the piece, or works documented as being cast during Dali’s lifetime (i.e. before 1989) bring a higher price when sold. 

Stolen: Dalí - Nobility of Time
The sculptures stolen this week are multiples that the sculpture Salvador Dalí sold limited rights to via Baniamino Levi.  Their agreement allowed for the production of a limited series at the Perseo Foundry, in Mendrisio Switzerland.  That said the proliferation of the artist's multiple, and their brisk sales are not without controversy.  In any case, if the price seems too good to be true, and the sculpture has no paperwork, buyer beware. 

November 17, 2019

Recovered: Ring once owned by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde


Note:  This article has been revised to include an interview with Arthur Brand at the closure of this article: 

Engraved with Greek lettering, a gold ring donated by the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde has been recovered. The author 
Albumen Photo of Oscar Wilde, 1882
by Napoleon Sarony
National Portrait Gallery NPG P24
of scintillating essays and The Picture of Dorian Gray donated the ring to his second alma mater, the University of Oxford, in 1876.  A place where, looking back on his life Wilde reflected pivotally in a letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas that "the two great turning points in my life were when my father sent me to Oxford and when Society sent me to prison." ('De Profundis' — O. W.).  It was the young lord's father who brought about Wilde's spectacular fall from grace.

Wilde read Classics as an undergraduate at Oxford from 1874 to 1878. His ring was once displayed in a butterfly case alongside the  "Magdalen" papyrus, three pieces of a manuscript donated by Reverend Charles B. Huleatt.  The ring disappeared from Magdalen College on May 2, 2002 in the early morning hours when Eamonn Andrews A.K.A. Anderson, a former Magdalen cleaner and handyman broke into the college, stole whiskey from the college bar and then impulsively made off with the 18-carat gold friendship ring and two rowing medals: the 1910 Henley Royal Regatta Grand Challenge Cup medal and a 1932 silver and bronze medal presented to RFG Sarell in 1932. 

The "Old Library" of Magdalen College in Oxford.
When forensic evidence quickly linked the thief to the crime, Andrews confessed, telling police during his interrogation that he had sold the ring and medals to a London scrap metal dealer for just £150.  Andrews was subsequently sentenced to two years incarceration for this offense, yet despite a modest reward, the 18-carat gold literary artifact seemed lost, and would remain missing for 17 years. 

But Wilde's famous ring was too important and too valuable to be melted down, something the fence Andrews delivered the ring to evidently knew.  Collaborating with London based Hungarian-born antiquities dealer William Thomas Veres, a dealer with a less than pristine background written about often on this blog, Arthur Brand, a Dutch private investigator worked credible leads which led to the eventual recovery of the author's ring. 

Brand's informant (or informants) led him to explore details of the famous April 2015 London heist at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company.  That multi-million pound heist took place over the four-day Easter and Passover holidays and was carried out by a gang of mostly elderly robbers, in what some believe was to be their swan song burglary before retiring for good. 

During this heist some of the culprits dressed as gas repair men as they drilled away for hours before eventually boring their way through a 50 centimeter wall to gain access the storage facility, while bypassing the main door.  Once through the wall, the team of burglars ransacked a total of 73 safety boxes containing gold jewellery, precious and semi precious stones, documents and cash. 

Destroyed safety deposit boxes at
Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company after the 2015 burglary
Following up on leads London's Metropolitan Police would eventually arrest ten suspects.  Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company never recovered and went into liquidation. Ultimately eight career criminals involved in the dramatic heist would be sentenced for their involvement.  

John "Kenny" Collins pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

Hugh Doyle was found guilty of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, suspended for two years. 

Daniel Jones pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

William Lincoln was found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property and was sentenced to a seven-year prison term. 

Terry Perkins pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and  initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and to pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail but died one week after the ruling.  

Brian Reader was sentenced to a six years and three months prison term and to pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

Michael Seed was found guilty of burglary and conspiracy to burgle and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. 

Carl Wood was found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property and was sentenced to a six-year prison term. 

Jon Harbinson was found not guilty and discharged.  

Paul Reader was never charged.

Of the £14 million in loot taken during the Hatton Garden burglary only a fraction of the stolen property, approximately £4,3 million, was ever recovered. Yet whispers from not so literary criminal informants with knowledge of the London heist's haul spoke of one of the items grabbed in the burglary:  

...a Victorian gold ring inscribed with what they thought was Russian text.   

For now details about Brand's recovery are limited due to the nature of the investigation, though this is not the first time that the name of the London art merchant William Veres has been connected to the Dutch investigator's recoveries, as Mr. Brand openly admits when interviewed. 

In November 2018 Veres was connected to Brand in the recovery of a 6th century byzantine mosaic of Saint Mark which once decorated the apse of the church of Panaya Kanakaria in Lythrangomi, Northern Cyprus. Veres' name also came up a second time in January 2019, connected to Brand's recovery of two 7th century limestone reliefs which originally adorned the church of Santa Maria de Lara.  

When asked about the London dealer's motives for helping, Mr Brand stated first and foremost, that Mr. Veres is never paid for the assistance he gives on these cases.  Secondly he stated that though he [Veres] has had encounters with the law in the past, Brand believes that these assists might help the dealer in cleaning up his reputation.  Lastly, Brand stated that you cannot recover stolen art with the help of the Salvation Army, and underscored "all my investigations, including this one, are conducted with the local police authorities full knowledge and are completely legal in the eyes of the law."

When asked about George Crump, who Brand states facilitated in this investigation, the private investigator stated that Crump is "an honest man who knows the London criminal world thanks to his late uncle, a former owner of a casino."  Brant also indicated that Crump's uncle died decades ago but that the nephew still knows his late Uncle's old friends and was therefore "the best person to discreetly inquire as to where the ring might be located, and indeed he succeeded."

The story of this recovery has been filmed by a Dutch film crew and will be aired as part of a documentary in the Summer of 2020.  For now Oscar Wilde's ring is is set to go on display, Wednesday December 4th during a ceremony at the University of Oxford. 

August 12, 2019

More from the Rogues' Gallery - An orphaned William Ashford painting, stolen in 2006, returns home.


Some art thieves are savvy characters, others are...let's just say, special.

By December 2018, burglar, petty criminal, art and book thief, Andrew Shannon has racked up 52 convictions for burglary, theft and criminal damages, 13 of which related to offenses which took place in foreign jurisdictions, including the handling of stolen property.

Andrew Shannon Photo Credit: Collins
Some of his criminal offenses have been mundane, like the 2016 theft of seventeen electric toothbrushes worth only €200 from a supermarket in Swords, a suburb of Dublin.  Others have been just plain peculiar, like the intentional damage he inflicted punching Monet's 1874 painting Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat, an incident that took place at the National Gallery of Ireland on 29 June 2012.  That bizarre act of vandalism resulted in three tears, the longest of which was 25 centimeters, and took conservators eighteen months to repair.  For this impulsive incident, Shannon was sentenced by Judge Martin Nolan in December 2014 to six year imprisonment, with the final 18 months of his sentence suspended. 


A known serial thief as far back as 2009 Shannon seems to have had a penchant for burgling stately homes, often with the help of accomplices. Travelling from Ireland to target English properties, he often posed as a tourist, pilfering porcelain vases, ashtrays, books, ornamental lions, figurines, valuable antique books and once, even a walking stick. 

Carton House in Kildare
The historical family seat of the FitzGerald family.
By 2014, police were narrowing in on his escapades and in April Ireland's Gardaí or "the Guards", the police service of the Republic executed a search warrant on Shannon's home and recovered some 43 paintings some immediately linked to known thefts and others not.  While owners were identified for some of the artworks, others went unclaimed despite a nationwide appeal.  Shannon sued for the return of these remaining art orphans, however, Judge John Coughlan ruled against him.  Basing his ruling on the fact that Shannon was already notorious as a thief as well as the fact that the claimant had failed to provide verifiable proof of actual ownership, the judge ordered the forfeiture of all remaining unclaimed artworks which then become the property of the state.

In 2016 Shannon was convicted of stealing 57 stolen antique books, once part of the library at Carton House in Kildare, including one of only six rare 1660 editions of the King James Bible.  The books had disappeared in November 2006 when left in storage during a restoration of the country house.  These were recovered in the suspect's home, displayed in neat rows.  When questioned about their origins, Shannon lied to the authorities and stated that he had purchased them in 2002 at a fete in the Midlands.

As recently as May 2019 Shannon lost his appeal Dublin Circuit Criminal Court over an earlier conviction stemming from the theft of an 1892 oil painting by Frederick Goodall stolen from Bantry House, in Cork, in March of 2006.  Blaming his sticky fingers on both his heart disease and his addiction to benzodiazepines and harder substances while recovering from a quadruple heart bypass, the court prosecution built their case against the prolific offender by illustrating how the kleptomaniac had habitually and repeatedly filched a surprising array of objects, some of which had very little monetary value.  Not buying into offender's medical complications excuse, Judge Patricia Ryan sentenced Shannon to two years imprisonment, backdating Shannon's sentence to 20 February 2018,  the day he was taken into custody for this particular offense. 

Flash forward to this summer, when in June 2019 one of the seized 2014 artworks, a painting by English painter William Ashford, was put up for sale at Adams Art Gallery.  As a result of the publicity around the upcoming sale, the painting was recognized by someone who had once worked on the artwork when it was part of the collection at the Royal Dublin Society.

This orphaned artwork, missing since 2006, has now been returned to the RDS.

April 1, 2019

Two years later and no sign of the Lindauers?


Two years ago, on the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2017, a stolen Ford Courier utility vehicle drove up Parnell Road close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand between 3:30 and 4:00 am.  As it neared the International Art Centre, it then turned and reversed twice into a large plate glass window, at the front of the gallery.  Having smashed in the window, the driver of the Ford and a second suspect, who appeared on the scene at the same time driving a white 2016 Holden Commodore, entered the gallery through the broken window.

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
Wearing bandanas, black gloves and dark sweatshirts, the pair climbed through the broken window and snatched two iconic Māori portraits: one of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure and another of Chief Ngatai-Raure loading them into the back of the Holden Commodore.  The artworks, by 19th century Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer, were meant to be the centerpieces of an upcoming auction.  Stolen in less than a minute, the paintings were valued at around NZ $350,000 - $450,000 each.

CCTV footage of thieves
Image Credit: Auckland City Police
The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was painted in 1884 and shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. The portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure, also painted in 1884 shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring.

At the time of the brazen theft, art world figures expressed dismay at the loss, and characterised Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.”  And while immediate and extensive publicity both in New Zealand and elsewhere ensured that a legitimate mainstream sale or disposal of the artworks was unlikely, two years one the two works of art remain missing. 

Any information on the thieves or the white 2016 Holden Commodore should be reported to Auckland City Police or anonymously via the New zealand Crimestoppers tip line: 0800 555 111.


March 30, 2019

To celebrate Van Gogh's birthday, we again highlight his works of art which have been stolen over the years.


Today is Van Gogh’s 166th birthday.

To celebrate his importance, we highlight his works of art which have been stolen over the years. Some of these remain missing.

When opportunity has knocked, art thieves have often had a preference for works of art attributed to Vincent Van Gogh.   But just how many artworks by Vincent van Gogh have been stolen? 

In Van Gogh's lifetime, he only sold one painting, The Red Vineyard, despite the fact that his works  have long commanded substantial figures in the contemporary art world. Nine of his masterpieces are ranked among the world's 50 most expensive works of art ever sold.    

Echoing that, the wave pattern of art theft often mirrors the whimsy of the art market. And when that happens,  thieves often follow the path of least protection or resistance and strike at objects the know to be of value taking into consideration the places that allow for the opportunity.

Taking a look inside ARCA's list of art crimes involving the artist Vincent Van Gogh and by our count, 36 Van Gogh works of art have been stolen, 3 of them two times each, over the course of 14 separate art thefts.

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Stolen in 1937 - The Lovers: The Poet's Garden IV, 1888  is only known to the art world through an 1888 letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo. This artwork, likely an oil on canvas was completed the same year the letter was sent and may have been stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  The only known image of this painting is based the small sketch the artist sent to his brother along with his letter.  This work of art has never been recovered. 

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June 4, 1977 - Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen from Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum and later recovered only to then be stolen again in 2010. 

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February 17, 1975 – Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was one of 28 works of art stolen from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. The painting was recovered in an apartment registered to an alias in Milan on April 6, 1975.  It too was stolen a second time, just one month later. See the individual theft post here.

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May 15, 1975 - Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was stolen for a second time along with 37 other Impressionist and Post Impressionist works of art from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. This follow-up theft included many of same artworks previously taken during the February 17, 1975 theft. The Van Gogh was recovered on November 2, 1975 in what was then West Germany along with ten other stolen artworks taken during the second the Galleria d'Arte Moderna theft. See the individual theft post here.

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May 20, 1988 - Three paintings Vase with Carnations (1886) by Vincent Van Gogh, La maison du maître Adam Billaud à Nevers (The House of Master Adam Billaud at Nevers) painted in 1874 by Johan Barthold Jongkind and Bouteilles et pêches (Bottles and peaches) painted in 1890 by Paul Cézanne were stolen from the Stedelijk Museum, next door to the Van Gogh Museum on the Museumplein in Amsterdam.  All three works of art were recovered undamaged.  See the individual theft post here.

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December 12, 1988 -  Three Van Goghs worth an estimated €113 million euros were stolen from the The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo about 60 miles east of Amsterdam. The stolen works of art included the second of three painted sketches titled De aardappeleters, (the potato eaters) completed in 1885, as well as two other works Four Cut Sunflowers, (also known as Overblown Sunflowers from August-September), 1887 and Loom with Weaver,1884.  All three paintings were recovered but had sustained damages.  See the individual theft post here.

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June 28, 1990 - Three early Van Gogh paintings, Digging farmer, 1885-87, Brabant Peasant, seated, 1884-1885, and Wheels of the Water Mill in Gennep were stolen from the Het Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The Digging Farmer was found in 1991 in a bank safe in Belgium. The other two paintings were returned in 1994 via negotiations with a tertiary party.  See the individual theft post here.

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April 14, 1991 - 20 paintings by Vincent van Gogh were stolen from the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. All 20 paintings were recovered within 24 hours. Three of the 20 paintings were severely damaged. Four perpetrators, including one museum guard and a former employee of the museum's security firm were arrested in July 1991.  See the entire list of artworks and the individual theft post here.

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May 19, 1998  -  The prestigious Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome was robbed by three armed with guns shortly before closing time. The criminals stole two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne, 1889 and Le Jardinier, October 1889 and Paul Cézanne's Cabanon de Jourdan, 1906.  On July 5, 1998 eight suspects were arrested and all three paintings were recovered.   See the individual theft post here.

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May 13-15, 1999 - The Vincent van Gogh painting, The Willow, was stolen from the headquarters of F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV in Den Bosch. The painting was recovered in 2006 following an undercover sting operation where two suspects were arrested. See the individual theft post here.

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December 7, 2002 - Two thieves using a ladder break in to the Van Gogh Museum making off with two paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884). Following an intensive international investigation, two Dutchmen, Octave Durham, A.K.A. "The Monkey" and Henk Bieslijn were arrested in 2004 for their respective roles in the burglary. Durham received a prison sentence of 4.5 years. Henk Bieslijn was sentenced to 4 years incarceration. Each of the culprits were ordered to pay the Van Gogh Museum €350,000 in damages and both denied responsibility.  The paintings remained lost for 14 years only to resurface in late September 2016 in the Castellammare di Stabia area in the Bay of Naples. During a blitz by Italian law enforcement on members of an illicit cocaine trafficking ring operated by  a splinter group of the Naples Camorra, the paintings were recovered and are now safely back at the artist's museum in Amsterdam.  See individual theft post here. 

April 26, 2003 - Three paintings including Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape were taken from The Whitworth Art Gallery at The University of Manchester. The works of art were found the next day crammed into a tube behind a public toilet in Manchester's Whitworth Park. See the individual theft post here.

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February 10, 2008 - Four paintings were stolen at gunpoint from a private Zürich gallery run by the Foundation E.G. Bührle in Switzerland. The paintings were Blossoming Chestnut Branches by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat, Claude Monet's Poppies near Vétheuil and Edgar Degas' Count Lepic and His Daughters.  The Van Gogh and Monet were recovered on February 18, 2008.  The Degas was recovered in April 2012 and Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat was recovered April 12, 2012.  See the individual theft post here.

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August 21, 2010Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen for the second time from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo.  Its current whereabouts are still unknown. 

February 2, 2019

Art theft as a profitable career: An update on the Pierre-Auguste Renoir art theft in Vienna and its connection to a Ukraine art dealer.

Image Credit Right Photo:  Vadim Guzhva - Austrian Police
Image Credit Left Photo: Vadim Guzhva KP News, Ukraine
On November 28, 2018 three well-dressed men in jackets and coats entered Vienna's oldest auction house, the Dorotheum, just after sunset, and made off with a landscape painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir titled Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes (English: Gulf, Sea, Green Cliffs, just ahead of the painting's autumn sale.

Lot 102 in the "Modern Art" auction, the oil on canvas painting was executed by the French impressionist artist in 1895 and was estimated to sell at between €120,000 and €160,000 at the time of its Autumn consignment.  The painting was also to be listed in the forthcoming Pierre-Auguste Renoir digital catalogue raisonné being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, one of two rivaling authenticating bodies believed to have the last word when it comes to Renoir.

According to spokespersons with the regional court and police in Vienna, one of the three accomplices, a 59 year old Kharkov antiquarian named Vadim Guzhva, was arrested at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam on December 12, 2019 and then transferred to Vienna authorities to face charges in Austria on December 28, 2018.  At the time the European arrest warrant (EAW) was executed, a shopping bag recovered in the defendant's Amsterdam hotel room was said to match the one which had been carried by another accomplice on the day of the theft in Austria.  That bag appears in the CCTV footage taken at the Dorotheum of the three suspects on the day of the painting's theft.  It is speculated that Guzhva may have been shopping the Renoir to individuals on his trip to the Netherlands or perhaps in a Scandinavian country as he had apparently purchased a ticket to Sweden.

Image Credit:  Vienna Police

This is not the first occasion where Vadim Guzhva has found himself in the sights of law enforcement authorities for pilfering works of art

On January 23, 2006 Guzhva was stopped by authorities in the city of Pavlysh, Ukraine following up on investigative leads received by the Kyiv Special Service Police (UBOP).  Inside his Opel-Astra, officers found a painting by the celebrated Russian-Armenian seascape artist, Ivan (Hovhannes) Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, titled "A Sea View." The artwork had been rolled up under one of the seats inside the automobile.

Aivazovsky's artwork had been stolen from the Odessa Art Museum on the night of June 21, 2005.  Fingerprints found on the rolled canvas where also matched with fingerprints found on the discarded frame of a painting by Vasily Polenov, titled "Resurrection Pechersk Monastery" which was also stolen, in a broad daylight theft on September 17, 2005 at the Sevastopol Art Museum. 

Russian news reports have stated that during the Sevastopol theft Guzhva first made several reconnaissance visits to the museum before actually moving forward with the theft of the painting in order to scope out the museum's vulnerabilities.  On the day of the theft, under the guise of Russian art connoisseurs, one accomplice, thought to be Igor Filonenko, is believed to have distracted a guard with questions about another artist's painting in order to create a ruse which would buy sufficient time for a second accomplice to deftly substitute the artwork with a laminated photocopy of the canvas.

Laundered via the black market, the Polenov landscape later reappeared after Guzhva's arrest.  On October 6, 2006, an anonymous individual contacted the Russian Interior Ministry and reported that a plastic bag with artworks could be found near the building of the Department for Combating Organized Crime in Moscow.  Inside said bag, officers recovered not only Vasily Polenov's "Resurrection Pechersk Monastery," but other artworks as well, including a vase made by Polish masters stolen from the Hermitage in 2005, a bronze statuette titled "Master of Evil Demons June Kui" and a piece of porcelain ware “Arbor for Cicadas” which were stolen in May 2005 from the Chinese exposition at the Kunstkamera Museum in St. Petersburg.

Yet despite testimonies and various alabis, as well as claiming he was framed by corrupt members of the Department for Organized Crime Control in Kirovograd, Guzhv was also implicated by Igor Filonenko, who testified against his former cohort from prison.  Guzhv was subsequently convicted by the Malinovsky District Court of Odessa and went on to spend six years in an Odessa prison.

Accomplices on the run and the stuff of movies

According to Vienna State Criminal Police Office, the suspect's two alleged accomplices have not been arrested and the whereabouts of the 1895 Renoir landscape remains unknown.

What is known is that frequently, without creating any sort of public scene, thieves are able to take advantage of undersecured & unprotected galleries, museums, and auction houses where cases like this show that culprits are able to quietly enter and nonchalantly remove artwork from a display and then calmly and discreetly leave the building before security even notices.

While it seems that this could only happen in the movies, in real life, it happens more frequently than one would imagine.

Why Aivazovsky? 

Aivazovsky's works are quite popular among art thieves and Russia and the Ukraine region specifically have had their share of thefts of this artist's works, only to have them reappear on the legitimate market long after their initial theft.

In 2017 "View on Revel" (1845), stolen from the Dmitrov Kremlin Museum in 1976, was listed at auction with Koller Auktionen in Zürich, Switzerland with an estimated sale price of one million dollars.

In June 2015 another of his paintings, "A Night in Cairo" valued at £1.5-2 million, was removed from an auction at Sotheby's pending clarification of circumstances after a request by the National Central Bureau of INTERPOL in Russia was made to Great Britain authorities as the Russians stated that they believed that the artwork was stolen from a private collection in Moscow in 1997.

On January 13, 2011 a number of insured paintings, including another by Aivazovsky, were stolen from the country house of Aleksandr Tarantsev, the president of the Russian Gold Group.   Tarantsev's name has since been linked with the Medvedkovo-Orekhovskaya group for the money laundering.

December 6, 2018

From the Rogues' Gallery: The interesting life of Andrew Shannon, convicted (again) in Dublin for possessing a stolen painting


Some art thieves are savvy characters, others are, lets just say, special.

As of this week, burglar, petty criminal, art, and book thief, Andrew Shannon has 52 convictions for burglary, theft and criminal damage.  

Some of his criminal offenses have been mundane, like the 2016 theft of 17 electric toothbrushes worth €200 from a Swords supermarket.  Others have been more peculiar, like the intentional damage he inflicted in December 2014 when he punched Monet's 1874 painting Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat at the National Gallery of Ireland.  That bizarre act resulted in three tears, the longest of which was 25 cm, and took conservators 18 months to repair. 


A serial thief as far back as 2009 Shannon has had a penchant for burgling stately homes, often with accomplices. Travelling from Ireland to target English properties he often posed as a tourist, stealing porcelain vases, ashtrays, books, ornamental lions, figurines, valuable antique books and even a walking stick. 

Carton House in Kildare
The historical family seat of the FitzGerald family.
In 2016 the kleptomaniac was convicted of stealing 57 stolen antique books from the library at Carton House in Kildare, including one of only six rare 1660 editions of the King James Bible. 

His most recent conviction comes from the theft of an 1892 oil painting by Frederick Goodall stolen from Bantry House, in Cork, in March of 2006.  Blaming his sticky fingers on both his heart disease and his addiction to Benzodiazepines and harder substances while recovering from a quadruple heart bypass, the prolific offender filched a surprising array of objects, some of which had very little monetary value. 

In 2016 when law enforcement searched his home, police officers recovered thousands of toothbrushes, oh and Star Wars toys.

I guess the man had a penchant for Sci Fi and clean teeth, as well as art and literature. 



November 29, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018 - ,,, No comments

3 Men and a Painting: Savvy accomplices make off with "Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Image Credit:  Screen Capture ARCA 28 November 2018
Entering Vienna's oldest auction house, the Dorotheum, just after sunset, three well-dressed men in jackets and coats, working in tandem are believed to have made off with a landscape painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir titled Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes (English: Gulf, Sea, Green Cliffs) just ahead of its Wednesday sale.  

Lot 102 in the "Modern Art" auction, the oil on canvas painting was executed by the French impressionist artist in 1895 and was estimated to be worth between €120,000 and €160,000 at the time of its consignment.  It was also to be listed in the forthcoming Pierre-Auguste Renoir Digital Catalogue Raisonné being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, one of two rivaling authenticating bodies believed to have the last word when it comes to Renoir.

Image Credit:  Vienna Police
One of the world's oldest auction houses, established in 1707, the Dorotheum has not yet issued a statement on the theft, but law enforcement authorities in Vienna have released CCTV stills of the three people wanted for questioning. 


November 18, 2018

Recovered? Anonymous tip may have lead to Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin" stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam in 2012.


On October 16, 2012 Dutch police confirmed that seven paintings had been stolen, shortly after 3 a.m. local time, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.  The paintings which were taken, Pablo Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin, Henri Matisse's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune and Waterloo Bridge, London,  Claude Monet's Charing Cross, London, Paul Gauguin's Femme Devant une Fenêtre Ouverte, dite La Fiancée, Jacob Meyer de Haan's Autoportrait, and Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed were estimated to be worth millions.  

The stolen art works were part of the museum's Avant Guard Exhibition, which highlighted material on loan from the private Triton Foundation collection. Built over twenty years, by Rotterdam oil and shipping magnate Willem Cordia and his wife Marijke van der Laan, the exhibition, was set to run from 7 October 2012 until 20 January 2013, and was the first time any artwork from the Triton Collection had been exhibited publicly. 

The Triton body of artworks is made up of approximately 250 paintings, drawings and pieces of sculpture belonging to art movements from 1870 through 1970.  The collection includes works by many by the most influential 19th and 20th century artists in the tradition of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Analytical Cubism.  At the time of the theft, the collection was reputed to be one of the 200 most important private collections in the world.  

Shortly after the theft, and as the law enforcement investigation progressed, formal charges were brought against a group of suspects of Romanian origin.   Charges against Radu Dogaru, the ringleader who was found to have orchestrated the heist, his mother, Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop were all eventually brought.  Around the globe, their trials were closely watched in the hopes that the defendants might shed some light during their testimony on whether or not the seven paintings and drawings remained safe.  Early in the investigation Mr. Dogaru’s mother claimed to have torched the artworks, in order to dispose of the evidence which could be used against her son.

Despite recanting her statement later, experts from Romania's Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României (National History Museum of Romania - MNIR) provided testimony that seemingly validated Olga Dogaru's grim confession.  Ash and remains analyzed from a stove in her home in the village of Carcaliu in eastern Romania included nails from frames used before the end of the 19th century.  Yet, as pointed out by Maria Vasii, one of the attorney's for the defendants, the only painting with canvas tacks was the one by Lucian Freud.  As that artwork was completed in the year 2000, the nails would not have been made of copper and could not possibly have come from a 19th or 20th century production. Vasii also pointed out that the other paintings which were stolen were canvas glued onto cardboard and had no nails whatsoever. 

Despite the questions remaining as to what had actually become of the stolen artworks, Radu Dogaru and Eugen Darie, pled guilty for their roles in the theft on October 22, 2013. As a result of their confessions, the Third District Court of Romania sentenced Dogaru to 6 years and Eugen Darie to 5 years and 4 months (following sentencing appeals) for their involvement in the crime and for membership in a criminal organisation. 

Alexandru Mihai Bitu also received a sentence - two years for handling stolen goods. Adrian Procop, arrested in Manchester, England and extradited to Bucharest, was sentenced to prison for four years and 10 months for the formation of an organized criminal group and to four years and eight months for theft. Some of his prison time was reduced as the punishments were slated to run concurrently.  

Petre Condrat, involved in trying to find a buyer for the Matisse and the Gauguin, was fined 45,000 Romanian lei, the equivalent of approximately €9642. Dogaru's mother, Olga, was sentenced to two years in prison, convicted of aiding criminal behavior.

Interestingly, during Radu Dogaru's trial he gave a deposition that contradicted his mother's earlier confession to burning the paintings and told the court that his mother made false statements about incinerating the art works under pressure by interrogators. It was believed at the time that Radu may have been motivated by the hope that, along with her recanted testimony, his testimony might help his mother avoid a prison sentence.  

Now, six years later, an anonymous letter has been received by a Dutch writer of Romanian origin, Mira Feticu, the contents of which reportedly stated where one of the seven stolen works of art might be found.

But has the stolen Picasso really been spared the fiery furnace? 

Painted the year before the artist's death, Picasso's Head of a Harlequin (1971) is an art work done in pen and brush in black ink, colored pencil and pastel on thick brown wove paper.  It measures 38 x 29 cm and is "signed and dated in the lower right corner "Picasso/12.1./71". It was purchased by the Triton Foundation in 2009.

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
Mira Feticu has told reporters that the letter was sent to her at her Hague address because she wrote a book in 2015 about the Kunsthal theft which was also translated into Romanian.  Following the indications spelled out in a few short sentences of Romanian, Feticu and Frank Westerman have stated that they used the letter to guide them to Tulcea County, Romania.  There, they report they were able to identify the spot underneath a tree where the writer of the letter had indicated the missing Picasso could be found. 

Clearing away snow and leaves, the pair told law enforcement that they found the fragile artwork wrapped in plastic.   Photographing it in the car, they then turned the artwork over to the Dutch Embassy in Bucharest. Westerman has since posted video footage of law enforcement authorities examining the work of art on his Facebook page. 

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
For now, a team of DIICOT prosecutors and police officers of the Criminal Investigation Directorate - IGPR will conduct a follow up investigation.  To determine if the drawing is authentic, or part of an elaborate hoax, it has been sent to the National Museum of Art of Romania located in the Royal Palace Bucharest.  There art historians will work to assist in determining or negating the artwork's authenticity.  

Insured against losses, in September 2013 the Triton Foundation received a $24 million payout for the theft of their seven artworks from their insurance underwriter, Lloyd's of London.  In doing so, the foundation has relinquished the titles to each of the seven stolen works of art, should any of them ever be recovered.  This means, if this "Picasso" is authenticated, (and that's a pretty big if), the insurance firm would be the rightful owner.

Me, I have my doubts.  


Straightening the image presented by Feticu taken in the car, and then comparing it side by side with the original stolen artwork I see numerous points of difference in addition to many color variations. A few of these I have redlined.  I am not an authenticator, nor am I an expert on Picasso's work, or the degradation of paper drawings over time, but to me, it doesn't seem to be the original, as much as it would make me happy if it were.

UPDATE:

Theater makers Yves Degryse and Bart Baele have admitted that the found "Picasso" in Romania is a hoax, part of a publicity stunt for their performance True Copy, which premiered last week. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 20, 2018

Only a few clicks away - The adventuresome travels of a deposed King's bedroom

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture  - 20 January 2018
Luxist October 12, 2010 edition
Not all contested works of art are fenced in whispered corners or stealthily traded in darkweb alleyways alongside drugs, stolen data and child exploitation content. Some are sold out in the open; as if waiting for law enforcement, or anyone else for that matter, to take notice or object.  

Some contested objects are found hiding in plain sight, in places where the public might least expect them: on internet social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and Youtube.

To give an example, let's take a look at the story of the missing antique bedroom suite once owned by Fārūq ibn Fuʾād, who served as the penultimate king of Egypt and the Sudan until he was overthrown in 1952.

The king's 7-piece mercury-gilded mahogany bedroom ensemble was created by 19th century Parisian ébéniste, Antoine Krieger and inspired by Napoleon's household furnishings at the Parisian palace Malmaison.  This ostentatious furniture was said to have been installed in the royal guest lodge located within the Giza Zoo on the Western bank of the Nile, directly across from Downtown Cairo, in proximity to the Giza pyramids.  According to recent Egyptian newspaper articles, the furnishings were used by the king and visiting dignitaries while staying as guests at the zoo property during his reign. 

Cairo's 126-year-old Giza Zoo, built on the grounds of the summer residence of the Royal Family, was built during the rule of the Viceroy “Khedive Ismail” sometime between 1863 and 1879.  One of the world's foremost zoological gardens, the zoo was once an elegant reminder of days gone past.  In the present it has long since fallen from grace.  

Ravaged by time and neglect, photographs of the Giza Zoo in recent years show the dirtied grounds in disrepair. Animal rights activists cry foul that the animals are neglected by tenders and exploited by zoo visitors taking selfies. At best, it can be said that the animals in the zoo are being cared for by under-qualified keepers and in situations that lack proper security measures.

As if to prove that the Giza Zoo's site security is not up to snuff, the disappearance of the king's set of exquisitely crafted furniture from the royal residence went unreported until a visit to the zoo by Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Ayman Abu Hadid on September 1, 2013.  During his visit, the minister recognized that the historic set had been replaced with a much cheaper bedroom suite apparently purchased from Egypt's oldest department store.  

But the theft of Fārūq ibn Fuʾād's missing furniture is not straightforward and if a theft did occur, it did not happen in 2013. 

Background Research

On October 13, 2010 M.S. Rau Antiques, an antiques and fine art gallery in New Orleans managed by third-generation owner Bill Rau, posted a photo of the king's bedroom on the company's Facebook timeline, happily announcing that his firm (and the king's furniture) had been covered on Luxist.com in connection with their sale of the bedroom suite. The asking price given? $985,000.

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
M.S. Rau Antiques also listed the furniture openly on the company's website.  That page however has now been taken down. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
That same day, perhaps picking up on the online media, Art Fix Daily also published an article indicating that the furniture was being sold by M.S. Rau Antiques. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
A further check of social media shows that M.S. Rau Antiques also posted the king's bedroom suite on Pinterest. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
And the furniture was blogged about on a Blogger page called Brands&Luxury.

The king's furniture was again posted publicly on Flickr on March 9, 2013 by a user purportedly in Cairo, Egypt. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
But even with all this digital visibility, the furniture didn't sell.

Fast forward to 2015.  

The furniture turns up again on another public Facebook post by a user named Beachhouse Jim on July 29, 2015. The photo, which includes a woman wearing shorts, seems to indicate that the furniture was still being offered for sale in the United States at M.S. Rau Antiques. 


Fast forward to 2016. 

M.S. Rau Antiques even published a video on Youtube highlighting the sale of the bedroom collection on October 13, 2016. That video can be viewed below, as it too has been removed from Youtube. 


The fact that the furniture was for sale through M.S. Rau Antiques is even cited in the footnotes mentioned on Wikipedia's Farouk of Egypt page, but the page also implies, citing a Sun-Herald (Sydney, NSW) article published on Sunday, 31 Jan. 1954, that in December 1952, a contract was signed placing the cataloguing, classifying and disposal of a substantial portion of the king's treasures in Sotheby's hands.

This alleged sale information is also repeated by news site Al Arabiya, which stated that the Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of the deposed king's possessions in 1954.

How did a King's ransom worth of furniture find its way to a 100-year-old antique dealer operating in New Orleans' French Quarter?

Some Egyptian news sources are stating that Farouk's bedroom set disappeared after the wife of one of the ministers, who later stayed at the ex-royal residence, disliked the bedroom and ordered it to be changed and sometime thereafter the pieces disappeared.  Given the Giza Zoo's more recent precarious state, one can almost imagine how easy it would be for a set of antique furniture, estimated to be worth almost $1 million, to be carted off without someone noticing, but if that story is true or not remains a mystery.  

If the Sotheby's sale of the king's property did take place in the 1950s, as written about in the Australian newspaper, then perhaps Sotheby's may have records to show if the bedroom suite on sale by M.S. Rau Antiques was part of the collection of kingly objects sold.   

The fact that M.S. Rau Antiques has not responded to the now-brewing public outrage to provide evidence of the chain of ownership of the room until it has reached New Orleans and has taken down the sale, leaves the question of how the firm acquired the furnishings in the first place, and from whom, open for further investigation. 

It does seem curious though that despite this material being a Google/Social Media search away, the fact that the furniture appears to have been with M.S. Rau from at least 2010 has not come out in the major news reports so far. 

By:  Lynda Albertson