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

February 16, 2017

Recovered: Here's lookin' at you kid. Stolen in Italy and found in Casablanca.

Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist
and Gregory Healer" (1639)
oil on canvas 293x184.5 cm

Stolen in Modena, Italy on August 10-11, 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo, the painting "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer" by Guercino has been recovered in Morocco.*

At the time of the theft, if was believed that the art thief had hidden himself away inside the church until everyone had departed after the afternoon Sunday mass. The parish priest of San Vincenzo noticed something was afoot when he passed by the church the following morning and came across the primary door of the church open, with no signs of forced entry. This door was not equipped with an external mechanism for opening so either the thief waited inside after the mass had concluded or he had gained entry through a secondary door at the rear of the church.

When the theft was announced to the public Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi criticised the Curia's for its lack of security, especially in light of the numerous petty thefts which had plagued nearby churches in the city recently.  He estimated that the stolen painting, by the an Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, best known as Guercino, or Il Guercino, could be worth as much as five to six million euros, though he stated clearly that there was no market for stolen, easily identifiable religious works of art.  

Replica of "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer"
inside the Church of San Vincenzo

The city of Modena and the church's priest and patrons were heartbroken. Not only had their painting been in the church since it was constructed, but the church itself stood near the city's courthouse, which is guarded round the clock. How was it that no one noticed anyone exiting the church with a painting under their arm?

This no one could say. 

Flash forward to February 2017 where three fences offer the historic painting to a wealthy businessman in Casablanca, Morocco for a cool 10 million dirhams (€940,000). Recognizing Guercino's masterpiece, the man declined and alerted the police judiciaire du Hay Hassani de Casablanca who then arrested the three suspects. One of the three, possibly the original thief, was a Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Italy for a considerable period of time.  

Here's lookin' at you police judiciaire du Hay Hassani. (**) Bogart, 'Casablanca'


Update: * The procedure for restitution is now under way between the Moroccan authorities and the Italian Embassy in Morocco.

September 26, 2016

The Statement No Curator Wants to Hear: "It's a very good copy but it's a fake"

Portrait of Tainui Chief, Kewene Te Haho purportedly by Gottfried Lindauer,
originally purchased by Trust Waikato for $121,000 for the Trust Waikato Art and Taonga Collection, Waikato Museum te Whare Taonga o Waikato. The portrait was judged a fake in 2012.
Displaying a fake painting in an art exhibition isn't usually something advantageous for a museum but for the Waikato Museum curating a "genuine fake" juxtaposed alongside the genuine article from their own museum collection serves to highlight an important point.  Fakes and forgeries are not easily detected and sometimes authenticity is coloured not just by what the viewer wants to believe but by the amount of money spent on an artwork, its prestigious location, or simply a desire of the part of a collector to own a work of art by a renowned artist.  

Curator and art historian Penelope Jackson compares
a copy of Floral Still Life, by Adele Younghusband with the original at Waikato Museum. 

Casual estimates by museum professionals estimate that upwards of 20 percent of the artworks held in major museums around the world will no longer be attributed to the same artists one hundred years from now.  While a chunk of that percentage will change due to advances in scientific evidence and art historical research, an embarrassing number of them will be relegated to storerooms as forgeries committed by tricksters.

To keep forgery and other art crimes in the public's eye New Zealand's Waikato Museum in Hamilton will be hosting An Empty Frame: Crimes of Art in New Zealand from now through January 8, 2017.    The exhibition, guest curated by art historian Penelope Jackson, features 30 New Zealand artworks that each, at some stage, have been the "victims" of an art crime; each accompanied by its own "behind the crimes" story.

Walking through the exhibition one gets a full on view of the psyche and motives of the art criminals who have tried their hand at artistic skulduggery in New Zealand. Some crimes appear to have been simply opportunistic while others were far more calculating.  

The exhibition also reminds us of the value of authenticity and how New Zealander's affection for Māori culture has been exploited by forgers who seem to have caught on that painting up "unknown" artworks in the style of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the best-known painters of Māori portraits, could fetch a pretty penny at auction. One painting, a portrait of Tainui Chief, Kewene Te Haho by a still unknown artist, remains part of the Trust Waikato Art and Taonga Collection held at Waikato Museum and is on display as part of the exhibition.

From forgery and fraud to theft and vandalism An Empty Frame offers patrons a first hand view of some of New Zealand's most intriguing art crime cases. With an emphasis on the ways in which art crimes harm *everybody* — not just by cheating rich buyers, museums and their agents, not just by ruining a few reputations, nor even by distorting whole markets, the exhibition deftly illustrates how crimes against art hurt everyone.  

At times the victims are individuals... at times the victims are galleries... at times the victims are cities and states... and at times the victims are entire countries.

1 Grantham Street
Hamilton, New Zealand

Exhibition Dates: 24 September 2016 - 8 January 2017
10 am – 5 pm, excluding Christmas Day

Entry Fee: None

This exhibition is accompanied by a book, Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story (Awa Press). On Saturday 1 October, Penelope Jackson will give a free public talk on art crime and forgery at 10:30 am.

Please visit for further information.

October 2, 2015

Mystery Surrounding the Murder of Art Thief Sebastiano Magnanini

The Regent's Canal and entrance to the Islington Tunnel 
Murdered in North London, then bound and tied to a shopping cart in attempt to keep his copse submerged under water, Sebastiano Magnanini's badly decomposed body was discovered by a passerby near an Islington tunnel on the Regent’s Canal not far from King's Cross a little over a week ago. The area where the victim's body was recovered is popular among boaters, some of whom live in houseboats which dot the sides of the canal.  The footpath is also popular among walkers and cyclists looking to escape the capital’s busy streets.  

This is all authorities have released about the grisly demise of Venetian art thief once jailed for 18 months for his part in the 1993 theft of the 1732 painting The Education of the Virgin by Italian Rococo  artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from the church of Santa Maria della Fava, also originally known as Santa Maria della Consolazione, in the sestiere of Castello in Venice, Italy.

Described by his friends and family as a free spirit, Magnanini, was a resident of the Cannaregio quarter in Venice but lived outside of Italy. He changed countries as the mood or work suited him.  In 2003 he moved to Plaistow, east London, then later to Thailand and Vietnam embracing a free-spirit hippy lifestyle and making ends meet by teaching English.  Later he moved to Cambodia where he worked briefly as a tour guide for an Italian company.  Then this summer he moved to the UK capital where he had begun working as a carpenter. 

Surveillance cameras in the area, used for the purpose of observing the zone show assailants attacking and then killing Magnanini.  Investigators with New Scotland Yard, who are handling the investigation do not believe that Magnanini's homicide is linked to organised crime, moreover his brother Matteo Magnanini also insisted his brother “Seba” was not involved in any criminal activity.  In an interview with The Evening Standard Matteo said 

Magnanini was sentenced in 1998 to 18 months in prison for his role as a bumbling one-time art thief in the theft of the Tiepolo artwork. Like many of Italy's churches, Santa Maria della Fava had no alarm or surveillance system and during the heist Magnanini simply hid inside the church until it closed for the evening, then cut the canvas painting from its altarpiece frame, and exited the church before heading to a nearby bar to smoke.   

The slightly damaged painting was recovered 3 months after the theft, rolled up and tied with a simple shoelace, hidden in a farmhouse near the city’s Marco Polo airport. 

Italian newspapers are speculating that Magnanini may have been the simple victim of a drug deal that went wrong.  Anyone with any information is asked to contact Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Reeves via the incident room on 020 8721 4868,  alternatively, the police non-emergency line on 101 or, if the wish to remain anonymous, via the UK's Crimestoppers line at 0800 555 111.

February 1, 2015

ARCA Founder Noah Charney returns to Amelia for seventh year to teach "Art Forgers and Thieves" for the 2014 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

Noah Charney in Ghent
ARCA founder Noah Charney returns to Amelia for the seventh year to teach "Art Forgers and Thieves" for the 2014 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

What is the relevancy of your course?

Art theft and forgery fascinate professional and the general public alike, but both fields have received relatively little in the way of scholarly study prior to the foundation of ARCA. This course will examine historical case studies of art theft and forgery from which we can glean more global lessons about both phenomena. What are the preferred modi operandi for art thieves and how can knowing them help us better secure our art collections? What is the most common confidence trick used by art forgers, and how can we guard against it? We will examine these questions through the context of fascinating historical case studies.

Why do you keep coming back to teach in Amelia?

I love teaching and I love Amelia. It's an ideal small Italian town, one which provides the true immersion experience in Italian life. It is gorgeous, charming, and the locals adopt our students as their own. It's a great place to spend a summer.

What do you hope students will get out of the course?

My students should, first and foremost, enjoy themselves enough that they don't realize just how much they are learning until the end of the program. Then everything will shift into place and they will realize that they are among a tiny group of fellow experts and program graduates who know more about this subject than anyone else in the world. It's a very empowering feeling. But during my course, I try to teach through engaging anecdotes, to which I tie in theory, which makes the lessons far easier to comprehend and retain. If a course is interesting enough, students learn without feeling like they are "Working."

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

I tend to talk a lot, as I have a lot of stories to tell. I'm something of a performance junkie, so I'm jumping around in front of my slides, but then we always engage in group discussion. I feel that if there's anything a student has not understood, it is because I have not taught it well enough, and I say that on the first day. So it's up to me to lay out case studies as examples of theories in practice, to make complicated matters clear.

In anticipation of your course, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to students?

In an act of shameless self-promotion, I recommend that my students read my non-fiction books on the subject: Stealing the Mystic Lamb; The Thefts of the Mona Lisa; Art & Crime, and even The Wine Forger's Handbook. Rare wine counts as edible art!

August 15, 2013

Erik el Belga's "Por amor al arte. Memorias del ladrón más famoso del mundo" reviewed by Marc Balcells (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Marc Balcells reviews Erik el Belga's Por amor al arte. Memorias del ladrón más famoso del mundo (Editorial Planeta 2012) in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
We criminologists teach a particular theory: neutralization techniques, named by its authors, Matza and Sykes. In a nutshell, the theory states that committing crimes is illogical, and offenders need to rationalize it. Analyzing the perpetrator's discourse, from the perspective of this theory, will pour forth a chain of excuses/rationalizations that convert his or her actions into something rational and logical: something he can live with. 
This was the recurring theoretical framework that came to my mind while reading the life of art thief Erik el Belga, the nickname behind René Alphonse Ghislain Vanden Berghe, a Belgian citizen, long established in the south of Spain who, alongside his wife, has published his memories, in Spanish. 
To date this book has not been translated, so the practical question for the potential reader is: should he or she invest his or her time in this text, if not well-versed in Cervantes' mother tongue? It depends. Of course, if one is interested in reading the memories of an art thief, it is, indeed worth turning to. But if not, I seriously think this is not a book to recommend, outside of those specifically interested in the subject. The first edition had no fewer than 683 pages, which makes the reading a quite daunting task. 
You may finish reading this review in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney (available electronically and in print via subscription and Associate Editor Marc Balcells (ARCA '11) is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.

January 31, 2013

Danny Boyle's 2013 "Trance" to Continue the Rakish Image of the Art Thief

"Anyone can steal a painting, all it takes is a bit of muscle, but no piece of art is worth a human life" says the (fictional) thief in the trailer for Danny Boyle's new movie, Trance, set to open in theaters in the United Kingdom on March 27 and in the United States on April 5.

Leah Rozen for BBC America reports that Danny (Slumdog Millionaire) Boyle's psychological thriller involving the theft of a Goya painting by an amnesiac thief (photogenically played by the Scottish actor James McAvoy) was filmed on location at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  McAvoy's character Simon is an employee at an auction house who grabs a painting off the wall during a diversion, bumps his head, and then allegedly requires a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to recovery the memory of where he hid the stolen painting before his violent associate (Vincent Cassel) tortures the recollection out of him.

Gundlach Art Theft: Case against suspected art thieves slowly working its way through the court appearances

Last September thieves broke into the Santa Monica home of financier Jeffrey Gundlach and stole, amongst his possessions, some very valuable paintings.  Two weeks later, on the other side of Los Angeles County, with the cooperation of various law enforcement agencies, the paintings were recovered and the arrests began.  By early January, six people had been charged in the theft and appeared in court to plead "not guilty" (this is called an arraignment).  A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 6 at 9 a.m. in Department 142 at the Airport Branch of the Los Angeles Superior Court.  This appearance in court is a just a proceeding to determine if there is sufficient evidence to require a trial.

This theft and recovery of these multimillion dollar paintings seem less glamorous than art thieves  portrayed in the media.  You can read all about art thieves and the media in a piece by Katie Ogden (ARCA 2009) on the ARCA blog here.

March 14, 2012

Joshua Knelman Launching "Hot Art" at The Flag Art Foundation in New York on March 22

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

"Interpol and UNESCO listed art theft as the fourth-largest black market in the world (after drugs, money-laundering, and weapons).  But what did that mean? ... one point was clear: don't look at the Hollywood versions of art theft -- the Myth.  This is a bigger game, with more players, and the legitimate business of art is directly implicated.  A lot of the crimes are hidden in the open.  Stealing art is just the beginning.  Then the art is laundered up into the legitimate market, into private collections, into the world's most renowned museums." -- excerpt from Joshua Knelman's Hot Art

Toronto journalist Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detective Through the Secret World of Stolen Art (Tin House Books, 2012), will launch the American Trade Paper version of his  book from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 22 at The Flag Art Foundation in New York.

Knelman’s four year investigation of stolen art began with a local story about a burglary at a gallery in Toronto and ended with an international perspective. His nonfiction book begins in Hollywood in 2008 with the Art Theft Detail of the Los Angeles Police Department in a ride along with Detectives Don Hrycyk and Stephanie Lazarus who are investigating the robbery of an antiques store on La Cienega Boulevard.  Knelman immediately contrasts the meticulous and steady work of the police (he describes Hrycyk working art theft cases "with the patience of a scientist") with the images of glamorous heist movies such as The Thomas Crown Affair (1999).

In the first two chapters ("Hollywood" and "Law and Disorder") he links organized crime with art theft: the Los Angeles District Attorney's office had identified an Armenian gang for the antique-store job on La Cienega. In the second chapter, Knelman describes his coverage for The Walrus, a Canadian magazine, on a burglary at a small art gallery in 2003 and how the thief threatened him, tried to hand over stolen property to him, and then tries to educate him "about how art theft worked as an industry" as a way of distracting Knelman for the thief's own crimes:
He discussed how poor the security systems were at most of the major cultural institutions and of course at mid-sized and smaller galleries.  That made his job easier.  So there was that angle -- art galleries and museums weren't adequately protecting themselves against pros like him. 
Then he veered in another direction. 
"Okay, this is how it works," he said.  "It's like a big shell game.  All the antique and art dealers, they just pass it around from one to another."  He moved his fingers around the table in circles and then looked up.  "Do you understand?" He looked very intense, as if he had just handed me a top-secret piece of information, but I had no idea what he meant.  What did art dealers have to do with stealing art?  But our meeting was over.
Knelman published an article in The Walrus in 2005, "Artful Crimes", about international art theft.

In his book, Hot Art, Knelman meets cultural property attorney Bonnie Czegledi (author of Crimes Against Art: International Art and Cultural Heritage Law (Carswell, 2010) who introduces him to the roles of Interpol; the International Council of Museums; the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) and the Art Loss Register.  Knelman traveled with Czegledi to an International Council of Museums conference in Cairo, at his own expense, getting shaken down by a conference organizer for additional hotel fees above and beyond what he had agreed to pay the hotel manager.  Knelman meets Canadian police officer Alain Lacoursière and speaker Rick St. Hilaire, then a county prosecutor in New Hampshire who lectured on the impact of art theft in the United States and "knew a lot about the impact of art theft on Egypt." He visits the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with St. Hilaire and provides a great history of the collection and Napoleon's visit in the 19th century.

Knelman provides a personal account, both thrilling and dangerous, and admirable.  The book contains primary information for research into the black market of art, including a few chapters with an art thief, Paul Hendry, in England.

The book also provides a detailed profile of Don Hrycyk at the LAPD and the history of the Art Theft Detail, beginning with the work of Detective Bill Martin and includes information about Hryck's investigation of a residential art robbery in Encino in 2008; other cases ("his work was the most detailed example I found of a North American city interacting with the global black market"); a tour of the evidence warehouse which included fake art that had been the subject of a string operation into a Dr. Vilas Likhite; and an anecdote of an attempted theft at an unnamed major museum under renovation in Los Angeles.  In 2008, Knelman also interviewed artist June Wayne, founder of Tamarind Lithography Workshop (now the Tamarind Institute), who had a tapestry stolen in 1975; Leslie Sacks, owner of Leslie Sacks Fine Art in Brentwood, who discusses security measures and two burglaries; and Bob Combs, director of security at The Getty Center.

Both Hrycyk and Czegledi reference art historian Laurie Adams' book, Art Cop, about New York Police Detective Robert Volpe, the first detective in North America to investigate art theft full-time (1971 to 1983) after his role as a undercover narcotics cop in the late 1960s in a famous case memorialized in the film The French Connection about a ring of heroin dealers importing the drug from France.

Knelman also interviewed Giles Waterfield, director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London when a Rembrandt was stolen in 1981; Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Squad; and Robert K. Wittman, the first FBI agent to investigate art theft full-time, when Wittman was six months away from retirement; and Bonnie Magness-Gardiner from the Art Crime Team at the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Alain Lacoursière, Montreal police officer investigating art crimes in Quebec, including the unsolved 1972 robbery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The book features the anonymous blogger Art Hostage (Paul Hendry) that turns out to be Knelman's source on art theft; Jonathan Sazonoff and his website The World's Most Wanted Art; and Ton Cremers and The Museum Security Network (MSN).

Joshua Knelman will also be speaking at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, at Book Soup in Los Angeles.