Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The art of theft.

I've been reading a book about art theft and very interesting it is. So many paintings gone and so few recovered but I'm not talking about Napoleon's scroungers or Hitler's henchmen, ordinary thieves.
One surprising fact was that very few women are art thieves or we're clever enough not to be caught.
Another is that rarely is a painting stolen to order these days unless it's a specific grouping of subjects.
The news of a theft of a valuable piece of art give the organised art thieves world wide publicity regarding its monetary value.  The paintings are then used as collateral to buy drugs, guns or whatever they want. Some ransoms are still paid by insurance companies but many disappear and are never seen again.  And it's not only paintings.

Jonathon Tokeley-Parry had a neat antiquities smuggling racket going for him in the early 1990s.  He bought artifacts and after dipping them in clear plastic, he painted them to look like cheap gaudy tourist souveniers. Custom officials on the lookout for the real deal didn't catch on.  Tokeley-Parry transported many artifacts including a $1.2 million sculptured head of the Egyptian pharoah Amenhotep 111.  He created a provenance for his stolen goods in the form of the non-existent Thomas Alcock Collection.
His attention to detail included aged labels made by copying old pharmaceutical labels onto rough paper, baking them and finishing the ageing process by daubing them with teabags.
He was eventually caught and tried in England, copping a 3 year sentence.  The Egyptian authorities weren't as lenient, they sentenced him to 15 years hard labour, to be served if he ever set foot in their country again.

Henry Moore's bronze "Reclining Figure" weighed in at 2.7 tons.  On December 15, 2005, a team of thieves driving an old style Austin mini cooper followed by a stolen flatbed truck with a crane, hoisted the 11 foot long sculpture on board and left.  Estimated value in 2006 was 5.2 million dollars.  

In 1997, Gustave Klimt's "Portrait of a woman" was taken from the Galleria Ricci Oddi, Piacenze, Italy.
The gallery was closed for renovation so guards assumed the 60 by 55 cm painting had been put in storage.
The thief had simply climbed onto the roof, opened a skylight and used a fishing line to hook the painting off the wall.  He left the frame on the roof. 

Art theft is a lot harder to pull off these days, from Galleries that is, private homes, small museums or churches are still vulnerable. Remember that next time you can't see a painting for the bullet proof glass or the alarm sensor that goes off if you go 1 cm over an invisible line and don't pick your nose, the cameras are everywhere.  But as values increase stealing art is still worth the risk even if Auction houses have computer listings of everything known to be missing.  Of course war is a great cover for theft, loot from the Iraq war is still surfacing.

One last interesting fact.  The Mona Lisa only became popular after Vincenzo Peruggia lifted it from the Louvre in 1911.  Until the painting was found two years later in Florence, crowds came in greater numbers to stare at the empty space on the wall.

14 comments:

River said...

I've never understood why the Mona Lisa is so much admired. I don't like her at all. But then, I know nothing about art, I just know what I like. Did you see recently that a copy of "The Scream" sold for $120 million? It was the pastel version, and I hadn't even known that the artist had made four "Screams".
I seem to be off topic, I had something to say about the thievery, but now I've lost it.

Middle Child said...

Thats amazing to know...we just assume re the Mona Lisa that it always has been famous...thanks for that

R.H. said...

I don't understand the value put on paintings, how can these things be worth millions? It has to be bullshit. Whitlam paid two million or so for a thing called Blue Poles and now it's valued at twenty million, I wouldn't give fifty cents for it, truly.

Ann O'Dyne said...

The 'All cock' Collection. fab.

and Guernica lifted from the NGV and left in a locker at Spencer Street Station was a doozy prank too.

I agree with R.H. Not many good artists have been rich when they died.

Kath Lockett said...

I just finished reading 'Theft: a love story' by Peter Carey that provides rather a lot of interesting detail on how paintings are baked and 'aged' to look authentic. More fascinating that the actual story, in fact.

JahTeh said...

River, look at her with your hands over the bottom half of her face, she has mean eyes. There's still one "Scream" missing after being nicked.

MC, I was surprised at that but it goes to show any publicity is good publicity. The Gardner Gallery had a huge theft about 20 years ago with nothing recovered so the spaces were deliberately left blank.

Rh, one of Gough's more misunderstood acts but look at the profit margin now.
After all dead artists don't paint.

Annie O, it reminded me of our favourite tv show, White Collar. The book also said that some paintings tagged as missing are probably waiting to be unearthed from the back rooms of galleries and museums. After seeing what came out of our museum when it moved, that wouldn't surprise me.

Kath, you're right in the middle of the antiquities for nicking area. My neighbour brought a pebble back for me from Turkey and had to prove it was a pebble in her luggage.
I was surprised at how small some of the paintings were, pictures in books give you a false sense of size. I could walk away with a baker's dozen down my cottontails.

R.H. said...

I can't stand people who slip references to their overseas travels into conversations, most of them live in Fitzroy.
And yet occasionally (heh heh) one can't avoid it.
From reproductions in books I'd always thought The Bathers to be a medium-sized painting, but then I saw it in London's National Gallery and it seemed huge. And startling. It was then I realised that some art could be worth a few bob.

JahTeh said...

Rh, that one would be hard to get out in my knickers but there could be just enough room without the frame.

Jayne said...

The creation known as Tony Abbott was created, to order, based on The Scream.
Sadly, it's us what have been doing the screaming since he was pupped.

body painter said...

Nice collection

Russian gift said...

russian gift
matryoshka
nesting doll
russian dolls
russian hat

cloud services said...

Thanks for the Great Post. Groupe Conseil Solinteg can support - office 365 and many more services and product from Microsoft Corporation. Thanks.

best wedding coordinator washington state said...

Nice Article topics. This is really excellent and fantastic. I hope it’ll be helpful for our readers. We are - Muse Event Planning and Production, LLC is a full service event planning and production company that can accommodate many types of events. From intimate dinner parties to events/weddings for over three hundred, we can handle every last detail. We work as your seattle wedding planner . We have an extensive list of award winning vendors and venues to build a team for our client’s events that will make any event picture perfect and stress free. We are well known as tacoma wedding planner or tacoma event planner . Our goal is to ensure that our client’s event is a reflection of them and their vision. Using creativity, attention to detail and experience in management and bookkeeping, we vow to create a one-of-a-kind event within their budget. We were rewarded as number one wedding planner seattle last year. We demand, we are the best wedding planner washington state . Thanks for your cooperation.

Noman Khan said...

Thanks for this post.We current service offerings include Software Development,Web & Graphic Development ,Online Marketing , Hosting & IT Management ,Telecom & Network Services,provider of Business Process Outsourcing,Wordpress,php web application,Joomla,Software Design & Development Bangladesh,Web Development. We have serviced and continuing to service countless businesses in Middle East and across the globe.