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.