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Saturday, October 17, 2015


Faberge Eggs, 1913, Stolen from an apartment in  
St. Petersburg, Russia, September, 12, 2012
An empty frame in the Dutch Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, March 1990.
On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers gained access to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Once inside, they overpowered and tied up security guards then proceeded to steal 13 paintings valued at approximately $500 million. In addition to Degas sketches and works by Rembrandt (below), they took a Vermeer painting that was one of only 36 in existence. The FBI has called it one of the most significant art theft cases in history. The Gardner Museum (above) is offering a $5 million reward “for information that leads directly to the recovery of all of our items in good condition." Two of the paintings, Rembrandt's Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee, painted in 1633, and his A Lady and Gentleman in Black, also from 1633, are pictured below. If you know of their whereabouts, you could be in for quite a windfall.
Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee, 1633, Rembrandt (left),
A Lady and Gentleman in Black, 1633, Rembrandt (right).
The Gardner Museum heist was not the first or last time thieves made such an enormous haul. As recently as September of 2012, thieves broke into the St. Petersburg, Russia, apartment of art collector Vladimir Mukhin, and escaped with several million rubles in foreign currency, jewelry, several paintings, and two fabulous Faberge eggs (top), decorated with gold and precious stones. The owner claims to have lost about five-million rubles ($157,000 at the then-current exchange rate). One of the Faberge eggs dates from 1913 and would cost about $3-million to replicate today. All of which underlines one of the most difficult problems in dealing with art theft, evaluating the loss. Most such valuable works are insured.
Portrait of a Young Man, 1513-14, Raphael
It might surprise you (it did me) to know that virtually every major artist down through the entire history of art has had his or her work stolen on occasion. Even Leonardo's Mona Lisa was, at one time, stolen from the Louvre. I was just there earlier this year and can attest to the fact that it's now back in its rightful place (behind bullet-proof, inch-thick glass and some ten to twenty feet from the nearest viewer). Probably the most valuable stolen painting still missing is Raphael's Portrait of a Young Man (above), from 1513-14. Various art experts have judged it to be a self-portrait. The painting was plundered by the Nazis in Poland during WW II. If it could be found today the same art experts estimate its value at $100-million. However, that's still less than a similar situation in Austria during the war when the Nazis confiscated Gustave Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, painted in 1907. It, however, was recovered, returned to the Bloch-Bauer heir, and sold in 2006 for $135-million, which made it the most valuable work of art in history (for about four months).
The Pigeon with the Green Peas,
1911, Pablo Picasso
Congregation Leaving the
Reformed Church in Nuenen,
1884, Vincent van Gogh

Art thieves are not connoisseurs. Their stolen works run the gamut from Pop to Picasso with the occasional van Gogh and Cezanne thrown in to season the mix. Van Gogh's Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (above, left) was stolen from the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002. Picasso's The Pigeon with Green Peas (above, right) is a 1911 painting, one of five stolen from the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in May of 2010. Together they are worth about €100 million ($123-million). However, the Picasso was confirmed as having been discarded. The thief threw it in a trash container shortly after the theft. Unfortunately, the container was emptied before the painting could be retrieved. It was valued at $28-million. Art thieves have been known to work for art connoisseurs, however usually, as with the Picasso, tastes have little to do with it. Like the bank robber, Willie Sutton, they rob art museums because, as Sutton put it, "...that's where the money is." Art thieves have been known to leave untouched works by famous artists worth hundreds of thousands for nearby works worth tens of millions. Usually such works are simply cut from their frames and rolled up for easier handling.

Russian Schoolroom, 1967, Norman Rockwell

Mickey Mouse, 1981, Andy Warhol
Sometimes, art thefts are literally "mickey mouse" operations as with the theft of ten silkscreen paintings by Andy Warhol (left). The paintings were stolen from the Los Angeles home of Richard L. Weisman, a prominent collector. He's offering a million-dollar reward for information leading to the paintings’ recovery. Besides Warhol's Mickey Mouse, the stolen images include athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Chris Evert, Dorothy Hamill, Tom Seaver, Jack Nicklaus and O. J. Simpson. I wonder if the police have checked on O.J.'s whereabouts at the time. All is not lost. Stolen art is sometimes recovered. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg discovered, to his chagrin, that he was the proud owner of a stolen Norman Rockwell painting, Russian Schoolroom (above) commissioned by Look magazine in 1967. Spielberg, a longtime collector of Rockwell's work, purchased the painting in 1989 from a legitimate dealer and didn't know it was stolen until his staff spotted its image on an FBI Web site listing stolen works of art.

Litzlberg am Attersee, 1915, Gustav Klimt
The Boy in the Red Vest,
1894-95, Paul Cézanne
The ca. 1915 painting Litzlberg am Attersee (above) by Gustav Klimt is one of the most famous and most valuable masterpieces in the collection of the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art. The painting, now valued at over 20 million euros, was stolen from a Jewish woman by the Nazis during the war. It eventually made its way to the museum. Recently, a decision was made to return it to the only living heir of the owner. Georges Jorisch of Montreal is the grandson and sole heir of Amalie Redlich, the original owner of the painting. She was sent to a concentration camp early in the war where she was one of the millions murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The museum says the decision to return the painting is in accordance with Austria’s policy of restoring works of art to heirs of their original owners. The Boy in the Red Vest (left) is an 1894-95 painting by Paul Cézanne. It depicts a boy in traditional Italian attire. On February 10, 2008, the painting was stolen from Foundation E.G. Bührle in Zürich, Switzerland along with three other pieces. It was the museum's most valuable painting. The painting was recovered in Serbia in April, 2012.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The Birches, 1979, and The 1909 Model T, 1980, Jim Lane
I'd be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to post two of my own paintings which were stolen several years ago. The Birches (above, left) dates from 1979 and was on display in the lobby of a movie theater when one night, as the late showing let out, someone simply lifted it from the wall and walked off with it. The 1909 Yellow Model T (above, right), dates from 1980. It had been left at a local art gallery on consignment. The gallery folded. The painting went with the owner, never to be seen again. At this point, I have very little trust in art gallery owners. Virtually every gallery I've ever dealt with ended up "losing" one or more of my paintings.


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