Once Is Happenstance, Twice Is Coincidence…

Heather Horn at The Atlantic

Edward Cody at The Washington Post:

In a brazen display of stealth, cunning and cool nerves, a thief using a sharp cutting tool opened a gated window and sneaked into the Paris Museum of Modern Art.

Three security guards were on duty at the time, but the thief — or perhaps thieves — detached five major cubist and post-impressionist paintings from their frames without being detected and slid back into the night with a rolled-up treasure worth well over $100 million.

The embarrassing heist — of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Fernand Léger — was discovered just before 7 a.m. Thursday, Paris officials said, probably long after the celebrated canvases had disappeared.

Stephen Spruiell at The Corner:

Art lovers, be not afraid: The blackguards are sure to return the priceless works once they get wind of this major scolding from Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr, director of a neighboring museum:

“You cannot do anything with these paintings. All countries in the world are aware, and no collector is stupid enough to buy a painting that, one, he can’t show to other collectors, and two, risks sending him to prison,” he said on LCI television. “In general, you find thesepaintings,” he said. “These five paintings are un-sellable, so thieves, sirs, you are imbeciles, now return them.”

The possibility de Saint-Cyr appears to be overlooking: The theft was commissioned by a private collector, and the thieves won’t have to worry about selling thepaintings.

Nick Obourn:

Works stolen include Picasso’s Le pigeon aux petits-pois, and works by Georges Braque, Matisse, and Modigliani. More news on this will surely emerge in the next few hours, but safe to say this is one of the biggest art heists pulled off in recent memory. The works stolen are landmark paintings that once gone off museum walls go underground quickly.

The Guardian reports that the thief was caught on camera taking the paintings.

The burglary was discovered just before 7am. A single masked intruder was caught on a CCTV camera taking the paintings away, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office. A window had been broken and the padlock of a grille giving access to the museum was smashed. The paintings appeared to have been carefully removed from their frames, rather than sliced out.”

Update: Bloomberg is reporting that the $600 million dollar figure affixed to these paintings is incorrect and inflated.

The paintings are together worth about 100 million euros ($123 million,) Christophe Girard, the Paris city official responsible for culture said as he visited the scene of the crime today. He dismissed earlier reports putting the value as high as 500 million euros. The heist was ‘well organized,’ Girard said.”

The Economist:

In a paper called “The Underworld of Art”, published in 2008 in the journal Crime, Law and Social Change, R.T. Naylor argued that art insiders are often involved in these illegal operations, as they “alone have the technical knowledge and circle of intimates necessary to link an illicit supply with a demand”. The criminal underworld he depicts—an illicit mirror image of the legal art world, with all works running through similar channels—is also an intriguing one. But it seems more likely that underpaid museum employees are involved in such thefts, and that the stolen works are either traded for other illegal goods and services, or used as legal bargaining chips by criminals with even greater black marks on their record.

The explosion of the art market as a hotbed of speculation has naturally accelerated the market for art theft. Interpol counts such theft as the fourth-largest type of crime that it tracks worldwide, after drugs, money laundering and arms sales. If these works are recovered, such a high-profile theft would probably increase their value. But stolen works rarely resurface—only 12% to 15% do, according to the London-based Art Loss Register (ALR), which also counts Picasso as the world’s most stolen artist. (The organisation counts more than 500 missing works of his, including two that were stolen in 2007 from the home of Diana Widmaier, the artist’s granddaughter, across the Seine from the museum.) The ALR put the total number of stolen items worldwide at 203,734 in January 2009, up nearly 50% from five years earlier.

So, what should the Paris Museum of Modern Art do? Some say that offering a reward (with help from an insurer, who is otherwise caught out) is the most effective way to recover stolen art, as this allows individuals and institutions to operate without the bureaucracy of law enforcement. But as with kidnapping people, this also creates an incentive for informants to speak up and private investigators to get involved. In the event the thief demands a ransom, whether or not to pay out is somewhat controversial. Some art-industry observers suggest this merely fuels more art crime, and makes the aggrieved institution a bigger target. (For this reason, most museums—such as the Tate, which recovered two stolen Turner paintings in 2002 for £3.1m—keep quiet on whether they pay out.)

Regardless, it is grim to know these paintings—in particular “Dove with Green Peas”—are gone from public view. But if all publicity is essentially good publicity (as the Metropolitan Museum of Art learned in January, when a visitor accidentally tore one of its Picasso paintings), perhaps this heist will now send greater numbers to Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, if only to see the many other works that once accompanied the five that are now gone.

TPM has the photo gallery

Ravi Somaiya at Gawker:

On Thursday art thieves broke into the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and stole $123m of paintings, including a Matisse and a Picasso. Yesterday two men got into the home of a collector in Marseille and stole five works.

The collector, a man in his 60s, was beaten up during the robbery. The value of the stolen works has not been released, but the BBC report that a Picasso lithograph was among them. It is not yet known whether the thefts is connected with the Paris robbery earlier in the week, during which the painting above — Pastoral, by Henri Matisse — was taken. But be vigilant with your masterpieces, people.

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