Monday, March 05, 2007

Art Mystery...

I have always had fascination with the stories of thefts of famous artwork. Back in 2004 several Albert Munch paintings were stolen and I followed the stories until the paintings were recovered. Recently a couple of stories have garnered my attention:

Picasso paintings stolen from his granddaughter's house
This story is fascinating. Two paintings (and potentially more work) were stolen from the home of Picasso's granddaughter - while there were people in the home.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said they were worth nearly $66 million, and that there were signs of breaking and entering in the house.

Following the story of the theft of the Picasso paintings, the Chronicle carried this today:

To catch a thief: Register helps track down stolen art

This is a story about the Art Loss Register, a group that works to list stolen artworks in a database. That database is used by legitimate art-dealing enterprises or individuals to check to see if the ownership of the work they are considering dealing in is clouded. The article begins with a great story:
The request was simple enough: Lloyd's underwriters had been approached to insure the movement of seven paintings, including one by Cézanne, from Russia to London for valuation and sale.

So Lloyd's contacted the Art Loss Register, a small private company in London whose computer archive lists 180,000 items ranging from sculpture and silver to textiles, books, stamps and vehicles — and many of the great artworks stolen or missing around the world.

What the insurance company discovered in 1999 was that the works, including Cézanne's Fruit and Jug, had been stolen in 1978 from the home of American collector Michael Bakwin in Massachusetts.

Thus began a long investigation, including Art Loss Register researchers and negotiators, that resulted in the FBI announcing last month the arrest of a lawyer. He allegedly had obtained the art from the thief, who had been murdered by another criminal after the robbery.

In the end, Bakwin got his paintings back and sold the Cézanne for $35 million.

There have been so many puzzling and mysterious stories surrounging the theft of artwork throughout history. And it is amazing to me that such activity can still go on in such an information-based age; and that there is still a market out there for these stolen goods.

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