Friday, February 22, 2008

Art of Stealing

A romantic aura hangs around the art thief, the gentleman burglar who evades the sophisticated security of the worlds' most glamorous museums – like Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair, or Dr No, the evil James Bond mastermind with a penchant for beauty.

Art theft is big business. After drugs and weapons, it is the third most lucrative international criminal operation, according to the FBI, and it is thought to be worth around £3bn a year, and rising in line with the soaring value of art.

According to the Art Loss Register, the London-based organization that keeps a record of stolen art work, there are more than 7,500 works missing, including 572 Picassos, making the Spanish artist, who died in 1973, the most sought after name by criminals. Miró, Dali, Warhol and Matisse all make the dubious top 10.

The question is, however, what can Sunday's thieves do with paintings as well known as Cézanne's The Boy in a Red Vest, Degas' Count Lepic and his Daughters, Van Gogh's Chestnut in Bloom or Monet's Poppies Near Vetheuil?

According to Julian Radcliffe of the Art Loss Register, there are two options. The first is to keep the painting for a decade or longer in the hope it is forgotten about, then try and put it back on the market as a "sleeper". This is a work that has been passed on under a false attribution (wittingly or unwittingly) and is then rediscovered as the work of a major artist by a collector, dealer or auctioneer. If it stays in the underworld, it can be used as collateral for, say, drug deals, and it can pass through the hands of numerous criminals before it resurfaces. The other option is to try to ransom it.

Excerpts taken from The Independent. Article by Andrew Johnson.

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