Showing posts with label Stolen Art Recovered. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stolen Art Recovered. Show all posts

September 8, 2015

Charley Hill, Dick Ellis, and the Recovery of Paintings Stolen Six Years Ago

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Museum Security Network sent out a link to an article in the United Kingdom's The Daily Mail about the recovery of stolen art: "Millions of pounds worth of paintings stolen from the country mansion of cider heir found by 'The Scream' sleuth".

The Scream referred to in this article is the painting by Edvard Munch stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo in 1994 and the subject of Edward Dolnick's 2006 book The Rescue Artist (which won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime). The back of the book describes the investigation:
Baffled and humiliated, the Norwegian police turned to the one man they believed could help: a half English, half American undercover cop named Charley Hill, the world's greatest art detective... a complicated mix of brilliance, foolhardiness, and charm whose hunt for a purloined treasure would either cap an illustrious career or be the fiasco that would haunt him forever.
I have never met Charley Hill (here's a link to some background on Hill and The Scream), but over the years we have corresponded via email on subjects related to art crime that have been covered on this blog (such as this). So I shot off an email to Mr. Hill and asked for his comment. He responded that Dick Ellis would be the best person to quote because "it was his job" and that the recovery of the artworks taken from the Somerset estate of Esmond and Susie Bulmer had nothing to do with Hill's work in recovering "The Scream".

Dick Ellis is the retired founder of The Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiquities Squad at New Scotland Yard in London.  He is also an annual lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. Emma Jones wrote about Ellis for The Financial Times in 2013 and CBC Radio interviewed him here. Ellis wrote an email today for the ARCA blog:
The recovery of the Bulmer's stolen paintings again focuses attention on to the increasing role of the private sector in the investigation and recovery of stolen art, antiques and cultural property. With many countries facing a continuing period of austerity cut backs, their law enforcement agencies have seen even fewer police resources being devoted to this area of crime.

In this particular instance, the victims suffered the trauma of a violent robbery at the hands of five masked criminals who bound the house sitter to the stairs where she remained for some 18 hours. The loss was substantial and included jewellery, sculpture ,and a canteen of silver cutlery in addition to the 16 paintings valued together at £2 million.

Whilst the police response to such a violent crime was swift, the investigation was uncertain as to the direction it should take.The lack of understanding of the commodity, stolen fine art and antiques, is common to many law enforcement agencies and not just to those in the UK underlining the lack of training that police receive in this subject.

In 2010, a year after the theft, the victims and their insurers turned to the private sector for help as it was here that they could utilise the services of professional art crime consultants and investigators. 

Working with the police but independently of them, I was able to revitalise an investigation that had lost both direction and police resources. With regular progress reports the police were able to continue to develop their investigation without devoting vast resources to the enquiry, leaving them free to attend to the day to day pressures of policing.

In June 2015, whilst I was lecturing to the ARCA students in Italy, Charley Hill took a telephone call from a friendly journalist and was introduced to her source who was willing to share the information he had. On my return to the UK, Charley introduced me to the intermediary and we were then able to work together to achieve the recovery of the stolen paintings.  

The recovery required working with the insurers, their lawyers and with the police and provides a model of how art recovery in the future will depend far more on the resources and expertise of the private sector working in partnership with law enforcement.

The inside story of the this recovery will form the basis of the lecture on the future of art recovery to be given during the 2016 ARCA course in Amelia, Italy which will also look at the authentication and forensic examination of stolen art.
In 2016, Ellis will be teaching "The High Stakes World of Art Policing, Protection and Investigation" June 8-10 and June 13-15 in Amelia, Umbria. You may find out more about ARCA and the postgraduate certificate program in Italy here.

January 11, 2015

FBI Agents and LAPD officer discuss the recovery of 3/4 of the paintings stolen from Encino residence in 2008

Press Conference at FBI building in Westwood, CA
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
  ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

Here's a holiday-delayed follow up post to the press conference on the recovery by the LAPD and the FBI of paintings stolen from an Encino residence. All comments quoted below were reviewed and approved by both the FBI and the LAPD officers involved. I would like to thank retired FBI agent Virginia Curry who made a phone call to get me into the press conference.

The FBI's Public Affairs Specialist Laura Eimiller, who organized the news conference, provided in an email dated December 20 the 'gist of the remarks made by Mr. Lewis.' With her permission, his comments at the press conference are published here:
Hello, my name is Bill Lewis, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.   I’m joined here today by…. 
On August 23rd, 2008, the LAPD initiated an investigation into a residential theft of nine pieces of artwork that are valued at up to $12 million, though that number may change when experts further evaluate the paintings.  At that time, the company which insured the paintings had offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen artwork.   This past September, that reward offer generated a lead overseas.  From that point, the FBI’s Art Crime Team members here in Los Angeles worked jointly with the LAPD. 
Raul Espinoza
An undercover investigation led to an individual believed to be a fence conducting the sale of the artwork.   On October 23, 2014, a meeting was arranged in West Los Angeles with undercover agents posing as potential buyers and an individual believed to be in possession of the stolen artwork, now identified as Raul Espinoza.   By the end of the meeting, nine pieces of artwork were recovered and Espinoza was taken into custody. On October 27, 2014, a felony complaint was filed by the District Attorney in Los Angeles charging Espinoza with receiving stolen property.   
Art theft is multi-billion dollar industry and something the Bureau takes seriously to protect America’s culture and national treasures.  The Art Crime Team has also recovered art and cultural artifacts from other nations when it’s found or fenced through the United States.  If you’ll notice, much of the art on display was painted in the 20s and 30s so the rich history recovered here cannot be overstated. 
Investigators believe that others are associated with this crime and know that someone has valuable information.  We are offering a reward of up to $25,000 in exchange for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals responsible for this crime. 
I’d like to point out that this is still very much an ongoing investigation and, because we still have work to do, we aren’t able to go into detail on much of this, nor speculate on theories.  We wanted to give you an opportunity to see the paintings while they’re in our possession as evidence, and we hope that the publicity will turn into solid leads.  I’d like to turn this over to ... 
LAPD's Hrycyk at podium with FBI's Rivas (right)
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Art Theft Detail Detective Don Hrycyk described art theft as unprofitable, noting that after six years, the stolen art had still not been sold. Hrycyk said law enforcement speculated that whoever stole the paintings either knew the elderly owners or someone who worked in the household. The husband died within four months of the crime and the wife died this year, Hrycyk said. [Here's a link to the LAPD's announcement of the recovery.]

Bill Lewis, FBI assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles office, said that the FBI and the LAPD would not give up on an investigation until they recover the artifacts.

As to the condition of the returned paintings, Hrycyk said that some of the frames had been removed and that the paintings were in “not that bad” of condition (the artworks had been examined by a professional conservator).

FBI Agent Elizabeth Robert speaks to Spanish-speaking press
At the end of the press conference, Elizabeth Robert, Assistant Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, spoke in Spanish for Spanish-speaking media correspondents (the suspect, Raul Espinosa, is a Mexican national).

Elizabeth Rivas, Special Agent for the FBI, has also worked on the Mathew Taylor fraud case and assisted the Santa Monica Police in the art theft of the works of Jeffrey Gundlach. I asked her if she had any surprises in working this case. “I was surprised at how quickly we recovered the artworks when the case reopened in September 2014,” Agent Rivas said. “We had good tips and good undercover agents.”

FBI Agent Elizabeth Rivas stands next to
recovered painting by Lyonel Feininger
I also asked Don Hrycyk who has handled more than 800 cases over 20 years for the LAPD, what surprised him about this case. “It’s surprising to walk into a home and realize that there were millions of dollars of art on the wall without proper security meaning the security precautions were inadequate for the protection of a multi-million dollar art collection," Detective Hrycyk said. "This is a common problem I have seen over the years - either inadequate security or adequate security that is not consistently used (not setting the alarm, leaving doors unlocked, surveillance cameras that don't work, etc.)."

What about when the art is recovered? Any surprises?

“One painting was brought to a location strapped to the roof of a car," Detective Hrycyk said. "The thieves did not know how to care for art.”

What is the end goal of the reward?


“We want to recover the other three pieces of stolen art,” Hrycyk said. “We also want to see the link between the original burglary and the defendant (Espinosa). These people may still be connected to someone still employed in a household.”

Here are other photos of the press conference and the recovered paintings as displayed there:

Painting by Marc Chagall

Painting by Chaim Soutine

Painting by Arshile Gorky

Painting by Diego Rivera

Painting by Chaim Soutine

Painting by Kees van Dongan

Painting by Emile Nolde

Painting by Hans Hofmann




FBI's Elizabeth Rivas at podium


December 19, 2014

$25,000 reward offered by FBI and LAPD for investigation into 2008 art burglary in Encino

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The Los Angeles Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) held a press conference today and announced a $25,000 reward for help in the continuing investigation of a 2008 residential burglary:
The Los Angeles Police Department posted a $200,000 reward after the theft of the 12 paintings six years ago.

The FBI press release today concluded with:
"Also attached is a photo of the suspect, Raul Espinosa, 46, who was arrested in October and charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney with possession of the stolen paintings. Espinosa's alias is Jorge Alberto Lara. Espinosa, who had been residing in Los Angeles prior to his arrest, is a Mexican national. The joint investigation by the FBI and the LAPD is continuing."

Stolen Art Recovered: FBI and LAPD undercover operation recovers 3/4 of art stolen from Encino residence in 2008

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Los Angeles, California -- Journalist Matt Hamilton reported December 17 in the Los Angeles Times ("Detectives crack huge L.A. heist; 9 paintings recovered") that two months ago an undercover operation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recovered three-quarters of the paintings stolen six years ago from an Encino residence.

Hamilton's article included a copy of the search warrant Detective Don Hrycyk filed on Dec. 2 to continue the investigation. Hrycyk wrote of the original crime and the recovery:
On August 24, 2008, I received a crime report (DR #08-1025695) of a hot prowl residential burglary during which $10 million in fine art was stolen from the home of XXX and XXX (see Attachment B) who were both elderly invalids. The art was taken during the day while they were in their bedrooms during a brief window of opportunity lasting less than an hour during which no caregivers or employees were in the house. Twelve paintings were taken including works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Diego Rivera, Chaim Soutine and others. 
The art remained missing for six years. Then on 9/2/14, I became aware that a man named "Darko" in Europe was trying to find a buyer for the nine stolen paintings listed in the XXX crime alert (see Attachment C). He indicated that he was merely a middleman for an unknown person in possession of the art in California. 
I contacted Special Agent Elizabeth Rivas who works the FBI's Art Crime Team in Los Angeles. An undercover operation was an implemented to recover the stolen art. FBI undercover agents posing as potential buyers set up a meeting at a hotel in West Los Angeles for the purpose of buying the nine stolen paintings valued at over $10 million for $700,000 in cash. 
On 10/23/14, a man identified as Raul Espinoza (aka: Jorge Lara) tried to sell the paintings to the undercover agents and was subsequently arrested and the nine artworks recovered. He is being prosecuted under state charges of 496(a) PC (Receiving Stolen Property) with various special allegations. During the undercover operation, I heard Espinoza offering to sell three additional artworks. He described the paintings, one of which matches the description of an Endre Szasz painting owned by the victims that is still missing. 
Special Agent Rivas told me she interviewed Darko who told her he spoke to the person in possession of the stolen art at least fifty times by cellphone and received cellphone photos of the stolen art in the same manner. During the undercover buy with FBI agents, I viewed and heard the operation taking place through the use of hidden camera in the hotel room and observed Espinoza using his cellphone to call confederates to signal them during the operation. In addition, I believe the original burglary could not have been accomplished without the assistance of inside help from one of the employees who worked for the victims at the time of the crime and I believe this person is known to Espinoza. 
Espinoza's cellphone was seized and booked evidence at the time of his arrest. I request authorization to have his cellphone undergo forensic examination to determine if it contains phone numbers, contacts, photos, emails, text messages, and other information showing his involvement in the crime of receiving stolen property as well as his contacts with Darko and other accomplices in selling, transporting, or storing the art. I believed this information may result in the recovery of three additional paintings in the possession of Espinoza that were stolen from the victims during the burglary in 2008 and may reveal the identity of persons involved in the burglary in 2008 and may reveal the identity of persons involved in the original burglary in 2008.
Here's a link to an interview with Detective Hrycyk about the LAPD Art Theft Detail.

September 2, 2014

Miami New Times' Michael E. Miller reports FBI delayed return of Stolen Matisse to Venezuela over 'hole in its history'

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

According to the FBI, the Henri Matisse painting “Odalisque in Red Pants" stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)) in Venezuela in December 2002 was recovered in an undercover operation in Miami on July 16, 2012. Two men were arrested and later convicted (see USDOJ here and the ARCA post here). Four days ago, Michael E. Miller reported (Aug. 28) in The Miami New Times that the "FBI Delayed Returning Stolen Matisse Painting to Venezuela Over Concerns It Was Looted by Nazis":
"There was a concern that it may have been subject to Nazi looting," says Special Agent Robert Giczy, a member of the FBI's art crime unit and one of the agents involved in the odalisque investigation. "There was a hole in its history from 1931 to 1959," he said. "The Third Reich was 1933 to 1945. So we had a responsibility to ensure the status of the painting was [kosher]." "It was like trying to find the hole in a donut: something that just wasn't there," Giczy said. With assistance from the Getty Research Institute in California, the Art Loss Register in London, and the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in New York, the FBI determined in April of 2014 that the painting had not been stolen by Nazis but had been privately owned in London and America during that period. "That freed the painting so that it was available for repatriation," Giczy said.
Miller wrote a longer article on the theft in "Chavez, Matisse, and the Heist that Shook the Americas" (August 27, 2014). 

July 9, 2014

Matisse's "Odalisque in Red Pants" (1925) returned to Venezuela after FBI recovered it in 2012 in Southern Florida

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Officials in Venezuela welcomed the return on Monday (July 7) of the Matisse painting, Odalisque in Red Pants (1925), believed to have been stolen in 2000 when it was substituted with a forgery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas (Laura Rojas, July 8, The Art Newspaper ("Stolen Matisse painting returned to Venezuela after more than a decade"):
The Art Newspaper reported last October that the US authorities began repatriation proceedings after the work was certified by a Venezuelan authentication committee and later confirmed by the director of the Henri Matisse Archives in Paris, Wanda de Guébriant.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recovered the painting in Southern Florida in July 2012 and arrested Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, Florida, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, Mexico, for transporting and possessing the stolen painting.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, this case was the result of an FBI undercover investigation. According to the allegations in the complaint affidavit, Marcuello negotiated the sale of the Matisse painting, which had been previously stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)) in Caracas, Venezuela in December 2002. The painting is valued at approximately $3 million. Marcuello allegedly admitted to the undercover agents during a meeting that he knew the painting was stolen and offered to sell the stolen painting for approximately $740,000.00. As part of the negotiations, Marcuello further agreed to have the painting transported by courier to the United States from Mexico, where the painting was being stored. The courier was subsequently identified as co-defendant Ornelas. According to the affidavit, on July 16, 2012, Ornelas arrived at the Miami International Airport from Mexico City, Mexico, hand-carrying a red tube containing the painting. On July 17, 2012, defendants Marcuello and Ornelas met with undercover agents and produced the Matisse painting titled “Odalisque in Red Pants” from inside the red tube. Upon inspection by the undercover agents, the painting appeared consistent with the original Henri Matisse painting reported stolen from the MACCSI museum. At the conclusion of the meeting, Marcuello and Ornelas were arrested.
In January 2013, Marcuello and Ornelas were sentenced to "to 33 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Maria Ornelas was sentenced to 21 months in prison, to be followed by three years supervised release. The defendants pled guilty on October 30, 2012 to charges relating to the transportation, possession and attempted sale of the stolen Henri Matisse painting."

The head of the FBI's Art Crime Squad, Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, had discussed this case at Art Recovery International's symposium at NYU in June. You can read more about the FBI's Art Theft Program here in a presentation by Magness-Gardiner.

April 4, 2014

Carabinieri reports recovering paintings by Gauguin and Bonnard stolen from London in 1970

Rachel Donadio, reporting from Rome for The New York Times, wrote on April 2, 2014 in "Two Stolen Paintings Are Found in Italy" that according to a phone interview with Gen. Mariano Mossa, the chief of the cultural heritage division of Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri police (Carabinieri TPC), that the two paintings a Fiat factory worker purchased for $70 in 1975 at Turin auction turned out to be valuable works by Gauguin and Bonnard stolen in 1970 from the London residence of Mathilda Marks, 'a philanthropist and a daughter of Michael Marks, a founder of the Marks & Spencer department-store chain'.

In "Stolen Paul Gauguin Painting Recovered from House of Retired Fiat Employee," Douglas Cobb writing for Guardian/Living Voice recounts:
The Paul Gauguin painting was stolen from the family of one of the co-founders of Marks & Spencer, a department store chain. In 1970, in the vicinity of Regents Park, three men pretending to be burglar alarm company employees stole the painting and one by 19th century painter Pierre Bonnard worth an estimated $690,000. The Bonnard painting, “Woman with Two Chairs,” depicts a woman dressed in white who is seated in a chair in a luxurious green garden. [...] According to the police, it’s likely that the thieves abandoned the paintings on a train because they were worried that they would get caught trying to sneak the canvases across the border. In 1975, the railway company sold the paintings at an auction, without realizing their value.
 Michael Day, writing for The Independent in "Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard paintings worth over £30 m recovered after hanging in a factory worker's kitchen for 40 years", reports:
The Italian authorities first took notice of the paintings last summer when members of the Carabinieri TPC, a cultural heritage protection police force, saw photos of the works. “From the preliminary information, it appeared that the works shown were purchased in 1975 for the modest sum of 45,000 lire (€25),” said Brigadier General Mariano Mossa, commander of the Carabinieri TPC. “It's an incredible story, an amazing recovery. A symbol of all the work which Italian art police have put in over the years behind the scenes,” Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told journalists. Brigadier General Mossa said the investigation into how the paintings ended up in the kitchen of the factory worker were still ongoing. “We need to check the means by which he purchased them and whether this was done in good faith,” he said, “in addition to reconstructing the stages by which the works, arrived in Italy after they were stolen.”
The article in The Los Angeles Times by David Ng ("Gauguin painting stolen 44 years ago hung in autoworker's kitchen", April 2) includes a video clip from the press conference in Rome led by General Mossa of the Carabinieri's TPC -- the translator quotes General Mossa as saying that the findings are preliminary and the investigation is ongoing:
Officials in Italy held an unveiling ceremony Wednesday in Rome for the two paintings: Gauguin's "Fruits sur une Table ou Nature au Petit Chien," or "Fruit on a Table or Still Life With a Puppy," and Bonnard's "La Femme aux Deux Fauteuils," or "Woman on Two Armchairs."

March 19, 2014

French police recover painting by Rembrandt (or in the style of Rembrandt) stolen in 1999 from the municipal museum in Draguignan

"Child with a Soap Bubble" by Rembrandt?
Journalist Vincent Noce reports in the French newspaper, Liberation, that a Rembrandt painting stolen in 1999 has been recovered in Nice ("Un Rembrandt volé en 1999 e été retrouvé à nice, 19 March 2014) although the thieves may have discovered the work was not by the 'genius from Amsterdam'.

Noce reported that Tuesday afternoon French police from the unit assigned to fighting trafficking in cultural goods (OCBC) arrested two men (ages 44 and 51 years old) for trying to sell a painting stolen 15 years ago from the municipal museum in Draguignan in southeastern France. The oil painting, measuring 60 cm by 50, is attributed to Rembrandt and known as "Child with a Soap Bubble". According to Noce's article, the recovered painting has an estimated value of 4 million euros (U.S. $5.56 million) -- if it is indeed by the Dutch master and not by an artist inspired by Rembrandt. According to the article, the museum's inventory shows that the painting was taken from the Château de Valbelle [now in ruins] in Tourves during the revolution in 1794. 

Sophie Legras, writing for L'Agence France-Presse (AFP) and published in Le Figaro, reports that judicial police in Nice helped the OCBC in recovering the painting from two men known as petty criminals. Legras cites the newspaper Var Martin that the oil painting entered the municipal museum in Draguignan in 1974 as part of the original collection.

The robbery occurred on July 14th (Bastille Day). According to Legras, the 1999 theft was staged during a military parade when thieves broke into the municipal library adjacent to the museum and stole the painting and frame before police could respond to the alarm. Legras reports that "Child with Soap Bubble" was the victim of a previous robbery in February 1975.

This theft is listed in the book, Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).

Lynda Albertson contributed to this post.

October 13, 2013

"The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story" documents an art crime and a writer's obsession to understand motive

Joe and Justine Medeiros in Hollywood
 at the Arclight Documentary Festival
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

“The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story”, winner of the award for Best Historical Documentary in the San Antonio Film Festival, provides clarity on how and why an immigrant housepainter, Vincenzo Peruggia, stole Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre in 1911.

Written and directed by Joe Medeiros and produced by his wife Justine, this documentary of a Parisian art theft tells the story of one writer’s obsession that lead him to a Northern Italian village to meet the art thief’s only living offspring, 84-year-old Celestina. Joe Medeiros hoped that Peruggia’s daughter could explain why her father, an immigrant painter living in Paris, had stolen the da Vinci masterpiece from the Salon Carré and hidden it for two years. Was Peruggia a patriot who believed he was returning a masterpiece Napoleon had stolen from Italy? Or was he an ordinary criminal looking to make a fortune? Unfortunately, Celestina did not remember her father who had died of a heart attack in Paris before she was two years old. Not until the age of 20 did Celestina learn from her aunt that her father had stolen the Mona Lisa. After promising to find out what motivated Celestina's father to steal da Vinci's masterpiece, Joe and Justine Medeiros visited the Louvre and archives in Paris with Peruggia’s grandson before traveling with Peruggia's granddaughter to the hotel where the painting was recovered in Florence in 1913.

“The Missing Piece” documents the efforts to research, translate and retrace a century old art crime. Art crime specialists such as Charles Hill, Scotland Yard Art Squad (retired), and Robert Wittman, FBI Art Crime Team (retired), appear with Louvre curators and other writers on the Mona Lisa theft (Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, The Crimes of Paris). Medeiros draws conclusions from primary sources to explain how Peruggia stole the painting and got it out of his museum and to his apartment (apparently he used both a bus and a horse carriage); where he stored the painting for two years; how the French police investigated the crime and how close the great detective  came to identifying both the thief and the painting’s hiding place; and finally, the “missing piece” which leads conclusively to the motive for the theft. The story includes Peruggia’s bouts with lead poisoning, the truth about the psychological evaluation used in his trial, and how Peruggia returned to France after his imprisonment during World War I. The film ends with Joe Medeiros revealing the truth to Celestina, turning the story from art crime to that of family.

"It's not a big, budget Hollywood movie, but it does tell a good story that has a beginning, middle and, fortunately, a happy ending," Joe Medeiros said.

The movie's website and blog contains more information.

Tanya Lervik (ARCA 2011) reviewed this movie last year at a screening in Washington, D.C.

September 2, 2013

Museum van Bommel van Dam Art Theft: A Perspective on the stolen and recovered paintings and how the ALR distributes information

www.wikicollecting.com:
 'R69-32' (left) and the completelydifferent 'R69-39' (right) 
In August, the ARCA blog reported the recovery of paintings stolen five months earlier. In this post, one of this year's ARCA student provides background on the theft.

by Jacobiene Kuijpers

At five in the early morning of 22 March 2013, the Dutch Museum van Bommel van Dam was robbed. Two hooded thieves forced open the entrance door and took three papier-maché reliefs by the Dutch artist Jan Schoonhoven and a canvas by Tomas Rajlich. They managed to leave the museum and drive away by car before the police arrived. All of the stolen works were part of the Manders Collection, a private art collection that was currently exhibited in the museum. The museum director contacted Art Loss Register directly to report the theft and spread images of the works over the internet and television to get tips for the police investigation.

All of the artworks are predominantly white and show geometric structures. Schoonhoven was a renowned minimalist artist, part of the ZERO network, and has works of art in important collections such as the MoMA. Recently, Schoonhoven is seen as a rising star and the value of his works has gone up, which was clearly visible in a sale at Christie’s Amsterdam last October, where some works were hammered for almost double the estimate.[1] The stolen works by Schoonhoven were by far the most valuable works of art of the entire Manders Collection. The Rajlich painting is similar in representation and was hung in the same corner as the Schoonhovens -- one may suggest the thieves thought the works were all by the same artist.

On June 27, Sotheby’s London sold a work by Schoonhoven, titled R69-39, via the Amsterdam offices where this relief was brought before the end of April. Sotheby’s has no salesroom in Amsterdam anymore, thus the work was put up for the London auction, where its provenance mentioned it was part of an inheritance and the work was directly transferred from the artist to the first owner.[2] In the image printed in the auction catalogue, the artwork appeared identical to the stolen Schoonhoven with the title R69-32, except that the work was turned on its side. This similarity made the ALR alert the auction house that the work possibly represented a stolen work in their database. Sotheby’s checked this and replied that the title on the back of the work didn’t match the ALR record. No further measures were taken on both ends.

The work was sold to two galleries in Amsterdam and London who specialize in the ZERO network and often collaborate in acquisitions. When the Amsterdam gallery owner saw an image of the work for the first time on July 2, he was confused as he had possessed a work with the same title before, and this was not that work. He realized that the artwork was similar to one of the stolen Schoonhovens and contacts the London gallery holder. He expressed his doubts and requested a picture of the back of the painting, which he compared to a picture of the stolen work. He claimed it was fairly obvious the number 2 was changed into a 9, stickers and labels were removed, but the signature and title were identical.[3] Sotheby’s halted the sale and contacted the police.

In Amsterdam, investigations start to find the man who brought the work to Sotheby’s. At the beginning of August, private detective Arthur Brand was contacted by this man, who claimed he bought the three stolen Schoonhoven reliefs for 100 euros and showed a receipt of the transaction. Brand convinced the man to bring the two works he still had to the police. On August 14th the man walked into an Amsterdam police office holding a plastic bag with the two reliefs and was arrested immediately. The following day the director of the museum happily confirmed the identity of the artworks. The painting by Rajlich remains missing.

The director of the Museum van Bommel van Dam raised an interesting point in his commentary on the Sotheby’s sale of the stolen artwork. He points out that the alerts from the ALR are only directed towards the auction houses and dealers, and how it would be more helpful if these alerts were more public.[4] The museum or the private collector could have aided in the identification of the piece, which would have made the police intervene before the work was put up for auction.

August 21, 2013

Museum van Bommel van Dam Theft: Arthur Brand on recovering paintings and how one stolen painting reached Sotheby's in London

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Last night art investigator Arthur Brand sent me a link to the story in Dutch News.nl ('Sotheby's London sold stolen Dutch art despite warnings') charging that Sotheby's in London had sold a painting stolen in March from the Museum van Bommel van Dam.

DutchNews.nl quotes NRC, another Dutch media agency, on the story that the Art Loss Register warned Sotheby's that the painting by Shoonhoven that eventually sold in June for 182,500 pounds had been stolen three months earlier.

Here's the brief report of the theft by DutchNews.nl on March 22 ("Thieves steal four works from modern art museum in Venlo"):
Thieves have stolen four works of art from the Museum van Bommel van Dam in Venlo forcing the front door in the early hours of Friday morning. Three of the works are by Jan Schoonhoven and one by Tomas Rajlich and they have a combined value of €1.1m, museum officials said.
Venlo is located about 180 km southeast of Amsterdam. The modern art museum opened in the province of Limburg in 1971 with 1,100 artworks collected by Maarten and Reina van Bommel-van Dam.

Via email, I asked Mr. Brand to explain how he became involved in recovering the paintings and this was his response:
As you might know, I specialize in solving museum thefts, discovering fakes, and illicitly traded antiquities. In the case of museum thefts, my main goal is to return the stolen artworks. Catching the thieves is not a priority, unless somebody was murdered or hurt during the robbery. In fact, a museum theft is a regular burglary but with a valuable loot. People like me, or Dick Ellis and Charley Hill (both former Scotland Yard), specialize in bringing these artworks back home where they belong. People who are in the possession of stolen art - mostly not the original thieves - prefer to contact us instead of going to the police. 
A few weeks ago I was contacted by someone who needed to talk to me. He had read about me in the media and knew that I had returned stolen objects to the police in various countries. I arranged a few meetings with him in Amsterdam. After I had gained his confidence, he told me that he had discovered that three works of art in his possession had been stolen from a museum in Venlo in The Netherlands. He told me that he had quite a criminal record but that he was an art lover too. He just could not burn the paintings in order to get rid of them. But, if he himself would turn them in, they would arrest him anyway, he said, although he had bought these pieces legally in some shop. He showed me a receipt.
I answered that I don’t mind what, who and when: nobody was hurt during the robbery and the main goal was to bring the pieces back. After all, the paintings from the recent Kunsthal Rotterdam theft, also in the Netherlands, might have been burned after the thieves panicked. I told him that my work is to prevent people from panicking. I also explained to him that in cases like this, recovering the pieces is the main goal. I offered to return the two works and to keep his name out which he appreciated because “that option is far better than burning the art…” 
He told me that there was one more secret. According to him, he had auctioned one of the four stolen artworks at Sotheby’s, London, before finding out that the two others in his possession were stolen. He checked the painting-numbers from the four stolen ones with the ones auctioned at Sotheby’s but they did not correspond. But he still could not believe that that one was not stolen too. So he gave me the paperwork of the auction and told me to deliver that too to the police. And then he said: “Arthur, I will go with you…” 
So he went without me to get the two stolen works, came back and we went to the police station. We smoked a cigarette outside, gave each other a hug and then went in."
Now it turns out that the Art Loss Register had warned Sotheby’s that their lot might be a stolen one but after Sotheby’s checked the numbers on the back – which did not correspond – they decided to sell it anyway. The buyer – an expert in the work of Schoonhoven, the artist – discovered that it indeed was stolen from the museum in Venlo, only three months before the auction.  How on earth could this have happened? What a shame.

August 19, 2013

Art Loss Register Press Release: "Rare, Stolen, 16th Century Astrolabe to be returned to Swedish museum"

Recovered: Astrolabe (Photo by ALR)
Martinus Weiler, silvered brass
 diameter 170 nm, depth mm
Today The Art Loss Register issued an 'Art Recovery Announcement' celebrating the return of Astrolabe to Skokloster Castle in a small ceremony on August 21, 2013:
It has been a good year from Swedish Museums. A few months after recovering Matisse's "Le Jardin" for Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art, Christopher Marinello, a lawyer who specializes in recovery stolen artwork, is returning to Sweden with a 16th century astrolabe stolen from a castle museum in 1999. 
The astrolabe, signed by Martinus Weiler and dated 1590, can be classified as an early "astronomical computer" used to tell time and to map celestial objects. It is valued at over $400,000. The astrolabe was stolen from Skokloster Castle, one of the world's greatest baroque castles near Arlandal, Sweden. In the late 1990's and early 2000's the museum suffered a series of thefts of small objects including a rare book. The thefts were reported to INTERPOL and the Art Loss Register in London but no one was ever arrested for the crime. 
Authorities suspect the notorious "KB man", a former head of the rare books department at Sweden's Royal Library, who admitted stealing millions of dollars worth of rare books and manuscripts from Swedish museums from 1986-2004. At the time of his arrest in 2004, KB told police that he quickly sold the stolen items to support his lifestyle of Armani suits, Cuban cigars, and Mercedes Benzes. A few weeks after his arrest and subsequent divorce, KB man committed suicide by cutting the gas line in his apartment, slitting his wrists, and then igniting the gas. The resulting explosion blew out the walls of his apartment forcing evacuation of his neighbours and causing a dozen serious injuries. 
Mr. Marinello works closely with law enforcement and the Art Loss Register, a database of stolen objects based in London. 
The astrolabe was being searched by a collector from Italy who had intended to offer it for sale in London. Once located, Marinello negotiated the return of the astrolabe with the lawyer for the Italian collector. He expects to return the work to Skokloster Castle later this week. 
Stolen inclimometer (ALR) 
"While a 16th Century astrolabe may not be as 'sexy' as a major Picasso or Matisse, for a geek like me, recovering such an important planespheric and horological instrument is just as gratifying," said Marinello. 
Bengt Kylsberg, the Museum's Curator commented, "Skokloster Castle is very grateful to Christopher Marinello and The Art Loss Register for their fantastic work. This instrument is an important part of our collection and has been at Skokloster Castle for more than 300 years. With this recovery, our scientific and rare instrument collection is nearly as complete as it was when Gustaf Wrangel, the founder of Skokloster Castle, died in 1676." 
STOLEN 
A gilt brass inclinometer signed by Johann Freidrich Franck and dated 1643 was also stolen from the castle and remains missing. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of this object is urged to contact: 
Bengt Kylsberg, Curator, Skokloster Castle
+46 (0)8-402 30 74
Christopher A. Marinello, The Art Loss Register
+44 (0)7702 206 913

August 16, 2013

Art Investigator Arthur Brand assists in the return of artworks stolen in March from the Museum Van Bommel van Dam in Venlo

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog

Istanbul - Last night I received an email from art investigator Arthur Brand that he had just solved a museum robbery in The Netherlands. Mr. Brand's news was that three of the four artworks stolen on March 22 from the Museum Van Bommel van Dam in Venlo were delivered to Amsterdam police.

Arthur Brand wrote in an email to the ARCA blog: “We were smoking a cigarette outside the police-headquarters before going in. The guy knew that he would be arrested and discovered that he had no money left. He asked me for some to be able to buy some extra food while being detained. I gave him all I had with me, 35 euros. We embraced each other and walked in with a cheap plastic bag containing the stolen works of art.”

According to the police press release, due to an investigation by the Dutch police (Politie) and in cooperation with employees of an auction house, the police have recovered artwork by Jan van Schoonhoven:
This is one of four works stolen with an estimated value of more than 1 million euros. Last Wednesday a bag containing two of the other three remaining stolen artworks was delivered to the police headquarters in Amsterdam. The defendant, against whom an investigation was related to the work of art offered at auction, was immediately arrested and the bag with the two works confiscated. The suspect was surrounded and taken into police custody. The two works of art in the bag are probably also from the hand of Jan van Schoonhoven and almost certainly  from the theft in Venlo. The authenticity of these reliefs is yet to be determined. Detectives from the serious crime department worked under the supervision of the Amsterdam prosecutor. The Amsterdam detectives researched the theft of the paintings and the police unit in Limburg investigated the burglary and theft. The suspect will be brought before the magistrate on Friday, August 16.
Here in this Dutch newspaper is the story (loosely translated by Google):
Art investigator Arthur Brand reported on Twitter that he had returned two stolen artworks to the Amsterdam police. Dagblad de Limburger reported that the man who was arrested was in the presence of Arthur Brand. The police do not want to discuss the role of Brand who deals in tracking stolen and forged art. Amsterdam Police had been tracking the paintings before they were returned. The authenticity of the works has yet to be determined, but they are probably the three stolen works by the Dutch artists Jan Schoonhoven. The fourth work stolen from the Collection of Tomas Manders, is still missing. Together the works  have a total insured value of 1.1 million euros.

June 16, 2013

Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage Publishes Annual Bulletins of Stolen Art Online

Ton Cremers for Museum Security Network sent out a valuable link to "Art in Ostaggio - Art in Hostage", bilingual bulletins of stolen works of art prepared by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale from 2004-2012 designed to combat against the worldwide problem of the illegal art market.

The 124-page report for 2012 includes a statement from the Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage:
We believe that what has been stolen must not be considered as lost forever. On the contrary, we regard it as held hostage by offenders who can and must be defeated by the Italian and international police force, together with the Ministry of Culture, the art dealers and all the citizens.
The information for each stolen object registered includes: artist or school (with indications limiting or the fining its paternity, such as: attributed to, workshop of, copy by, etc.); title or subject of the work; material and technique of execution; Dimensions; carabinieri databank reference number; and images.

The report is divided into archaeology; woodwork; ecclesiastic objects; painting; and sculpture. The report concludes with an index of the stolen works and a list of recovered artworks reported in the Bulletin's previous issues.

A year-in-progress list for 2013 reports the recovery of 10 objects previously identified in earlier bulletins.

May 12, 2013

The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her thief, The True Story Headed to Denver Art Museum this Friday and to the Biografilm Festival in Bologna in June

The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story, the documentary about the 1911 theft of Leonardo da Vinci's now famous portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo from the Louvre, premiered in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hills Film Festival on Saturday, May 11.

"We were thrilled to have The Missing Piece screen at Grauman's Chinese Theater for the Beverly Hills Film Festival," Director Joe Medeiros wrote to the ARCA Blog. "We had a very enthusiastic sold-out crowd.  It was our 9th festival and one of the best so far."

Medeiros bills the film as "the true story of how and why Vincenzo Peruggia, a simple Italian immigrant, stole the Mona Lisa and nearly got away with it".

The film will screen at the Denver Art Museum at 7 p.m. this Friday (May 17):
Come to a riveting and humorous documentary film about Vincent Peruggia, the man who stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, his 84-year-old daughter who thought he did it for patriotic reasons, and the filmmaker who spent more than 30 years trying to find the truth.  Written and produced by Joe Medeiros, former head writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, this documentary combines historical photographs, animation and interviews with Peruggia’s descendants to examine how an unassuming housepainter from Italy pulled off “the greatest little-known heist in modern time.”  The producers will be present for Q&A after the film.
The international premiere of the movie will be at the Biografilm Festival in Bologna on Saturday June 15 and Sunday June 16.

Joe Medeiros, writer/director, and
Justine Medeiros, producer. 
ARCA Alum ('11) Tanya Lervik saw the movie last July in Georgetown and reviewed the movie here.

Last October Joe Medeiros weighed in on the Isleworth Mona Lisa, positioning that the painting had not been newly discovered but around for almost a century (see the ARCA blog post here).

This documentary is available for private screenings. Here are the project's links:

Twitter@monalisastolen

Updated May 15 to include information from the director Joe Medeiros.

April 17, 2013

Quebec's Art Crime Enforcement Unit Reports Recovery of Stolen Domingue Painting

On January 14, Quebec's art crime enforcement unit, a partnership between the province's police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, reported the theft of "Rue Richard", an 18 by 24 cm watercolor by artist Maurice Domingue.

Today Art Alerte, the email notification system for Canada's art crime squad, published the information that the painting has been recovered.

No other information has been made available.

April 13, 2013

German Government Agrees to Return Oskar Kokoschka's "Portrait of Tilla Durieux" to Flechtheim's Heirs

Oskar Kokoschka's "Portrait of Tilla Durieux" (1910)
Museum Ludwig/Marcus Stroetzel via Bloomberg
The ARCA Blog mentioned Alfred Flechtheim and a painting by Oskar Kokoschka in November 2010 when German forgers were suspected of using fraudulent stickers from the Dusseldorf art dealer's gallery to sell artworks falsely attributed to French and German Expressionist artists ("German Forgers May Have Used Catalogs of Jewish Art Dealer").

Alfred Flechtheim fled Nazi Germany when his business was confiscated in 1933 and died in London in 1937. Flechtheim's heirs have tried to recover more than 100 paintings by artists such as Picasso, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Vincent van Gogh from European and American museums.

Catherine Hickley reported for Bloomberg News on April 9 that the German government has agreed to return Oskar Kokoschka's "Portrait of Tilla Durieux" (1910) to Flechtheim's heirs:
“Portrait of Tilla Durieux” (1910) has been in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne since 1976. Flechtheim’s great-nephew Mike Hulton, a medical doctor based in California, filed a claim for the painting’s restitution in 2008, saying the dealer sold it under duress and didn’t get a fair price. The museum said Flechtheim was already in financial trouble before the Nazis came to power and sold the painting to pay off debts. 
“The view of the advisory commission is that this case cannot be exhaustively clarified,” the panel, led by former constitutional judge Jutta Limbach, said in a statement. “Because of an absence of concrete evidence, it is to be assumed that Alfred Flechtheim was forced to sell the disputed painting because he was persecuted.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013 - ,,, No comments

A True Goya Painting Theft: History of Stolen Painting from the Toledo Museum of Art in 2006

Here's an example of a true theft of a painting by Francisco Goya on November 7, 2006, which occurred when the artwork was being moved from one museum to another.

David Johnston for The New York Times reported on November 17 ("Goya Theft is Attributed to Inside Knowledge"):

Federal investigators have concluded that thieves armed with detailed shipping information were behind the removal of a Goya painting from a truck en route to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from Ohio last week, law enforcement officials said Friday. 
The 1778 painting, “Children With a Cart,” was packed inside several nested crates aboard a locked unmarked truck used by a professional art transporter. The crated painting was removed from an outer shipping container in the truck while it was parked at a Howard Johnson Inn near Bartonsville, Pa. 
The two drivers checked into the hotel around 11 p.m. on Nov. 7, according to the motel manager, Faizal Bhimani. He said the white midsize truck was left in an unlighted parking lot adjacent to the hotel, out of sight of the hotel’s rooms and the main office. 
When the drivers returned to the truck at about 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 8, the locks had been broken and the painting, insured for $1 million, was gone, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Here's a link to the press release from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the Goya painting.

 Here's the link to the FBI's press release on November 20, 2006 upon recovery of Goya's "Children with Cart" within three weeks of the theft.

Here's a link to the NPR story of the FBI Art Crime Team which reports that the Goya painting stolen from the Toledo museum was recovered within 10 days.

Here's a link to an article in The Wall Street Journal online in 2011 with a motivation for the theft:

Robert K. Wittman, former head of the FBI's Art Crime team and now a security consultant in Philadelphia, notes that history's most infamous art thefts, including the 1990 Isabella Steward Gardner Museum heist in Boston, targeted works hanging on walls, not in transit. But he adds that art on the move is at its most vulnerable. 
Mr. Wittman helped recover a 1778 Goya masterpiece stolen off a truck in Pennsylvania in 2006 en route from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio to the Guggenheim in New York. In that case, its two drivers made the dumb decision to check into a motel for a nap. They returned to find their parked truck busted open and the unmarked Goya crate gone. The thief didn't know what he had, and said he wanted to get rid of it. He didn't destroy the painting because "it kind of grew on me." He had a lawyer contact authorities saying he had found it in his basement—there was a $50,000 reward—but wound up pleading guilty and being sentenced to five years in prison.
Goya's 1778 "Children with Cart" is still on display at the Toledo Museum of Art.