Stealing Art is a Tricky Business - Jo-Ann Carson

Stealing Art is a Tricky Business

Pablo Picasso (Wikipedia pic)

In my first Romantic Suspense series my characters are involved in investigating international art crime. This post is from my on-going research file.

“Seven paintings, including works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Lucian Freud were stolen from the Kunsthal museum in the Dutch city of Rotterdam this week [ i.e., on October 16, 2012]. The combined value may be as much as $130 million, yet as long as they are stolen goods, the paintings are effectively valueless, said Olivia Tait, manager of European clients at the Art Loss Register, an online database of lost art.” (Bloomberg Business Week)

Claude Monet (Wikipedia pic)

So why do they do it? Why do thieves steal art?

Some use it as a trading chip to barter for other black market goods, but the artwork goes for much less than it’s worth. Others sell it to people who don’t care about its providence. And most simply don’t know any better and get stuck with a product they can’t sell. Often the art surfaces later, damaged and discarded. The idea of big collectors masterminding heists like in the Thomas Crown Affair is  pure myth, the kind that works well on a Hollywood screen, but doesn’t play well in real life.

I love, absolutely love, the real stories about art theft. The settings are beautiful, the characters are larger than life, yet real, and the action is everything from bizarre to hilarious. I embed one true story from history in each of my novels in my Nederlander series.

Henri Matisse from the Henri Matisse website

Last Week’s Rotterdam Heist

The Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam has a state of the art security system, but they didn’t have guards on duty. The police arrived five minutes after the alarm went off, but it was too late. They’ve released pictures from video footage to the public. The faces of the thieves aren’t clear, but they’re hoping someone might be able to identify their bags.

How did they do it?

“The museum said in a statement Monday it uses an electronic locking system that is activated after an alarm is triggered, but deactivates again shortly afterward for safety reasons. The thieves waited until the electronic system deactivated, broke a physical lock on an emergency door, and were in and out in less than two minutes. Police arrived in five.” (Montreal Gazette, 22/10/2012)

Did they have inside help, or just inside knowledge? I wonder. An insider is often key in art crimes.

The Guardian has a really cool visual article that shows some of the stolen paintings and the investigation: Rotterdam art theft: the stolen paintings. Well worth a visit.
I have to say:
While the history of art crime fascinates me,  it also horrifies me. When precious art or artifacts are stolen, a part of our heritage is taken from us that can never be replaced. While art thieves may appear to some as clever scoundrels, to me they are the scum of the earth, heinous parasites stealing our history and culture.

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