In May of 2010 art thieves stole a handful of paintings from a Paris museum and a residence in Southern France. Their value is estimated at over 100 million dollars. Video surveillance showed the heist in Paris to have been a lone intruder. The security system was not working leaving investigators to suspect the culprit may have had some inside help. After hearing the news I asked myself, “How does one ever sell stolen art?” I also wondered, “How do art detectives recover such lost treasures?”
Occasionally art is stolen by a disgruntled employee or someone who has a passion for a particular piece of art: painting or sculptor. Maybe some rich control freak with an obsessive compulsion drive to collect art hires and plans such schemes. Who knows? I think the reason is usually greed: the money. But that’s the problem. This type of art is big money. You cannot just transfer a bunch of money from one country to another, including Switzerland, without authorities being able to track it. It is also probably hard to exchange large sums of cash without a high risk of being detected. I suspect this type of theft was well planned and with more than one person involved. It is also probable that the stolen pieces will be sold for a fraction of their worth to crime syndicates such as large drug smuggling outfits. The paintings could be hidden away for many years before they are found. For example, art stolen in World War II continues to occasionally surface. Those who try to sell such works at some point in the future hopefully will be caught. Unfortunately, there always seem to be those individuals who are willing to risk the stealing and selling.
Movies to a certain degree even glamorize the thieves: The Thomas Crown Affair, with Steve McQueen; Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief; The Pink Panther with Peter Sellers, are several that come straight to my mind. However, what about those individuals that attempt to recover stolen art and catch the thieves? There have been numerous detective and mystery shows for decades where the bad guys are caught but what is it like for a real art detective?
A book review article in the New York Times by Velma Daniels (I think it was May 30, 2010) covered this very subject. The article highlighted the fact that a book was just recently published, The Art Detective, subtitled, Fakes, Frauds, and Finds, and the Search for Lost Treasures. The timing could not have been better.
The author, Philip Mould, owns a London art gallery, is an art consultant to British Parliament, and is an art sleuth. To those who work within art communities he considered by many to be, “The Art Detective.” The New York Times article pointed out that Mr. Mould often appears on Antiques Roadshow, which I thoroughly enjoy watching. The BBC is currently making a film about his exploits titled, “Art Sleuth.” I will be on the lookout for this production and I hope to see him at some point on Antiques Roadshow. I also hope he is helping with the investigation in the Paris heist. Since Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is no longer with us, we need all the help we can get. Go get ‘em Inspector Mould.
On the board game Treasure Trove one of the situation cards rewards the player drawing the card 10 million for helping to retrieve stolen art. I encourage you to take a moment and investigate the website displaying the game.