Damaged art undergoes intensive care in Berlin’s Bode Museum



Damaged art undergoes intensive care in Berlin’s Bode Museum

The institution is using funds from a private foundation to restore works scarred by war


Donatello’s Madonna with Cherubim (around 1440) before the fire. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst

In the workshop of the Bode Museum in Berlin, Paul Hofmann, the head of the restoration, points to a shiny patch on the arm of the Virgin from Donatello’s terracotta Madonna with Cherubim (around 1440). “That’s all that’s left of the paint,” he says.

A pre-Second World War color photograph shows that it was originally painted in blues and gold; in another old photo, it is displayed in an ornate wooden Renaissance frame. The cherubs’ faces in both pictures are fuller than they are now, and Hofmann speculates that their cheeks may have been filled out with stucco. But neither the stucco nor the paint or frame could withstand temperatures as high as 1,000°C.

Madonna with Cherubim was among thousands of works damaged in two disastrous fires, in May 1945, in a flak tower in Friedrichshain in the east of Berlin, where some of the city’s art collections had been stored during the war. More than 430 paintings were destroyed, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Rubens. Sculptures exploded, marble crumbled to gypsum, and ceramics, tapestries, and ivory, gold and ivory artifacts were lost forever.

Many of the works that could be salvaged—most of them severely damaged—were looted by the Soviet Army’s trophy brigades. In a gesture of solidarity towards communist East Germany, in the 1950s Russia returned around 1.5 million of the 2.5 million plundered objects, including some damaged works from the Friedrichshain flak tower. But not all objects came back—and, in some instances, were only partially returned. For example, Berlin has the head of one Renaissance bust, while its shoulders remain in Moscow.

Donatello’s Madonna with Cherubim (around 1440) after the fire. There are insufficient records to enable a full-color restorationStaatliche Museen zu Berlin, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst
With funding from the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, Berlin’s state museums are restoring 59 works that have been so severely damaged they could no longer be exhibited. For Martin Hoernes, the foundation’s general secretary, “restoration is more important than acquisitions”. He says: “If we were to buy works of this quality on the art market, then we would have to pay several times more than the amount we are investing in restoration—if they were even available.”

Hoernes declined to say how much money his foundation has allocated for the Berlin project, which is one of 240 programmes to receive funding from the Kunst auf Lager (Art in the Depot) initiative. Founded in 2014 and supported by 14 private and public foundations, the scheme has so far awarded more than €23m. The Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation is also funding a scholarly exchange between restorers in Berlin and their colleagues at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, who are facing many of the same problems with works that did not return to Berlin.

The Bode Museum workshop is reminiscent of an intensive care unit. Two standard-bearers by the Italian Renaissance sculptor Tullio Lombardo lie in fragments. When they were created for the mausoleum of a doge in a Venetian church in the 1490s, their youthful beauty and near-nudity sparked a scandal. Restorers aim to mount the sculptures on metal poles so that they can at least be presented vertically.

For the Donatello relief, restorers first removed an iron support frame that had been added by the Russians but which could have corroded the piece. They have repaired the damage to the ceramic’s surface and plan to retouch it. But Hofmann says they will not restore it to its full colors because the photograph does not provide an accurate enough record of the paint to allow replication. The piece is expected to go on display in 2019.

An alleged art swindle involving two Warhols, 6,800 miles, and a guy from Lynn



An alleged art swindle involving two Warhols, 6,800 miles, and a guy from Lynn


A Lynn man was charged in federal court in Boston Wednesday with an international art swindle involving two Andy Warhol paintings and spanning more than 6,800 miles, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

Brian R. Walshe, 43, was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint with one count of wire fraud. He was detained pending a probable cause and detention hearing scheduled for Friday, prosecutors said in a statement.

Authorities said Walshe took two authentic Warhol paintings from a South Korean man he met while they were students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh during the mid-1990s, then falsely offered those pieces on eBay.

When a Los Angeles art gallery owner who specializes in Warhol’s work agreed to buy the two pieces, Walshe delivered fake paintings, according to federal authorities.

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The two pieces in question are from the pop artist’s “Shadows” series, which are a collection of untitled, abstract, acrylic-on-canvas paintings from 1978.

In November 2016, the Los Angeles gallery owner, who was not identified, noticed the two works for sale on eBay, according to federal court documents.

The original listing price for the two pieces was $100,000 and the seller included photographs of the paintings, a picture of an invoice that included authentication numbers and a purchase price of $240,000.

The gallery owner thought the art was authentic and agreed to buy the works for $80,000, according to the attorney’s office. The gallery owner’s assistant flew to Boston, met Walshe at the Four Seasons Hotel and gave him a cashier’s check for $80,000, which Walshe deposited that day, federal authorities said.

The assistant, who was not identified, flew back to Los Angeles with what she thought were the paintings, according to the attorney’s office.

Once there, however, the gallery owner removed the frames and found there were no authentication stamps and that the canvasses and staples looked new. The buyer compared the paintings to the photographs from the eBay listing. “[T]hey did not look identical,” according to an FBI affidavit. He concluded that the paintings he bought from Walshe were not authentic Warhols, according to federal authorities.

The buyer then tried to contact Walshe, who initially did not respond, then stalled and gave excuses for delaying a refund, according to federal authorities.

It was not the first time Walshe went mum when it came to his alleged art dealings, according to the attorney’s office.

Walshe had previously told the true owner of the authentic Warhol paintings while he was visiting him in South Korea that he could sell some of his art. The man, who was not identified in court papers, agreed and allowed Walshe to take the two Shadow paintings and other fine art pieces.

An FBI affidavit suggests that the victim and Walshe were friends at one time; it mentions that Walshe often visited the victim in South Korea, staying for weeks at a time and that Walshe attended his wedding.

But after Walshe was allowed to take some of the man’s art, including the pair of Warhol paintings, two Keith Haring prints, a Warhol “Dollar Sign” print, and a porcelain statue from the Tang Dynasty, Walshe went silent and the South Korean man was unable to contact him, according to federal authorities.

Eventually, the victim contacted a friend who met with Walshe in Boston and retrieved some of the art, but not the two Warhol paintings.

Federal prosecutors said Walshe tried to consign the two Warhols to a gallery in New York City in 2011, but the gallery declined because he did not have a bill of sale.

“It is alleged that Walshe took the art from the victim, and falsely offered the authentic Warhol paintings for sale on eBay, but delivered fake paintings to the buyer,” said the attorney’s office in a statement.

Walshe made an initial appearance in federal court in Boston Wednesday, and prosecutors said he was detained pending a probable cause and detention hearing scheduled for Friday.

If found guilty of wire fraud, Walshe could face up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine up to $250,000, federal prosecutors said.

The investigation is ongoing, according to the attorney’s office.

These Art Museums Were the Sites of Dramatic Heists



These Art Museums Were the Sites of Dramatic Heists

Rachel Brown

If you’ve got a taste for unsolved mysteries and criminal capers, here are five world-class museums to visit.

The depth of a da Vinci. The luminance of a Vermeer. The vibrancy of a van Gogh. They’ve shaped the canon of Western art—and they’ve all been the center of sensational art thefts.

Though high-profile heists may seem the stuff of movies, art crime is actually a multi-billion-dollar business that often doubles as a money laundering front for international terrorist or organized crime groups.

To get a taste of the drama without the danger, visit these world-class museums that have been the site of art heists—some still unsolved.


louvre-paris-france.adapt.1900.1PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT HARDING PICTURE LIBRARY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE – The Louvre’s main entrance is illuminated at night. The world’s biggest art museum, the Louvre was robbed in 1911 when museum security was much laxer.

It might be hard to imagine a time before the Mona Lisa smiled enigmatically from a million souvenir mugs and pop culture references, but Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th-century masterpiece wasn’t always quite so famous. In fact, its 1911 theft from Paris’s Louvre Museum—and the well-publicized search that ensued—is largely responsible for its current notoriety.

The Louvre had hired handyman Vincenzo Peruggia to install protective glass cases over paintings including the Mona Lisa. Instead, he hid overnight in a closet and walked out of the door the next morning with the stolen painting under his smock. Despite being interviewed twice by police during the course of their investigation, Peruggia was not caught until 1913, when he tried to sell the painting to a Florentine art dealer.

mona-lisa-louvre.adapt.1900.1PHOTOGRAPH BY PIERRE ADENIS, LAIF/REDUX – Arguably the world’s most famous work of art, the ”Mona Lisa” is now displayed behind thick plexiglass and a wooden barrier to protect it from the 15,000 visitors who flock to the Louvre each day.

Today, the Mona Lisa is the main attraction at the world’s largest and most visited art museum. About 15,000 people visit the Louvre each day, so plan ahead. The museum recommends booking tickets in advance (though admission is free on the first Sunday of every month from October through March). If you’re looking to spot the Mona Lisa or other famous works, consider arriving before the museum opens to get a good spot in line—or choose to spend your time exploring the many amazing works that often go overlooked.


montreal-museum-of-fine-arts.adapt.1900.1PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GIRAL, ALAMY – The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was, in 1972, the site of the ”Skylight Caper:” Armed thieves rappelled through a skylight and made off with $2 million worth of paintings and jewelry.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has twice been robbed. In September 2011, and again in October, an unidentified thief stole two small stone sculptures which had been displayed without protective cases. One, a 2,500-year-old sandstone carving, was worth around $1 million—and turned up two years later in the home of an unsuspecting yoga instructor, who had bought it for $1,000. The other sculpture remains missing.

But the more dramatic of the two crimes was a 1972 midnight heist in which three armed robbers rappelled through a skylight, overpowered and tied up three guards, then made off on foot with 50 artworks, among them 18 renowned paintings.

The ensuing investigation—full of cryptic pay-phone messages, suspected ties to terrorists and organized crime, and a failed $10,000 ransom—is still unsolved. The “Skylight Caper” is Canada’s largest art theft: Initial losses were estimated at $2 million, though some art historians have estimated that the stolen paintings, including a Rembrandt, have since appreciated in value.

montreal-museum-of-fine-art-heist.adapt.676.1PHOTOGRAPH BY BETTMANN ARCHIVE, GETTY IMAGES – The MMFA’s then-Director of Public Relations examines photos of the 18 paintings stolen in the 1972 heist. Due to the dramatic method of entry, police suspected the thieves were experienced members of an international crime ring.

Despite the absence of its most famous items, the MMFA retains a collection of nearly 50,000 works. Located in Montreal’s historic downtown, the striking building doesn’t have a parking lot, so consider taking advantage of nearby public transportation.


mohammed-mahmoud-khalil-museum.adapt.1900.1PHOTOGRAPH BY KHALED DESOUKI, AFP/GETTY IMAGES – Named for a former Prime Minister of Egypt, the Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt—notable for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works—was robbed in 1978 and 2010.

Cairo’s Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum is another victim of double thefts—but in this case, of the same painting, a single-square-foot still life of poppy flowers painted by Vincent van Gogh.

van-gogh-poppy-flowers.adapt.710.1PHOTOGRAPH BY ART COLLECTION 2, ALAMY – Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh’s ”Poppy Flowers,” also known as ”Vase and Flowers,” was stolen twice from the Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum. Worth at least $50 million, it remains missing.

The work was first stolen in 1978 but was found two years later in Kuwait (though details of the case remain scarce). In 2010, the painting was cut from its frame, and though Egyptian officials erroneously announced its recovery hours later, the $50 million ”Poppy Flowers” remains missing. An inspection of the museum revealed that only seven security cameras and none of the fifty alarms were working, and 11 culture ministry employees were found guilty of negligence.

One of Egypt’s best museums, the Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum’s collection includes works by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists such as Auguste Renoir and Paul Gaugin. Round out any trip to Cairo with a visit to the museum, located on the banks of the Nile River a half hour’s drive from the Great Pyramids of Giza.


isabella-stewart-gardner-museum.adapt.1900.1PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID L RYAN, THE BOSTON GLOBE/GETTY IMAGES – Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is known as a “palace turned inside out” because of its beautiful courtyard. In 1990, the Gardner was robbed of 13 paintings worth a collective $500 million, the largest property theft in history. 

The 1990 Gardner Museum robbery is the granddaddy of the bunch. The 13 stolen works, including pieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and Manet, are worth a combined half-billion dollars, making it the single largest property theft in history.

At 1:24 in the morning on March 18, two men disguised as police officers—one with a wax moustache—buzzed at the door of the celebrated Boston museum, claiming they were responding to a disturbance. Once the security guard let them in, they handcuffed him and the other officer on duty. They spent the next 81 minutes collecting their loot, even making two trips to the car.

Though still being actively investigated, the case is unsolved—and no less dramatic than the original theft. After 38 years of disappearing evidence, ransom letters, coded messages in The Boston Globe, and midnight trips to warehouses have turned up no sign of the missing works, the reward for information leading to all the paintings’ safe return has been raised to $10 million.

isabella-gardner-heist.adapt.1900.1PHOTOGRAPH BY M. SCOTT BRAUER, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX – An empty frame marks the spot where Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” once hung in the Gardner. Vermeer’s “The Concert,” another painting stolen in the 1990 heist, is the world’s most expensive missing work of art, valued at over $200 million.

To mark the paintings’ absence—and await their hopeful return—the Gardner still displays the empty frames, a favorite shot for Instagramming visitors. Its world-renowned collection of historic and contemporary art is housed in a beautiful mansion in Boston’s Back Bay and its delightfully active Twitter feed shares information about programs and performances.


museum-of-fake-art.adapt.1900.1PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF ART FAKES – Vienna’s Fälscher museum (in English, the Museum of Art Fakes) displays forgeries of famous masterworks.

Vienna’s Fälscher museum has never been the scene of a crime. But on its walls hang works that, with the slightest change in attribution, would be crimes themselves.

Opened in 2005 to celebrate the odd history of forgery (and educate the public on how fraud can be stopped), the Museum of Art Fakes houses over 80 works by famous forgers like Han van Meegeren, whose imitation of Vermeer was once considered one of the Dutch master’s greatest pieces. Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse are some of the other heavyweights whose works inspired the imitations found here.

van-meegeren-fake-vermeer.adapt.885.1PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL FEARN, ALAMY – “The Procuress,” believed to be a forgery by Han van Meegeren, is one of the famous phonies on the walls of the Museum of Art Fakes.

Visitors to the tiny museum can try to spot telltale signs and “time bombs,” clues that a work isn’t what it seems. Just blocks from the Danube River, the museum can be found near the Hundertwasser House, an architectural oddity popular with tourists.


This man broke the museum’s no-touching rule, now police want help identifying him