“The Museum of Lost Art”: Examining the vulnerability of the world’s treasures


“The Museum of Lost Art”: Examining the vulnerability of the world’s treasures

Carolyn Riccardelli will never forget the day in 2002 when a sculpture named Adam took a terrible fall. The conservator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art says the 6-foot-3-inch “Adam” was gravely damaged after his plywood pedestal buckled.

“I went upstairs and I saw the sculpture in pieces all over the floor. … He was in 28 large pieces and hundreds of small pieces,” Riccardelli told CBS News’ Dana Jacobson.

“This is one of the most important sculptures from the early Renaissance. Certainly in the western hemisphere outside of Italy. And when something like this breaks, we couldn’t accept the loss,” she said.

“Adam” is one of the pieces author and art historian Noah Charney examined in his new book about the vulnerability of the world’s treasures, “The Museum of Lost Art.” How big would a museum of lost art be? Charney says “bigger than all the museums of the world combined.”

“It would have works by every artist you’ve heard of because there really isn’t an artist to exist who doesn’t have works that are lost,” Charney said.


Conservator Carolyn Riccardelli with the restored sculpture, “Adam.” – CBS NEWS


Some lost works are due to theft, like the 13 masterpieces snatched from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. The stolen art is valued at around half a billion dollars and included a Rembrandt and Vermeer.

“The theft from the Gardner museum took place on St. Patrick’s Day night. And two people dressed as policemen knocked on the employee entrance and against regulations the security guards that night let them in. The security guards were seized and tied up and gagged and put down in the basement and for about 40 minutes these two thieves went through the museum and they took 13 objects. They stomped on certain works of art that suggests that they were sort of oblivious to their value but they were very careful with others and those works have never been found again. It’s the big mystery there’s many detectives proactively looking for. There’s a $5 million reward if you happen to know where they are and it’s a thorn in the side of the FBI and the investigators because it’s been an open case for so long,” Charney said.

“Few people realize that art that has been called the third highest grossing criminal trade worldwide behind only the drug and arms trade. It’s absolutely enormous and by far the biggest problem is illicit trade in antiquities and that’s been highlighted in 2015 since it’s been overtly clear that ISIS was making a lot of money by selling looted antiquities. So it also funds terrorism. So whether or not you’re an art lover it’s important to take it seriously,” Charney said.

Long before ISIS, there were other wartime villains far worse, according to Charney.

“Napoleon, who was the first to organize a special unit of his army that was dedicated to stealing art and to require when you had an armistice signing him with him when he stopped shooting at you, you have to give him some of your art as payment.  But the Nazis were the biggest bad guys. An estimated five million cultural heritage objects changed hands inappropriately during the second World War and many thousands of them are still lost,” he said.

Others have been recovered, including some that were hidden in plain sight like Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. It was purchased for 45 pounds in 1958 but nearly 60 years later would become the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.


“Salvator Mundi” –  CBS NEWS


“It was sold for $450 million and that’s because it was misidentified as a 19th century pastiche based on a lost Leonardo and it was very dirty and had to be cleaned, provenance research had to be done to make sure it was the real thing. And then all of a sudden the value skyrockets and there are countless stories like this and each one is this beautiful shining diamond in the sand that you spot and you cross your fingers that it’s the real deal but it inspires hope that many of the works that we think are lost for good might be found again,” Charney said. “The problem is that a lot of luck is involved. So you can follow trails but so much of it is buried and has to be buried in organized archaeological expeditions or by chance which can happen sometimes and you have to stare very carefully at what’s hidden in your attic or in a dark corner of your house because you might just have something very precious there.”

Technology, like luck, can also play a role. Using the latest advancements in detection, works we never knew existed by artists like Goya, Picasso and Malevich have been uncovered.

“And one of the ways that they can find lost works is by using a different light spectra to look behind the surface of works of art and there’s these examples of very surprising discoveries like Kazimir Malevich black square which is one of the most famous paintings. Turns out there are two paintings buried underneath it and looking at it with special light spectra that lets you look beneath the surface allows you to not harm the painting itself but to see what’s lying beneath,” Charney said.

And for priceless pieces that suffer damage, like Adam, resurrection can be possible with years of painstaking work.

“The most credit has to go to the conservators not only for their technical skill but for the fact that they didn’t give up on something that was in hundreds of splinters where you might throw up your hands and say it’s a lost cause but now it looks as good as new,” Charney.


Jakarta’s Museum MACAN: No damaged Yayoi Kusama artworks, or special treatment for influencers



Jakarta’s Museum MACAN: No damaged Yayoi Kusama artworks, or special treatment for influencers

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition ‘Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow’ is currently on display at Museum MACAN in West Jakarta and will be open to the public until September 9. — Jakarta Globe pic

A director at Jakarta’s Museum MACAN said none of Yayoi Kusama’s artworks were damaged by visitors touching, moving or taking selfies with them, despite someone partially rubbing out one of her famous polka dots.

The Jakarta Globe previously ran an article that sparked a lot of debate about selfie-taking and damaged artworks at Museum MACAN.

However, during a meeting with museum director Aaron Seeto on May 24, he confirmed that no artworks had been damaged.

“I can confirm that no artworks had been damaged by visitors to the museum. What was reported was actually inaccurate and the images were posted by a volunteer, not a staff member,” he said.

He added that the photos, which he described as inaccurate and out of context, were not authorized by the museum.

The previous story, published on May 18, was based on a series of photos Amanda Aulia, a part-time staff member at Museum MACAN, posted on her Instagram account @amansaulia on May 17, showing damage to Kusama’s artworks.

“Unfortunately, I am not going to respond to the motives of another person, especially in distributing something that was not authorized by the museum,” Seeto said.

He went through some photos and explained the condition of the artworks.

Seeto said the partially erased polka dot was actually a replaceable sticker and that the museum had expected a huge turnout, so there was scheduled maintenance to replace those stickers.

“So the stickers in the image that was reported were actually replaceable, and that image was taken before our maintenance teams were able to go through,” he said.

Regarding one of the silver balls in Narcissus Garden, Seeto said it had been “dislodged” but that the artwork was not damaged.

Entang Wiharso’s plexiglass paintings in the Children’s Artspace, on the other hand, are allowed to be touched.

“In the children’s art space, Entang’s artwork is actually designed for young children to understand how artists create. So there are components kids may touch and again, from time to time we have to maintain the artwork. They are allowed to touch that work, so from time to time, we only need to change it,” he said.

He reiterated that the images that went viral on social media were taken and distributed by the volunteer before the scheduled maintenance could take place.

“I have a conservator on board. We do a daily review of the exhibition. We all have the planning in place, the planning is part of the design of the exhibition and the images you have seen are all of the works that have interactive elements. And we know that we have processes to maintain the artworks and these images were taken before our team was able to maintain the artwork.”

Museum director Aaron Seeto confirmed that no artworks had been damaged. — Jakarta Globe pic

Did influencers cause trouble?

The Jakarta Globe’s article originally featured two photos of Instagram influencers seen mistreating the artwork.


One was seen sitting on the kitchen counter in Obliteration Room. When writing the article, Museum MACAN communications officer Nina Hidayat told the Globe that sitting is only allowed in the chairs, because going to the room “is like visiting someone’s house.”

Seeto expressed a similar sentiment.

“They are able to sit on certain parts of the installation. We prefer people not to sit on the counters, but again, the artwork was not damaged.”

The other photo depicted a man leaning on one of Kusama’s pieces titled Dots Obsessions. The owner of the photo, who goes by the name Abi Shihab, clarified that he was not leaning on the artwork, as it is made from soft material and cannot support his weight.

He said he used his feet to support his body, and the lighting made it look like there was no distance between him and the artwork.

However, Seeto declined to specifically comment on this picture.

“Of course, there are things people can’t do and they are instructed not to do. Touching a certain element is not permitted and from time to time, people touch it and we prefer that they don’t. From time to time, people do touch artwork and we prefer that they do not and there are rules and guidelines in place for people to not to touch the works.

“I can’t comment on the picture and I think my response is very clear that no artworks were damaged here. Our team and visitors are also instructed on how to behave inside the museum but I am not commenting on the image,” he said.

Seeto said influencers do not get preferential treatment but prior to the public opening of the exhibition, there had been several previews to which members of the media, sponsors, influencers and MACAN Society members were invited. However, there are no different rules regarding their interaction with the artworks.

“During the preview days, we had all kinds of interested people coming to the exhibition. There were artists — young artists, established artists — curators, architects, fashion designers, media people so that the assumption that only influencers attended the exhibition is not actually the full picture,” he said.

He added that after an exhibition opened to the public, the museum welcomed people from all backgrounds. On weekends, they mostly dealt with families. The museum also hosted a sponsored school visit on the day of the interview.


Since the museum is open to everyone of any age, Seeto said there are protocols in place to protect artworks, such as selling timed tickets to limit visitor traffic, having 24-hour security, making sure that children are accompanied by adults, and only allowing phone cameras, except for accredited media.

“All of the exhibition design has been thought through very carefully to ensure that the flow of the audience past the artworks that allow participation is managed in a particular way,” Seeto said. — The Jakarta Globe

ICE and DOJ return Christopher Columbus letter to Spain



ICE and DOJ return Christopher Columbus letter to Spain

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) returned a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to Spain during an evening repatriation ceremony at the Residence of the Spanish Ambassador to the United States. The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and sold for approximately $1 million.

“I am pleased to be able to return a priceless piece of cultural property to its rightful owners,” said HSI Acting Deputy Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs. “I would like to thank Ambassador Morenés for his hospitality in hosting us tonight, HSI Wilmington, Madrid, Brasilia, and Paris for their excellent work on this investigation, as well as the tremendous assistance by our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Delaware, without whom today’s repatriation would not be possible,” Erichs added.

The return of the letter was the culmination of a seven-year investigation jointly conducted by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware.  It began in 2011 when HSI Wilmington (Del.) and the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office received a tip that several 15th century original manually printed copies of the Columbus Letter were stolen from European libraries and replaced with forgeries without the knowledge of library officials or local law enforcement. The investigation determined that the stolen Columbus Letter from Spain was sold in November 2005 for 600,000 Euros by two Italian book dealers.

“This evening ceremony is a showcase of the ties that bind the United States and Spain together,” said Ambassador of Spain to the United States Pedro Morenés. “The cooperation between Homeland Security Investigations and special units of the Guardia Civil has born great fruit in ensuring the return of stolen cultural property to Spain,” Ambassador Morenes added.

In June 2012, a subject matter expert, accompanied by an HSI Wilmington Special Agent, visited the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and reviewed the Columbus Letter in the possession of the library at which time it was determined, in coordination with Spanish authorities and with support from HSI Madrid that the letter at the library was a forgery.

In March 2013, it was discovered that the Columbus Letter believed to have been stolen from Barcelona was reportedly sold for 900,000 euros in June 2011. Following extensive negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, the individual in possession of the letter volunteered to transfer custody to HSI Special Agents, which was then brought to Wilmington, Delaware in February 2014 for further examination. In March 2014, a subject matter expert evaluated the letter and determined that the document was “beyond all doubt” the original stolen from the National Library of Catalonia. Additionally, other experts conducted a series of non-invasive digital imaging tests, which determined, among other things, the probable use of a chemical agent to bleach the ink of National Library of Catalonia’s stamp and that the paper fibers of the Catalonia Plannck II Columbus Letter had been disturbed from their original state where the stamps were previously located.

U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss stated, “The recovery of this Plannck II Columbus Letter on behalf of the Spanish government exemplifies not only the significance of federal agency partnerships in these complicated investigations but the close coordination that exists between American and foreign law enforcement agencies.  We are truly honored to return this historically important document back to Spain – its rightful owner.  I commend the dogged efforts of HSI special agents and Department of Justice attorneys who are dedicated to the recovery of stolen cultural artifacts from around the world.”

Today’s repatriation marks the second return of a Columbus letter by ICE, the most recent until now taking place in May 2016.

ICE has returned over 11,000 artifacts to over 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th-18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia, and two Baatar dinosaur fossils to Mongolia, ancient artifacts including a mummy’s hand to Egypt, royal seals valued at $1,500,000 to the Republic of Korea, and most recently, thousands of ancient artifacts to Iraq.

Learn more about ICE’s cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

Scans reveal newsprint, second painting under Picasso



Scans reveal newsprint, second painting under Picasso

Art researcher John Delaney sitting next to the original painting of “Mother and Child by the Sea” by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in 1902, during his research at Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture. (AFP PHOTO / Pola Museum of Art)

Infrared imaging technology has helped peel back the layers of a Pablo Picasso painting on display in Japan, and revealed a page from a 1902 newspaper and another composition below.

U.S. and Japanese researchers scanned the piece “Mother and Child by the Sea”, owned by the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, west of Tokyo, and uncovered a page of the French newspaper Le Journal from January 18, 1902.

“While the reason for the presence of newsprint in the paint layers is a mystery, the discovery is significant for Picasso scholars due to the proximity of the date to the artist’s move from Paris to Barcelona,” said the Washington-based National Gallery of Art, whose researcher John Delaney led the project in Japan.

Picasso is thought to have moved to the Spanish city in early January 1902, bringing a few canvasses with him, and the newspaper article revealed in the painting suggests the work was completed some time after his move.

The scan also provided clear images of an underlying painting of a woman sitting down next to an absinthe glass with a spoon in it.

Picasso frequently reused canvasses or incorporated previous sketches into a final work.

However, it was not immediately clear why the artist used a page from Le Journal, which he was known to have read frequently.

“It may have been used… to cover previous layers before he painted another layer or the final composition of the mother and child,” scientists said.

The section of newsprint brought readers news of parliamentary clashes in London and the creation of a new annual exhibition of painting and sculpture at the Automobile Club of France, a gentleman’s club in Paris.

German museum and auctioneer Im Kinsky tussle over looted glass goblet



German museum and auctioneer Im Kinsky tussle over looted glass goblet

Object was returned to consigner not museum from where it was looted at the end of Second World War



The goblet was stolen from Berlin’s Märkisches Museum at the end of the Second World War 

A multicoloured marbled glass goblet dating from around 1800, which was stolen at the end of the Second World War, is the subject of a dispute between the Vienna auction house Im Kinsky and Berlin’s Märkisches Museum.

The museum bought the goblet at auction in 1890 along with eight similar glass objects, all of which were looted in the chaos at the end of the war. Little was known about the goblet’s history until it was offered for sale at the Glasgalerie Michael Kovacek in 1990, according to Im Kinsky’s lawyer Ernst Ploil, on consignment for a German seller. The museum tried to recover the glass at that time, but Kovacek failed to stop the sale.

The goblet surfaced again this year at Im Kinsky in Vienna, where Kovacek and Ploil are managing partners. In the catalogue for the auction on 25 April, the provenance history included the brief description “Museum Berlin”.

At the request of Ulf Bischof, the Berlin lawyer representing the Märkisches Museum, Im Kinsky withdrew the goblet from the auction and returned it to the consignor. The museum then offered to pay a “finder’s reward” of €5,000 to avoid a legal battle but the consignor rejected the offer, saying he had another potential buyer who was offering €48,000.

“Our client is deeply concerned by this behaviour,” Bischof says. “It is unprecedented that an auction house knowingly accepts a stolen museum work on consignment and uses a cryptic ‘Museum Berlin’ provenance for advertising.

“Collectors as well as the museum community should be alerted to such questionable business practice.”

Bischof says the goblet was produced at Zechlinerhütte, a former glass-making centre in Rheinsberg, north of Berlin.

It is not known exactly how it came to be lost in the Second World War, but many Berlin museums stored their collections in bunkers and other bomb-proof locations to protect them from air raids. Some of these stored treasures were plundered by the Red Army; others were looted by ordinary German citizens.

Ploil argues that statutes of limitations would hinder any efforts by the museum to pursue its claim in court and that the previous buyers bought the goblet in good faith, thereby obtaining legal title.

“The fact that the goblet was previously in the museum was known, but no one knew it was stolen,” Ploil says. “Any restitution claim for this has expired.”

Bischof says that the Märkisches Museum still holds legal title. He insists that whoever buys it now cannot claim a good-faith purchase because the seller is aware of its tainted past. Any attempt to sell the goblet without informing the buyer in full of the ownership claim may be liable for fraud, he says.

Bischof also argues that even though the theft itself is time-barred under statutes of limitation, laws against concealing stolen goods are still applicable. He has informed Austrian law enforcers.

Court upholds Italian art dealer’s conviction over rare church murals



Court upholds Italian art dealer’s conviction over rare church murals


An Athens appeals court has upheld an 11-year sentence against a Sicilian art and antiquities dealer convicted over the theft four decades ago of four rare murals from an Early Christian rural church in Steni on Evia.

Gianfranco Becchina, who is now 80 years old, was not present at Friday’s hearing in Athens, but his lawyer told the court that her client, being an expert in antiquities, was unaware of the murals’ importance and had no role in their theft. Judges rejected the appeal, upholding a conviction against Becchina on charges of receiving stolen goods.

The case dates to 1978, when a known thief from Pyrgos in the northwestern Peloponnese broke into the Church of Palaiopanaghias and chiseled off four 16th century paintings of the saints Ermolaos, Nikitas, Makarios of Egypt and Nestor, causing extensive damage to the interior of the listed monument. The man was sentenced to life in prison in 1984 over a string of unrelated thefts, but the four murals remained missing for years until they were discovered in 2001 during an investigation into a gallery in Basel, Switzerland, run by Becchina and his wife, Ursula Juraschek.

There, Swiss authorities discovered a trove of stolen Italian antiquities, as well as the four Greek paintings that are believed to belong to the so-called School of Thebes movement.

The paintings were repatriated to Greece in 2010 and are now on display the Byzantine Museum in Athens. Their total value has been estimated in the range of 160,000 euros.

Court dismisses claim that Norval Morrisseau painting is fake



Court dismisses claim that Norval Morrisseau painting is fake

Court heard testimony about a Thunder Bay-area fraud ring
Spirit Energy of Mother Earth – Norval Morrisseau

TORONTO —  In a case that has been watched closely by the art world, a Superior Court justice has ruled that, “from the law’s point of view,” a painting sold by an Ontario art gallery to Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies is “a real Norval Morrisseau painting.”

The judge also found that the evidence he heard did not “in any conclusive way” connect Spirit Energy of Mother Earth to an alleged fraud ring in the Thunder Bay area that produced Morrisseau fakes.

“Counsel for Hearn went to considerable effort in gathering evidence and calling witnesses to establish that a group of fraudsters worked for a number of years in northwest Ontario, and that as a consequence of their prolific activities a substantial number of Morrisseau forgeries exist,” Justice E.M. Morgan noted in his Reasons for Judgment, issued last month.

He noted, however, that “no witness identified this particular painting as having been produced by a member of the northern Ontario-based criminal enterprise.”

Hearn, keyboardist with the Barenaked Ladies band, sued Toronto’s Maslak-McLeod Gallery, alleging the work he bought in 2005 was counterfeit.

During the civil trial that concluded in February, the court heard from an art expert who has studied Morrisseau’s work extensively. She concluded the piece was an imitation as it contained numerous elements that were different from Morrisseau’s standard approaches.

However, an expert in handwriting analysis testified that, with “reasonable certainty,” he believed Morrisseau’s signature on the painting was authentic.

In his written Reasons for Judgment, issued on May 24, Justice Morgan noted how some of the testimony illustrated “the most fundamental problem in attempting to authenticate a purported Norval Morrisseau painting: there is more than one Morrisseau, or more than one Morrisseau style, that can emerge or submerge at any time.”

The judge said Spirit Energy of Mother Earth—is one more painting “that is possibly an authentic Norval Morrisseau and possibly not. As a matter of law, what is important is that a tie goes to the Defendants. Where a court is left in doubt because the relevant burden of proof has not been satisfied, the ‘fact’ sought to be proved is in law not true.”

Morrissesau, born in 1932 on the Sand Point Reserve near Beardmore, is credited with originating the Woodland School of Indigenous art.

He died in 2007.

Stolen £1m Stanley Spencer painting returned to owners after being found under drug dealer’s bed



Stolen £1m Stanley Spencer painting returned to owners after being found under drug dealer’s bed

The work by renowned British artist Stanley Spencer was discovered next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets.

Harry Fisher – The stolen £1m Cookham from Englefield painting was found in flat

A stolen Sir Stanley Spencer painting worth £1m has been returned to its owners after it was found under a drug dealer’s bed.

The valuable work, titled Cookham from Englefield, was stolen from the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Berkshire, in 2012.

It was missing for five years until detectives arrested Harry Fisher, 28, after they stopped a Mercedes in Strood, Kent, last June, and found one kilogram of cocaine and £30,000 in cash.

Officers later discovered the artwork next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets under a bed during a raid of Fisher’s flat in Kingston-Upon-Thames, south west London.

A search of Fisher’s family home in nearby Fulham turned up more class A drugs, with the total haul worth up to £450,000.

The owners of the Stanley Spencer work, who were said to be “devastated” by the 2012 raid, have now finally been reunited with the painting.

Arts minister Michael Ellis said: “Spencer is one our most renowned painters and a true great of the 20th century.

“It is wonderful that this story has had a happy ending and the painting has been returned to its rightful owners.”

Zak Lal was also jailed for more than five years

Detective constable Sophie Hayes said the Met’s art and antiques unit was “delighted to assist with the recovery and return of this important painting”.

She added: “The circumstances of its recovery underline the links between cultural heritage crime and wider criminality.”

Fisher was jailed for eight years after being sentenced at Kingston Crown Court.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs, acquiring criminal property and handling stolen goods.

A passenger in his vehicle, Zak Lal, 32, of Strood, Rochester, was also jailed for five years and eight months after admitting conspiracy to supply class A drugs, acquiring criminal property and possession of an offensive weapon at the same hearing.

A search of Lal’s family address revealed £2,000 in cash and a number of disposable mobile phones.

Stolen £1m Stanley Spencer painting found next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets



Stolen £1m Stanley Spencer painting found next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets

‘The circumstances of its recovery underline the links between cultural heritage crime and wider criminality’

Mattha Busby – Jun 4, 2018

Stanley Spencer
Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham

Six years ago a painting worth £1m was stolen from a gallery in Berkshire and its “devastated” owners feared they would never see it again.

The artwork has since been returned after police found it under a bed next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets.

‘Cookham from Englefield’ the work by Sir Stanley Spencer, was taken from the Stanley Spencer Gallery in 2012.

Cookham from Englefield

Its whereabouts remained a mystery until police arrested Harry Fisher, 28, in June last year when they searched his west London flat after finding a kilogram of cocaine and £30,000 in cash in his Mercedes.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the painting’s owners, who were “devastated” at the loss, were reunited with the artwork last month.

Graphic designer Susan Elsden had lent the piece – commissioned by her grandfather, a friend of Spencer – to the gallery in the 1990s.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis said: “Spencer is one our most renowned painters and a true great of the 20th century. It is wonderful that this story has had a happy ending and the painting has been returned to its rightful owners.”

Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of the Metropolitan Police’s art and antiques unit, said: “The art and antiques unit was delighted to assist with the recovery and return of this important painting.

“The circumstances of its recovery underline the links between cultural heritage crime and wider criminality.

“The fact that the painting was stolen five years before it was recovered did not hinder a prosecution for handling stolen goods, demonstrating the Met will pursue these matters wherever possible, no matter how much time has elapsed.”

Described by the Stanley Spencer Gallery gallery as “undoubtedly one of our greatest British artists”, Sir Spencer often used the Berkshire village of his birth, Cookham, as inspiration for his work during a 45-year career.

He died in 1959, the same year he was knighted.

Sir Spencer is considered as a master of 20th-century British art and is well known for vivid recreations of his Berkshire home.

According to a cache of love letters released in 2016, his private life was as colourful as his paintings.

Art history is littered with occasions of theft, but stolen paintings quite often manage to find their way home somehow.

In 1911, in perhaps the most notorious art theft of the 20th century, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was stolen by a worker who had been hired to install protective glass at the Louvre.

Vincenzo Preuggia made off with the masterpiece hidden under his coat. He later attempted to justify the crime as an act of patriotism, after he had returned the painting to Italy and tried to sell it to the director of a major gallery in Florence. He was jailed for seven months.

In 2003, £4m worth of artworks by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Gauguin were stolen in an audacious heist from Manchester’s Whitworth art gallery.

The artworks were found three days later rolled up in a derelict public toilet with a note that claimed: “The intention was not to steal. Only to highlight the woeful security.”


Stolen Spencer masterpiece returned to owners



PRESS RELEASE – Jun 3, 2018

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Arts Council England

Stolen Spencer masterpiece returned to owners

A valuable painting by one of England’s greatest 20th-century artists has been returned to its owners five years after it was stolen from a gallery.

Cookham from Englefield by Sir Stanley Spencer was on loan to the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham in 2012 when thieves broke in through a window and removed it.

The owners said they were devastated at the loss of the painting, which was of great sentimental value.

However, they were compensated for the loss of the painting by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport under the Government Indemnity Scheme. The scheme provides UK museums and galleries with an alternative to commercial insurance, which can be costly. It allows organizations to display art and objects that they might not have been able to borrow due to high insurance costs.

Five years after the theft of Cookham from Englefield, police discovered the painting hidden under a bed during a drugs raid on a property in West London.

A 28-year-old man was sentenced at Kingston Crown Court in October after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs and acquiring criminal property. He also admitted a charge of handling stolen goods. Last month the owners were finally reunited with their painting

Arts Minister Michael Ellis said:

Spencer is one our most renowned painters and a true great of the 20th century. It is wonderful that this story has had a happy ending and the painting has been returned to its rightful owners.

This has been made possible because of the Government Indemnity Scheme. It exists to protect owners when lending their works to public galleries. Without it there would be fewer world class pieces on display across the country for people to enjoy.

Detective Inspector Brian Hobbs, of the Met’s Organised Crime Command, said:

I am pleased to say that the painting has now been returned to its owners. The seizure of the painting was the result of proactive investigation by the Organised Crime Command, which resulted in a significant custodial sentence for the defendant found in possession of the painting.

Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit, said:

The Art and Antiques Unit was delighted to assist with the recovery and return of this important painting. The circumstances of its recovery underline the links between cultural heritage crime and wider criminality. The fact that the painting was stolen five years before it was recovered did not hinder a prosecution for handling stolen goods, demonstrating the Met will pursue these matters wherever possible, no matter how much time has elapsed.

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959) was an English painter known for his works depicting Biblical scenes of his birth place Cookham. He is one of the most important artists of the 20th century and during the Second World War was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee.

It is estimated that the Government Indemnity Scheme saves UK museums and galleries £14 million a year. In the last ten years of the scheme, only 12 claims for damage and loss have been received. This incident is the first one where an item covered by the Scheme has been stolen and successfully returned to its original owners. In line with the rules of the Government Indemnity Scheme for return of the painting, the owners repaid the amount they had received in settlement of the claim minus the cost of repairs and depreciation.

Notes to editors:

  • The Government Indemnity Scheme is administered by Arts Council England on behalf of DCMS.
  • In the event of loss or damage to an object or work covered by the scheme, the government compensates the owners.