What’s the motive for museum thefts?



What’s the motive for museum thefts?

James Ratcliffe – May 30, 2018
Gold reliquary containing Anne of Brittany’s heart. Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Two recent museum thefts can be taken to illustrate the thinking behind such crimes. One, in Nantes, saw thieves snatch a 16th-century solid gold reliquary containing the preserved heart of a French queen from the Thomas-Dobrée museum. The other, in Bath, involved the theft of Chinese jade and gold from the Museum of East Asian Art.

The Nantes theft was carried out in the night between 13 and 14 April, with the thieves breaking in through a window. Although the loss of the heart of Anne of Brittany, which had only gone back on display on the Tuesday of the preceding week, attracted the majority of attention, the thieves also took a range of gold coins and medals and a gilt sculpture of a Hindu deity – the latter presumably in the mistaken belief that it too was gold. This theft appears to be a prime example of opportunism. The return to display of the reliquary presumably drew the attention of the thieves and they then took the first available opportunity to take it, and other items that appeared valuable to them at the same time. Little planning was presumably carried out if amongst their haul of gold was a gilt sculpture of far lower financial value. The fact that the reliquary was subsequently buried just outside Saint Nazaire (a nearby town), from where it was recovered after police were led to it following two arrests, indicates that it is unlikely that the thieves had thought beyond the initial ‘smash and grab’ element of their crime and had not considered how to dispose of their haul.

In contrast – although superficially similar in that the thieves broke in through a window during the early hours of the morning – the theft from the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath on 17 April appears to have been highly targeted. The pieces taken seem to have been selected based on their quality and cultural significance, rather than simply their material, which ranged from jade to soapstone to zitan wood, or obvious financial value. The thieves made their selection of objects rapidly and fled the scene in under five minutes before the police could arrive, indicating that significant planning must have gone into the robbery. Again in contrast to the Nantes theft, as yet it appears that none of the material stolen has been recovered, nor have any arrests been made.

This is not the first time that a European museum has suffered from what appears to be a targeted theft of Chinese material. Similar thefts have taken place over the last decade in Durham, at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, and at the Château de Fontainebleau. This kind of crime appears to be carried out with a specific view to then selling the pieces stolen to the Chinese market where it is relatively easy to find a buyer, and the chances of a piece being identified are far lower than if it were offered to the Western art market.

Sadly, museums are particularly vulnerable to targeted thefts such as this. Their very nature, with publicly listed catalogues of their collections (the full collection of the Museum of East Asian Art is available online), and outreach programs to ensure that people are aware of their existence and holdings, means that for those who are seeking particular types of item and are prepared to secure them through illicit means they are almost a shop window for criminals. It is essential that museums resist the temptation to keep their collections private, but their public nature does mean that it is also essential to factor in security when planning exhibitions, building works, and storage.

Equally, museums remain vulnerable to opportunistic theft of pieces on display such as appears to have been the case in Nantes. It is rare, but criminals see the pieces within museums as valuable, and thus worth stealing if an opportunity to do so arises. As in this case though, they rarely have a plan for how to turn that value into cash, and thus end up hiding the items when it becomes clear that they are not as easy to fence as they might have hoped.

Ultimately, for the general public, historians, and museums themselves, the outcomes of these thefts are often sadly indistinguishable: the loss of items integral to their collections. Tackling museum theft is dependent upon financial resources for security and policing, but for museums, especially those with lower budgets, an increased awareness of the types of items likely to be liable to targeted theft, and of the risks of opportunistic theft prompted by publicity, is well worth keeping in mind.

James Ratcliffe is director of recoveries & general counsel at the Art Loss Register, London.

Common art exhibition rules and why you should obey them



Common art exhibition rules and why you should obey them

THE JAKARTA POST  May 19, 2018
Dots Obsession (2009) by Yayoi Kusama (Illustration) (JP/File)

Keep your hands off the artworks

Unless it’s an interactive art exhibition where you can touch and feel the artwork, you had better keep your hands off the artist’s work. Several art galleries don’t apply a borderline between the artworks and visitors, but this does not mean visitors can touch the artworks. Moisture and bacteria from your fingers could ruin the artwork.

Leave your selfie stick at home

Major art galleries and exhibitions around the world don’t allow their visitors to bring selfie sticks. While it is tempting to take selfies with famous artworks, refrain from using selfie sticks as it may damage the artworks and disturb other visitors.

No flash 

The flash from your camera is strictly banned in art exhibitions. Overexposure of lights may damage artworks as it may change their colors.

Be considerate of others when taking photos

Taking selfies is allowed in museums, however, don’t hog an artwork as a background for your selfie for a long time. Be aware that there are other people who also want to enjoy the artwork. Several museums have even set a time limit for those who want to take a picture with an artwork.

No professional camera allowed

Some art exhibitions ban visitors from taking pictures using professional cameras, especially in painting exhibitions as this puts the artworks at risk of being duplicated.

No food and drinks in the art space

Bringing food and drinks into the exhibition space will disturb others, and will also put the artworks at risk. Have a nice meal before you go to an art exhibition, and enjoy the artworks comfortably afterward.

Take note of age limitations

Some art exhibitions have strict age restrictions, with security and comfort in mind. Be considerate to other visitors by complying with this rule.

Artworks are not only for selfie backgrounds

Art exhibitions are held to educate the public about artworks. Each of the artworks displayed has its own story and meaning that the artist has tried to convey. Try to read the information about the artwork, observe and attempt to understand the correlation between the artwork’s form and its meaning. For those who upload photos of artworks to social media, do not forget to always credit the artists, as a form of appreciation.

Art prices at ‘obscene’ levels as Chinese join high-spending elite



Art prices at ‘obscene’ levels as Chinese join high-spending elite

Fine art is almost always a good bet for the super-rich, but it’s worth remembering that the $157m paid for a Modigliani last week could have supported 10,000 budding artists for a year

Richard PartingtonMay 19, 2018


Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) by Amedeo Modigliani, sold at Sotheby’s in New York for more than $157m. Photograph: AP


When even the experts are warning that prices for works of art have become obscene, it is probably time to run a dispassionate eye over the multimillion-dollar frenzy for certain works.

Last week, Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) by Amedeo Modigliani sold to an unnamed buyer for $157m, and a new record was set for a David Hockney painting when Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica was bought for $28.5m.

Clare McAndrew of consultancy Arts Economics says: “It’s slightly obscene, isn’t it? When you think of the other artists who could be supported by that money.” She adds that the Modigliani transaction is an illustration of the wealthy elite’s predilection for untamed spending: “To spend money on one thing like that shows ultra-wealth gone wild.”

The price reached at the Modigliani auction reflects the state of the world economy, says McAndrew, who also compiles an annual study of the global art market with Art Basel and Swiss bank UBS. Stronger growth is fueling the market, spiraling prices reflect rising rampant and rising inequality across advanced economies.

The art market broadly matched the growth rate of the global economy between 2000 and 2017, according to the latest Art Basel and UBS report, with world GDP and wealth both rising last year. Even so, some paintings are so famous they can fetch dizzyingly high prices when the economy is in a downturn.

Simple economics suggest the price of an artwork is determined by how much a buyer is prepared to spend and what a seller would accept. The cold equation of supply and demand also means the death of an artist – immediately limiting their output – raises the value of their work.

But unlike widgets, whose value can be calculated by looking at rates of production and demand from consumers, there are myriad intangibles in the world of art. Any price tag at all can seem jarring for a creative medium where consumption is an issue of taste, not necessity, and the motive for the work is, ideally, creative expression, not financial gain.

Obviously, some artists play the market. Purists have objected to Damien Hirst’s production-line techniques, and Andy Warhol turned the idea of authenticity upside down with his screen prints. Yet works by both artists have retained their value. Gustav Metzger, who died aged 90 last year, was revered for his auto-destructive art: he sprayed acid on canvas to cause damage over time, defying the notion of long-term commercial value.

For the most famous artists, the sums can be huge. With its $450m price tag six months ago, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi remains the most expensive painting ever sold. Thirteen Picassos were bought for $155m over two days in February by one art consultancy, while the overall value of global fine-art sales rose by 12% to $63.7bn last year.

Experts say the finest works rarely come up for sale, yet demand is increasing as newly wealthy Chinese buyers compete with financiers and Saudi sheiks.

“Scarcity rules,” says McAndrew. “People are always waiting in the wings. It can be 30 years before a painting comes up and some never turn around in people’s lifetimes.”

Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), painted in 1917, three years before Modigliani’s death at 35, is one of the Italian painter’s largest works, and one of only five of his nudes ever to come up for auction. It was last sold in 2003, for $26.9m – reportedly to the Irish horse breeder John Magnier at Christie’s.

This would appear to make fine art a surefire winner for wealthy investors. But the market has crashed before, most spectacularly after Japanese buyers acquired half of all the impressionist art put on the market in 1990. The bubble burst a year later when Japan’s economy crashed after an unsustainable property boom.

Today, hedge fund billionaires and wealthy Asian investors trade canvases like stocks, bonds or commodities – mirroring a trend for the hoarding of fine wines, where crates of vintage red can be left unopened for decades, then sold at higher prices.

Mega sales may boost egos in the City but the Modigliani sale alone could put at least 10,000 students through a year of art school in the UK.

Andrew Renton, professor of curating at Goldsmiths University, agrees that the money could be put to better use elsewhere. “There are impossible amounts of money to be made in the world today. It can be used for good, or in a lot of very interesting ways. Culture is a good use, but I also think putting £1bn into curing cancer is also good.”

WA Art Gallery’s $300m collection at risk of damage, damning auditor-general report finds



WA Art Gallery’s $300m collection at risk of damage, damning auditor-general report finds

The WA Art Gallery lacks space to store its works appropriately, the report found. (ABC News: Louise Merrillees)

Western Australia’s $300 million state art collection is at risk of damage or loss thanks to a lack of storage space and appropriate conservation, an auditor-general’s report has found.

The report, released today by acting auditor-general Sandra Labuschange, said the collection was at risk because of “storage, conservation, and monitoring issues”.

It found the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), which manages the collection, does not know where all its works are stored nor what condition they are in.

This is because its database is poorly documented, key records are incomplete and there has been no stocktake since 2010.

But AGWA director and chief executive Dr. Stefano Carboni said there were only 10 items out of the near-18,000 works that did not have a location recorded in the database.

The report also noted problems with storage.

“AGWA struggles to balance its responsibilities to grow and also preserve the state’s $300 million art collection,” the report stated.

“A significant shortage of appropriate storage space places artworks at risk of damage from not being stored in line with industry standards, and limits access to the collection for conservation work and public engagement.”

Auditors observed full storage shelves and artworks stored in almost every aisle and walkway. (Supplied: Office of the Auditor-General WA)

The report found many examples of overcrowded storage areas and art being stored in aisles and walkways.

“AGWA does not have a plan to ensure all artworks are conserved, with conservation almost entirely focused on the small part of the collection going on display each year.”

Ms. Labuschange said the findings were a serious concern.

“We have a $300 million asset of the state which isn’t being properly conserved and looked after,” she said.

“Generally, people tend to down play this type of asset because it’s art, but if we had a public building in that same condition we would not be happy.”

She said the report did not consider any works that may have been damaged as a result of storage management.

No artworks damaged, the director says

Dr. Carboni said he accepted the findings in a “general way”, especially the issue of storage, which he said he had been reporting for years to the board and the State Government.

“This is not new,” Dr. Carboni said.

“I am not aware of any museum that doesn’t have storage issues, the database is always a difficult beast.

“We are trying to contain, as much as possible, the risk that’s associated with having crammed spaces in storage.”

Dr. Carboni said no artworks had been damaged or were “at risk” currently because only specialized people could access the storage areas.

“We do the best to minimize the risk and I certainly don’t have to report any damage to the works that has happened in recent times.”

Dr. Carboni said the audit was a good opportunity to push for improvements, especially with the storage issue.

‘Fixing the issues will not be easy’

The collection is kept almost entirely at the AGWA building at the Perth Cultural Centre.

It is home to almost 18,000 works from WA, Australia, and international artists.

The audit report identified 99 artworks that needed treatment more than seven years ago.

It is unclear whether these works have been treated.

“Establishing a plan is particularly important given the limited resources AGWA has available to carry out this work,” the report found.

The report praised the way the gallery had attracted visitors over the years but said more needed to be done to reach a regional WA audience.

A number of recommendations were made, including fixing the lack of storage space, making artwork more accessible and steps to better manage and maintain the location and condition of the collection.

“While fixing the issues will not be easy in a time of restrained government spending, the AGWA staff we met showed a dedication and passion to finding ways to address the issues,” Ms. Labuschange said.

Art Gallery of WA
The Art Gallery has admitted it has some “critical” issues to address. (Matthew Perkins: ABC Local Radio)

Gallery recognizes ‘critical’ problems

In its reply, AGWA accepted the findings on the need to improve the care and management of the collection, and the need to broaden its access.

It said it recognized the “critical” need for additional storage and was working with the Government to find a “speedy” offsite solution.

AGWA said there was scope to improve its recordkeeping and it was working to implement improvements to its system.

It said it was working to develop an improved stocktake system and “control” of artworks by June 2019.

“AGWA will also develop a multi-year project as part of its conservation program to implement a safe tagging and external tracking system,” a spokesman said

AGWA said it was working on a three-year pilot program to tour “more high-quality visual arts exhibitions” to regional communities.

Crew conserving art



Crew conserving art



Helen Robertson speaking at the Art at Sea Symposium


It will come as no surprise that priceless pieces of art, from sculptures to paintings, feature in many yacht’s collections. Are owners aware that their precious works on board – in some cases, collections that out value the vessel they are placed on – may be depreciating rapidly due to improper care? At last month’s Art at Sea Symposium, much of the conversation centered on the fact that many crews may not be equipped with the knowledge to properly care for the art on board.

There are many elements that can impact an artwork’s condition; the layout of a yacht (the artwork’s proximity to a window with excessive light levels, for example), the temperature, the levels of humidity, vibration and the possibility of encountering water or pollutants. Helen Robertson, senior object and preventive conservator at the National Maritime Museum, spoke to SuperyachtNews to discuss the importance of educating crew about conservation techniques. Robertson, who worked as a chief stewardess for over a decade, first became interested in conservation when she felt obligated to speak to the yacht’s owner after noticing a piece of art deteriorating. “I knew that something was wrong, that the designer didn’t want to change the look and nobody else was going to step in and do anything about it. The last resort was going to the owner and try to explain what was happening.”

Robertson explains that these works of art are often (evidently) aesthetically appreciated by the owners, but also monetarily valued. This, she recalls, was the most effective way to ensure that the piece of art was correctly cared for and repositioned. “The realization that the artwork was effectively being destroyed was enough to make him move it. He didn’t think about it until it was pointed out from a realistic, financial investment point of view that he actually did something. He loved the work, but he didn’t understand necessarily what was happening to it and the damage being done.”

“The realization that the artwork was effectively being destroyed was enough to make him move it. He didn’t think about it until it was pointed out from a realistic, financial investment point of view that he actually did something. He loved the work, but he didn’t understand necessarily what was happening to it and the damage being done.”

The thought-process behind the placement and care of artwork varies between each project. Some owners (and their designers) begin a yacht’s design with the pieces at the forefront of their minds, whereas others do not consider it so carefully. Robertson’s experience on one vessel – where the art was being compromised – encouraged her to do some of her own research on best practices. “Early in my stewardessing days, I worked on one boat that had a sizeable collection but its care was an afterthought. So, that led me to discover the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping to learn more,” she remarks.

The interior crew of a superyacht is trained to an incredibly high level, but the care of art is not often something that is known on board. “I realized that, from a housekeeping point of view, we were trained to clean and to be well-presented, but not necessarily trained to care and conserve. Therefore, finding that manual really helped me understand a bit more, of what was going on, especially with elements that I couldn’t see, and to introduce different practices.”

An appreciation of art and an understanding of the artist’s intent is also important. She recalls an incident where a junior stewardess attempted to pick off original painted cornflakes from a Basquiat painting, potentially ruining it. Another story involved a captain removing the ‘packaging’ from a priceless Christo, where the wrapping was a core part of the artwork itself.

The prevalence of discretion is an issue that is often encountered in the yachting industry, as many owners do not wish – for personal and security reasons – the world to know which artworks are on board. However, this can raise concerns when it comes to artworks that occupy a significance in cultural heritage. Conservators or art experts are often called in at late notice, or when the damage has already been inflicted on a certain piece. If damage does occur, the crew can be reticent to report any harm caused to the piece for fear of repercussions. Further, owners could also fear that damage reported could negatively impact any value of the artwork.

Robertson recommends that yacht has a comprehensive, central management system that details all the artworks on board, their current condition, ownership, and customs status and best methods to care for them. Another method to reduce any potential damage is for each yacht to have an ‘art officer’; a nominated crew member who understands the importance of using the correct materials on board. However, Robertson cites high crew turnover as an issue that yachts could encounter, suggesting that the management company take on this role or external specialist support is sought. “To place that role on an individual on board is hard, especially considering the specialist knowledge required… I know from my time as a stewardess, being crew is a full-time job and adding an extra layer of high-risk responsibility on that is not necessarily fair. Also, you don’t know how long they are going to be on board for… Where does that information go? Is it passed on?”

To combat the issues faced, and to encourage more in the industry to understand how vital it is to understand conservation of pieces on board, Robertson will be working with Pandora Mather-Lees (founder of Pandora Art Services and co-organizer of the Art at Sea Symposium) to develop training courses for the crew. Conservation of artwork and its impact on yacht’s designs and systems will be discussed in detail in the next issue of The Crew Report.

Former Sedalian confesses to museum theft of Civil War antiques


Former Sedalian confesses to museum theft of Civil War antiques

Nuria Martinez-Keel – Apr 4, 2018

Terry J. Cockrell

On March 24, museum co-curator Charles Wise reported several Civil War era items were missing, including a cap and ball musket rifle, a sword, a surgical kit, and a brass-barrel Blunderbuss firearm. The items have a value of several thousand dollars, meaning Cockrell’s charge could reach felony status.

After an internet search, Wise found a Tennessee Civil War collector, Rafael Eledge, had the missing items displayed on his website. Eledge provided documents from his purchase of the antiques that tied Cockrell to the theft, according to the press release.

Cockrell reportedly told Green he stole the items and sold them to the collector. Eledge, who had no knowledge the items were stolen, purchased the antiques in June and has since resold them to buyers across the country.

Artwork in Baylor’s Old Main removed after thefts


Artwork in Baylor’s Old Main removed after thefts



Adrienne Harris, a Baylor University associate professor of Russian, holds “Bogatyrs,” an art print that was stolen from Old Main, then returned.

Three incidents of artwork theft from a Baylor University academic building prompted the department of modern languages and cultures to remove more than 90 replica paintings from its walls.

Although two of the three pieces were anonymously returned this weekend, Baylor officials are unlikely to reset the aesthetic in the historic Old Main without heightened security.

The first painting was reported missing in January 2017, and another went missing in December, university spokeswoman Tonya Hudson said. A third was reported missing March 28.

Hudson said the second and third stolen paintings were left propped up against an exterior door to Old Main on Sunday, but Baylor police do not know who took or returned them. The stolen property is worth less than $1,000, and police are still searching for the first piece.

The crimes would likely be Class B misdemeanor theft of property.

A sign in Old Main at Baylor University notifies students the artwork has been taken down because of a third theft in the last 14 months. Two of the stolen pieces have been returned, and officials are considering new security measures before returning the art to the walls.

The department’s interim chair, Michael Long, said each piece in the building corresponded with faculty members’ areas of study. The artwork is now stored in an undisclosed location.

“It’s very dramatic to walk in and suddenly see bare wall when there was always something that would catch your eye,” Long said. “It’s a very striking contrast.”

Long said he has discussed security enhancements with Baylor police. By the fall semester, the school may install cameras and anchor the prints to the wall, he said.

Officials also said news reports about the thefts, including a Baylor Lariat article published on Thursday, may have motivated someone to return the prints.

A replica of the 1898 painting, “Bogatyrs,” by Viktor Vasnetsov, was taken from Old Main at Baylor University but returned on Sunday.

One of the stolen pictures returned Sunday was a print of “Bogatyrs,” a depiction of three knights by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov created in 1898. Adrienne Harris, an associate professor of Russian, said her students were upset to learn the piece had been taken. The thief or thieves were probably unaware of its cultural significance, she said.

“The painting itself is part of the national revival of the 19th century when Russian artists and authors were very much interested in folklore,” Harris said.

Judge delves into the ugly business of art crime


Judge delves into the ugly business of art crime


Judge Arthur Tompkins has become a world-leading authority on art crime.

Stealing beautiful art is an ugly business.

That’s according to Judge Arthur Tompkins who, by day, presides over cases in the District Court – everything from criminal to civil suits – but, in his spare time, turns his attention to art. More specifically, art crime.

In the past decade, Tompkins has become a leading authority on crimes involving artistic masterpieces. He co-founded the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, travels to Italy each June to teach the Art in War component of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) annual postgraduate programme and has contributed to and edited books about art crime.

His own book, Plundering Beauty, will be launched in New Zealand this month. It’s subtitled A History of Art Crime During War, reflecting his area of interest. Based on his lecture notes, the book covers 2000 years of wartime art crimes, from classical antiquity through to contemporary conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In many conflicts – the Crusades, the Thirty Years’ War, Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, and World I and II – art has been stolen or destroyed, becoming a weapon in the wider fight for hearts and minds.

Tompkins says art is part of the shared heritage of humankind and to take it, desecrate or destroy it – as the Taliban did with the Buddhas of Bamiyan – is to strike at the very heart of a culture and what it may hold sacred.

“When you destroy something, it can be a signal to go ahead and destroy a whole culture.”

Outside wartime, he says a belief has developed that the perpetrators of art crime are urbane thieves interested in masterpieces because of their beauty. In fact, art is frequently damaged when it’s stolen by thieves who are looking for something that’s relatively easy to transport, often to use as collateral for loans to buy drugs or weapons.

Tompkins says though art might be easily transportable, it’s not easy to sell legitimately and more opportunistic thieves, realizing what they’ve taken is so recognizable, may instead seek a ransom.

“When you hear news stories about a missing masterpiece the police find in a specific bus station locker, you have to wonder how they knew to look there and it’s probably because a ransom has been paid.”

A year after two rare $1 million paintings by Gottfried Lindauer were stolen during a ram-raid at Parnell’s International Art Centre, Tompkins has no idea why these artworks were stolen or what could have happened to them.

“It could cover the whole spectrum [of why art is stolen] between an opportunistic theft to a commissioned one,” he says, adding that there’s probably a lot more art crime in NZ than we realize.

The opportunity to research art crime and teach followed a chance meeting in a Parisian bar 10 years ago. It wasn’t just any old bar but one at Interpol’s General Secretariat in Lyon, France where Tompkins was at a conference on forensic DNA. He struck up a conversation at the bar, thinking he was talking to a fellow conference attendee, but the man worked for Interpol’s Stolen Art Unit.

“I had no idea Interpol had such a thing but was fascinated by the stories he told.”

On the long flight home, Tompkins realized a several of the issues he was working with Interpol on – cross-border laws and the interaction between different countries’ legal systems – were relevant to stolen art.

Waiting for a jury to return at Kaikohe District Court, he looked up more on Interpol’s website about art crime and learned of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art. Contacting its founder, Noah Charney, he was invited to write a chapter for a book of art crime essays he was editing.

The following year, he was in England and figured he might as well travel to Umbria, where ARCA’s first Art Crime Conference was on. There, he got an invitation to return in 2010 to teach the Art in War course and has been back every year since.

“It’s a tough thing, having to abandon a New Zealand winter for an Umbrian summer each June…”

Stealing beauty

The Four Horses of San Marco.

• Tompkins’ favorite piece of stolen artThe Four Horses of the Basilica San Marco — taken from Rome to Constantinople around 400-500CE, then from there to Venice by the Fourth Crusade in the opening years of the 13th century, then to Paris by Napoleon, but back again to Venice after a mere 17 years. They are the only surviving cast quadriga (a chariot drawn by four horses) from the Classical World and it’s extraordinary they’ve survived at all. They were moved from their centuries-old home above the main door to the Basilica, looking out across the Piazza San Marco in Venice, in the 1980s to much-reduced circumstances inside a small museum upstairs in the Basilica. But they are still a charismatic and haunting and astounding artwork.

Mona Lisa.

• Stolen but recovered: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa — she of the enigmatic smile — hangs in the Musee du Louvre in Paris and is impossible to value. The painting was stolen in 1911 and the Louvre closed for an entire week as the theft was ineptly investigated. It was returned to the Louvre three years later after the thief, former Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, tried to sell it in his native Italy. He’d kept the painting in a suitcase in his Paris apartment for much of the time he’d had it, taking it out occasionally to gaze at.

Poppy Flowers.

• Stolen and still missingPoppy Flowers (also known as Vase and Flowers or Vase with Viscaria) was painted by Vincent van Gogh in about 1887 possibly as a tribute to an older artist, Adolphe Monticelli, whose work influenced van Gogh’s. Though the painting is relatively small, it’s believed to be worth about US$50 million. It was taken from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo in 2010 and, remarkably, had already been stolen once before in 1977 but recovered 10 years later. It remains missing, despite a substantial reward on offer for its recovery.

Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

• Plundered by the Nazis but returned 70 years later: Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was the star of the Helen Mirren film Lady in Gold. Painted in Vienna in the early 20th century, it was taken by the Nazis at the beginning of World War II and ended up in the Galerie Belvedere in Vienna after the war. There followed the long obstruction of its return to owner Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer’s heirs by the Austrian state and the Viennese art establishment. Its return after arbitration and its ending up back on public display in New York is just recognition of the injustice done by its theft. The Lady’s long story is a remarkable tale that epitomizes much of the history of art crime during war.

The golden frame is all that remains of Solomon J. Solomon’s Psyche, stolen from the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch.

• Local mystery: Stolen from Christchurch 75 years ago and still badly missed: Solomon J. Solomon’s Psyche. This large, typically Victorian, painting exists now only in black and white photographs. It was taken during an overnight burglary of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch in June 1942, with the frame and the stretcher left behind. Psyche had originally been purchased by the Canterbury Society of Arts in 1907, during Christchurch’s 1906-1907 International Exhibition, and donated to the Robert McDougall Gallery in the early 1930s. The painting has never been seen since that fateful June night.

– Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime During War by Arthur Tompkins (Lund Humphries Publishing)

A Theoretical Explanation for the Increase in School Shootings



Relevant insights by the experts from American Military University


A Theoretical Explanation for the Increase in School Shootings

By Dr. Michael Pittaro, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

On February 14, Nikolas Cruz, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, walked onto school grounds and proceeded to randomly gun down students and teachers in one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. Sadly, this story is a familiar one. It has once again ignited a series of national debates, particularly in reference to gun control and mental illness, and rightfully so. Why has there been such a surge in mass school shootings since Columbine in 1999?

There is no single answer to the cause of mass school shootings, but it goes much deeper and further than issues of gun control and mental illness. As a criminologist, I have several theoretical explanations that may shed some light on the topic by focusing on the shooters themselves.

Ever since the mass school shooting at Columbine High School, we can safely surmise that the typical American school shooter is likely to be a Caucasian adolescent male from a middle-class community who attends or attended a suburban high school. Further, the shooter is likely to be a loner, an outcast, and is described by teachers and peers as being socially awkward with a limited number of friends.

Reports also indicate that the majority of school shooters were victims of bullying. Bullying continues to be a pervasive social problem among adolescents and includes both verbal and physical provocation in schools, as well as cyberbullying. Many of the shooters were ridiculed, belittled, demeaned, or even ostracized to the point where it might be assumed revenge or retaliation became a strong motivating force for their actions.

Based on this information, Hirschi’s (1969) Social Control Theory can be used as a reliable and valid psychosocial explanation for school shootings, specifically in understanding the risk factors associated with someone who might resort to such violence.

Applying Social Control Theory to School Shootings

Unlike most criminological theories that explain why people engage in mass shootings and other crimes, Hirschi’s theory explains why people obey rules and remain law-abiding. Social control theories primarily focus on how external environmental and institutional factors influence how we conform to society’s rules and expectations.

Hirschi’s theory consists of four main “social bonds”. When one or more of the following social bonds are weakened, or severed altogether, individuals are more susceptible to crime and deviance.


Attachment is expressed as compassion and empathy toward friends, family, coworkers, and even acquaintances like classmates. School shooters lack attachment. They harbor and internalize anger, frustration, and disappointment that can stem from being bullied by their peers, whether real or perceived. These antagonistic emotions grow in the days, weeks, or months leading up to the attack. While some school shooters have targeted specific people, many of them, like Cruz, have fired indiscriminately. The random direction of these shooters’ aim suggests that they have no regard for human life and have rationalized their actions. This is very similar to the cognitive restructuring process that terrorists use to justify the killing of innocent lives.



Commitment pertains to the time and energy an individual spends pursuing a specific social goal or activity, such as obtaining a college degree or pursuing a particular position within their desired profession. Most people know that engaging in crime will likely jeopardize their career ambitions and educational goals; therefore, they conform to society’s norms and expectations. However, many school shooters adopt a mindset where they do not foresee a future beyond a shooting event. That is why many of them display a kill or be-killed attitude and are willing to take their own life by suicide or suicide by cop.


Individuals who are engrossed in conventional and fulfilling social activities often do not have the time or interest in engaging in unlawful activities. One of the main reasons parents want their children involved in athletics, extra- curricular activities, or any other socially appropriate activity is that it keeps them out of trouble and gives them a sense of belonging to a team, club, or social organization. Individuals who commit school shootings are often described as loners or outcasts, meaning they do not feel like a meaningful part of any group or community.


The fourth and final bond is when an individual believes in the social rules, expectations, and laws of society as taught to them by parents, family members, and friends as well as educational and religious institutions. The stronger one’s moral beliefs in the social norms, the less likely they are to participate in delinquent or criminal activities. Criminal offenders either disregard society’s shared beliefs or rationalize their own deviant behavior. For example, the belief that killing is wrong is reinforced by parents, education and religion; however, a shooter will disregard what he/she has been taught or rationalize their behavior so they can go through with the mass shooting.

Weak Social Bonds Lead to School Shootings

In order to fully understand and appreciate the paradigm and applicability of Hirschi’s theory, it is important to recognize the historical context from which he wrote Causes of Delinquency (1969). In the 1960s, Hirschi observed a loss of social control over individuals and an accompanying rise in crime, particularly among adolescents. Social institutions such as organized religion, the family, educational institutions, and political institutions were not as prominent in the life of adolescents. As a result, these individuals started to challenge conventional social norms and expectations. Hirschi blamed this on the breakdown of the aforementioned social institutions, particularly the breakdown of the family due to increasing rates of divorce and single-parent households.

Fast forward to present day and this shift in family structure has continued. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 34 percent of children today are living with an unmarried parent—up from just 9 percent in 1960, and 19 percent in 1980. In most cases, these unmarried parents are single. I feel strongly that individuals who carry out school shootings can lack both resiliency and coping skills due to the breakdown of family structures, as well as reduced value placed on religious and educational institutions. These social institutions are important for molding and shaping individuals and instilling compassion, empathy, and respect for the law and those in authoritative positions.

More importantly, family members, friends, religious leaders, and teachers provide guidance to young people about how to adapt to—and cope with—rejection, disappointment, and frustration. Learning how to be resilient is important for adolescents. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, and other significant sources of stress and how we “learn” to “bounce back” from difficult experiences.

Being resilient does not suggest that an individual does not experience challenges or distress. Rather, it emphasizes how one processes thoughts, behaviors, and actions when confronted with stress. One of the primary ways to build resilience is having a support system of family and friends. This support system is built on compassion and trust, and it provides individuals with unconditional encouragement and reassurance. People need to have a strong foundation of positive self-image and self-confidence to overcome low and challenging moments. While there are many factors that lead to school shootings, all children need to be taught how to manage stress in a healthy way to control their negative impulsive behaviors that often lead to self-destructive outcomes.

Ten Strategies to Build Resilience

The American Psychological Association outlined 10 strategies to build resilience:

  1. Make connections. Individuals need to build positive relationships with family members, friends and others whom can provide support. Being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support. It can also be beneficial to help others in their times of need.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable. Highly stressful events happen to everyone, but what counts is how one interprets and responds to them. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations. These are your coping mechanisms and can be consciously applied when you face future challenges.
  3. Accept that change is a part of living. As you get older, certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. When you accept that some circumstances cannot be changed, it allows you to focus on other circumstances that you can influence.
  4. Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward those goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
  5. Take decisive actions. Rather than detach completely from problems and stresses or wish they would just go away, take decisive actions to improve the situation as best you can. Avoidance is not the answer.
  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and grow in some respect as a result of struggling with loss, rejection, or disappointment. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship report later they have stronger relationships, a greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, an increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and a heightened appreciation for life. As you’re going through a hardship, remember that there may be benefits in the long run.
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Have confidence in your ability to solve problems and trust in your instincts. Believing in yourself in a positive way helps build your overall resilience.
  8. Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  10. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Teaching children and adolescents how to apply these strategies can help them build their resiliency so that when stressful situations happen—which they inevitably will—they have the ability to get through it in the most positive and beneficial way possible. The more equipped people are to cope with stress and adversity, the less chance they will turn to dangerous and impulsive actions, including school shootings.

school shootingsAbout the Author: Dr. Michael Pittaro is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice with American Military University and an Adjunct Professor at East Stroudsburg University. Dr. Pittaro is a criminal justice veteran, highly experienced in working with criminal offenders in a variety of institutional and non-institutional settings. Before pursuing a career in higher education, Dr. Pittaro worked in corrections administration; has served as the Executive Director of an outpatient drug and alcohol facility and as Executive Director of a drug and alcohol prevention agency. Dr. Pittaro has been teaching at the university level (online and on-campus) for the past 15 years while also serving internationally as an author, editor, presenter, and subject matter expert. Dr. Pittaro holds a BS in Criminal Justice; an MPA in Public Administration; and a Ph.D. in criminal justice.

Belgian police examine claims Russian art show was full of fakes


The Guardian

Belgian police examine claims Russian art show was full of fakes

Homes raided after Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent cancel an exhibition of avant-garde works.

 in Brussels –

 A piece by Kazimir Malevich. The Russian artist’s work is among those claimed to have been forged. Photograph: Picasa 2.7/Handout

Homes across Belgium have been raided by police investigating allegations that counterfeit Russian avant garde works were exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent.

The display of 26 pieces, loaned by the Russian businessman Igor Toporovski, was terminated by the gallery in January after experts claimed it was full of fakes. The museum’s director, Catherine de Zegher, was suspended from her post earlier this month.

Experts claim Europe has become awash with counterfeit Russian works in recent years.

On Friday, Wiesbaden regional court in the western German state of Hesse sentenced two men to three years and 32 months in prison respectively for having knowingly sold forged pictures that had been presented as works by artists including El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko.

The pair were ordered to pay back about €1m (£875,000) they had made through the sale of the pictures.

Ghent’s public prosecutor’s office and federal police in east Flanders carried out their searches on Monday after a formal civil complaint from a collective of four art dealers from London and New York, and a descendant of an artist whose work is said to have been counterfeited.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the targets of its investigation.

Geert Lenssens, a lawyer representing the complainants, said: “They are suffering damage now that the art market, of which they are a part, and the museum world, with whom they work closely, are being damaged.”

Detectives sealed computers, requested documents and interviewed De Zegher, according to the Belgian newspaper De Standaard.

It is believed forgers have focused on Russian avant garde works due to a lack of experts in the genre.

The wave of modern art flourished in the early 20th century, after which socialist realism was decreed the sole sanctioned mode in the Soviet Union, and archives were often destroyed.

The collection under investigation, entitled Russian Modernism 1910–30, was on display for more than three months before being removed on 29 January.

An open letter signed by 10 experts also questioned the validity of the works purportedly by artists including Malevich, Rodchenko, Wassily Kandinsky and Vladimir Tatlin.

De Zegher told the city’s cultural committee on 5 March that her 35 years of curatorial experience qualified her to recognise fakes.

She claimed to have consulted two foreign experts, Noemi Smolik and Magdalena Dabrowski, on the authenticity of the collection. However, Smolik and Dabrowski refuted the claim in the Flemish press days later.

Eline Tritsmans, a lawyer acting for De Zegher, declined to comment “in the interests of the judicial investigation”.

Annelies Storms, the alderman for culture in Ghent, said: “We are always confronted with new issues. It is easy to say afterwards what someone has to do.”