Art Heist Goes Terribly Wrong

Claude Monet’s 1901 Waterloo Bridge

Evidence seems to confirm that the world is suddenly bereft of six masterpieces—and a Lucien Freud.

In a tale of theatrical complications, Romanian mom, Olga Dogaru explained to police that she burned the works to ashes in her oven in order to insure that there would be no evidence against her son, Radu, who was under arrest on suspicion of lifting them from the Kunsthal museum back in October of last year.

Amongst the works taken in what is universally described as a spectacular heist, were two pastels in colored ink on paper, one by Picasso and one by Matisse , and four modern masters paintings, including a Matisse, a Gauguin, a Monet, a Meyer de Haan. The theives also snatched a painting by Lucien Freud.

Although Ms. Dogaru has changed her story several times in the past weeks, the possibility that the works were indeed incinerated is still under investigation. Forensic scientists at Romania’s National History Museum say it will take months to verify, yet the evidence that Ms. Dogaru’s story is true seems overwhelming.

Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, the director of the National History Museum told the New York Times that his team had discovered materials that Matisse or Gauguin would have used to prep their canvases, along with samples of colors which, because of toxicity, have not been used since the 19th century. Pre-industrial copper nails and tacks were also found in the ashes.

“Such items, Tarnoveanu told the Times, “would be nearly impossible to fake.”

It may be impossible to conclusively identify if the two pastels by Picasso and Matisse, were burned, Mr. Oberlander-Tarnoveanu said. “Unfortunately, it’s impossible to assess those remains,” he said, “because the burned paper was basically turned into pure carbon.”

See The New York Times slideshow of the destroyed works

Online Art Sales Get Serious

For a while now, art sales online have been dogged by a reputation for the cheese, while the “democratization” of art is decried as wishful thinking applied to fortuitous collections of largely worthless prints, copies, and toys.

From Etsy to Artsy, most sites which seek to sell artwork digitally have fallen short in the curatorial areas of consistent quality and cultural relevancy. This is due mostly to the crowd-sourcing models used by a majority of art hubs which, realistically can’t operate as national and global stores and still make good old fashioned studio visits.

Most internet art marketing sites only vet artwork digitally (when they do so at all) — and even then, only after it appears in jpeg form on their server, buried amongst a million other distractingly bad entries.
Solutions like sidebars, or profiles with “featured” artists, can imply a curatorial stamp of approval, but they still fail to impose dignity upon an arena where skulls and kittens still dominate. Even sites which sell artwork rendered by big name artists do so by offering a slender collection of works on paper, making limited edition prints the best work available to digital shoppers.

All this is to say that the online art market has been the realm of the amateur, the opportunist, the hobbyist, and the philistine — until very recently when a handful of sites have cropped up to serve the serious collector.
Focusing mainly on secondary market works, these sites seem to have in common a model that provides a forum for collectors to engage other collectors. The best also stress careful vetting and sound expert advice.


Spotlist  started in Germany as a retail outlet for languishing art. Founded by Greg Linn and Clayton Press, of Linn Press Art Advisory Services, Spotlist is run entirely by the two partners, who curate the offerings, design, run and maintain the site, and offer feedback. It’s a sort of mom n’ pop shop of high quality secondary market works of proven provenance — less snooty than your average auction house but less inclusive than your crowd-sourced art portals!

Artviatic  calls itself “the first international peer-to-peer platform for private sales” and lists only “exceptional” works valued at over 150,000 euros. They also provide other services such as private viewings, and valuation.

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