Art Heist Goes Terribly Wrong

claude-monets-1901-waterloo-bridge2
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

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The Met Needs Your Generosity: and Leonard Lauder’s

Credit: Trees at l'Estaque, 1908 (oil on canvas), Braque, Georges (1882-1963) / Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark / De Agostini Picture Library / The Bridgeman Art Library
Credit: Trees at l’Estaque, 1908 (oil on canvas), Braque, Georges (1882-1963) / Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark / De Agostini Picture Library / The Bridgeman Art Library

On April 4th, Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sent around a Press Release explaining the museum’s “admissions policy” — a policy which many consider misleading at best, fraudulent at worst.

The announcement followed widespread reporting on two lawsuits brought against the museum by members who found the Met’s signage and admissions practices troubling but had failed to effect change from the inside. Responding to a landslide of negative press, Campbell sent out e-mail that linked to a message on the Met’s site expounding upon the legal basis, as well the alleged necessity, for the Met to garner donations from the public in order to finance it’s exhibits and services.

After explaining that the Met relies on “many sources—including Membership, gifts and grants, corporate contributions, merchandise sales, restaurant revenue, and endowment income” to meet its current $250 million a year operating budget, and stating that “admission revenue is critical among” these sources of funding, Campbell makes his pitch:

“Does the Met hope its visitors pay as generously as they can? Of course! Without your generosity, we might still be the quaint little museum in the park that few visited in the 1880s—with none of the glorious new galleries and engaging programs we are now able to provide to the more than six million people who come through our doors each year.”

Was Campbell telling us that the Metropolitan Museum of art, despite sitting rent-free on city property, despite its long lists of corporate contributors, its grants and gifts from wealthy patrons, and its government subsidies, needed to fish for dollars from the pockets of unsuspecting tourists and shy students who took the signs at font-face value and forked out $25 suggested admission when they could have entered for free? Are we to think of the Mighty Met as a poor Dickensian waif, her soot-covered hand extended stealthily toward the pockets of passersby?

Answer: Meet Leonard A Lauder

Well, on Tuesday, right after we’d asked that question, and before we could get our breath, the museum proudly announced that it had been gifted a 1.1 Billion Dollar cash cow in the form of cosmetics tycoon Leonard A Lauder’s entire collection of cubist art. [ ]

The collection of 78 cubist works, meticulously collected over something like 40 years, is comprised of 33 works by Picasso, 17 by Braque, 14 by Gris, and 14 by Leger. Lauder’s collection, which may, he says, continue to grow (and be gifted to the Met) is noted for its clear focus on works of historical significance. Lauder’s curator of 26 years, Emily Braun sites “ ‘The Trees at L’Estaque’ as an example. It “is considered one of the very first Cubist pictures,” she told the New York Times, “It created a new form of pictorial space that Braque arrived at from his close study of Cézanne’s landscapes.”

The collection “will transform the museum” the news release said. And, indeed, the Met’s cubist collection which used to be sorely wanting — art critic Holland Cotter once noted that the Met had been “content with a tasting menu of Blue Period, Rose Period and neo-Classical fare”—now rivals that of the Museum of Modern Art.

“In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the forefront of early-20th-century art. It is an unreproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about,” Campbell told the Times.

Lauder’s generosity puts him at the top of the list of Forbes list of high ranking philanthropists. [Check out their slideshow] On top of the billion dollar collection, his, and other trustees’ and supporters’ money is going to support a revamp of the Mets modern and contemporary galleries, and a 22 million dollar endowment for a new research center for modern art at the Met.

An extraordinary gift to our City?

“This is an extraordinary gift to our Museum and our City, Lauder said. Um. So now, can we change the admissions signs?

LINKS
Cubist works worth $1bn donated to Metropolitan Museum of Art

Leonard Lauder’s $1.1 Billion Cubist Art Gift To Met Is One Of Largest Donations In History

A Billion-Dollar Gift Gives the Met a New Perspective (Cubist)

1998 NOSE DIVE: STATS SHOW HINT OF RECOVERY

There’s a lot of talk about art market recovery, especially as generated by the auction houses. And each time a record hammer price is hit (like Tuesday’s $106.5 million Picasso’s 1932 “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.”), the media jump on it, eager to announce that it’s a sign that the market is recovering. But we’ve really become very excited over the teeniest hint of growth, as you can see by this nifty chart that I frankensteined together from three Art Price.com charts.

ART PRICE GROWTH CHART
Only the Contemporary art market shows notable recovery

WALL POWER

Picasso’s 1932 painting “Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust)
Picasso’s 1932 painting “Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust); photo from The New York Times Online

Because the market is looking up, and because the art world responds so quickly to upswings –and, because Picasso’s 1932 painting “Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur ” is really big and has all the bells and whistles (a lover, Marie-Thérèse, the iconic head thrown back pose, and a very Picasso-pallet), folks at the New York Times say that an auction price record is about to be broken.

According to NYT, the Picasso, on sale at Christie’s onTuesday, is  “poised to eclipse the $104.3 million paid for the current record holder, Giacometti’s “Walking Man I” purchased at Sotheby’s in February.

Art is beginning to be viewed as a good investment again, and, since the financial collapse, it seems like a safer place to put one’s money than in the stock market.

Other reasons why the hammer is expected to come down on a record price:

  • The painting is from a popular Picasso period of very large, very colorful paintings.
  • Picasso’s from the year 1932 are not likely to be sold again any time soon, if at all.
  • It was only on public view once since 1951: so it has freshness.
  • It “reeks,” according to NYT, of “Wall power.”

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