StolenArt

Spanish police make arrests over stolen Francis Bacon works

Seven people have been arrested in Spain on suspicion of involvement in the theft of five paintings by Francis Bacon, worth a total of £19m.

The paintings were stolen last July, along with other valuables belonging to the owner, who is reported to have been a close friend of Bacon. The works, which comprise portraits and landscapes, are yet to be recovered.

Detectives said they were approached in February by British private investigators specialising in the recovery of stolen artworks who had received an email with photographs of the paintings and asking whether they were listed as stolen. Investigators analysed the photo and were able to determine that the camera that took the images was owned by a photographic equipment rental company, which supplied details of the customer who had rented it at the time the paintings were photographed.

The customer, who is suspected of involvement in the crime, was among those arrested, along with a Madrid art dealer and his son.

It is hard to overstate the gravity of the Castelvecchio art thefts

Le Opere Da Non Perdere’, reads a link on the Museo di Castelvecchio website. And if you click through, a gallery displays images of 20 works that must not to be missed on a visit to the museum in Verona. Except six of these highlights can no longer be accounted for. They were among the 17 paintings stolen from Castelvecchio on the evening of 19 November, making for a bleak roll-call of losses: Pisanello, Madonna of the Quail; Jacopo Bellini, Penitent St Jerome; Mantegna, Holy Family with a Saint; Gian Francesco Caroto, Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Child’s Drawing; Rubens, Lady of the Campions; Hans de Jode, Seaport.

Opere da non perdere. Works not to miss. And works not to lose, either. It is hard to overstate the gravity of this theft for both the museum – one of the finest civic collections in northern Italy – and for an Italian museum sector that has, under the recent reforms of culture minister Dario Franceschini, been tasked with putting its house in order.

How not to sell stolen art

Art dealer Kenneth Hendel recently found himself in a sticky situation: He was in possession of stolen art. The Florida-based dealer purchased a painting by Picasso after it failed to sell at auction. After the purchase, Wilma “Billie” Tisch, the rightful owner, discovered the painting’s whereabouts and demanded its return. Hendel claims that he is now the rightful owner. The dealer is confident that he will not be forced to return the work because he is working under the assumption that Florida law protects his purchase. He claims that “the piece belongs to the last person who purchased it if it has passed through at least two people since the theft.” This is simply not true.

While it is true that certain aspects of the law in Florida are more forgiving towards current possessors than would be the case under New York law, there are major misconceptions in Hendel’s analysis. There is no law, in any state, that allows someone to gain title over a work after it has passed through a requisite number of exchanges. In fact, a work can be sold by a hundred dealers and yet still belong to an original owner.