Brandon’s Trivia

I love trivia, don’t you? Some interesting tidbits I ran across in researching the Brandon’s Legacy trilogy, in no particular order:

The most stolen artist in the world is Picasso, with some 550 works missing and/or stolen. Of course, Picasso was incredibly prolific and is thought to have some 20,000 works extant.

The second most stolen? Rembrandt, with 80 (including two from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft in 1990). Like Picasso, Rembrandt was quite prolific, with some 2200 pieces attributed. Rembrandt is such a prize among art thieves that one work, the Jacob de Gheyn III (1632), has been stolen four times and is dubbed the “Takeaway Rembrandt.” It’s quite small (11.8 by 9.8 inches) and apparently easy to carry off.

The most famous painting taken from the Gardner in 1990 was the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt’s only known seascape. It was damaged during the robbery, as the thieves, who clearly didn’t know how to treat great art, actually cut it out of the frame. It’s a little over 5′ x 4′, and in order to fit in the hatchback the thieves were known to be driving (some college students saw the car waiting outside the Gardner), it was almost certainly rolled up, further damaging the heavy varnish. The stolen seascape has figured in pop culture; its underground sale was arranged in Blacklist, and it was also seen hanging in Mr. Burns’ basement in The Simpsons Season 21/Episode 17.

In real life, the painting has supposedly been seen on a couple of occasions since 1990, but those sightings have never been authenticated.

It is not a crime to copy an art work. It is not even a crime to sell a copy of an art work. The crime is selling the copy claiming it as the original.

The original statute of limitations on art theft was pitiful — only a handful of years, and the actual number of years varied from state to state, as art theft was a state crime. In 1994, Senator Kennedy added language to a crime bill that made theft of a major art work from a museum a federal crime (18 U.S. Code § 3294) . This bill also raised the statute of limitations to 20 years, applied retroactively for art theft crimes where the statute of limitations had not yet expired. (I have read but have not found a second source for the assertion that the Senator, who grew up in Boston, specifically intended the Gardner theft to be covered under the expanded time limit.)

The statute of limitations on the Gardner robbery expired on March 19, 2010. No one can now be prosecuted for the theft itself, although anyone in knowing possession of stolen property could still face charges. The museum, which has offered a $5 million reward, just wants its art back.

Han van Meegeren is widely considered to be one of the best art forgers of all time. He was so good, in fact, that one of his forgeries ended up in the collection of Goering during World War II.  When the forged Vermeer was discovered in Goering’s possession after the end of the war, van Meegeren was arrested as a Dutch collaborator for having sold a piece of the Dutch art heritage to the Nazis. To get himself off the hook for treason (punishable by death), he confessed to the forgery and created a “Vermeer,” Jesus Among the Doctors, to prove his innocence. He was then promptly convicted of fraud. That sentence was only a year in prison.

It’s thought now that van Meegeren’s forgeries were sold to unsuspecting collectors for over $30 million in today’s money.

Some of his forgeries weren’t definitively “authenticated” as forgeries until 1977. By that time, van Meegeren had been dead for 30 years.

Despite the popular misconception, most art thefts do not take place at the behest of an unscrupulous billionaire who wants a Monet all for himself. Movies such as Dr. No and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) have created the idea that art thefts are commissioned and that the thieves go in with shopping lists. Mostly, they go in to get whatever they can carry off and ransom in exchange for something else. It is now believed that the motive for the Gardner theft was to hold the paintings for ransom — information on the paintings would be traded to get a gang kingpin out of prison. Stolen paintings are now so well-publicized that it becomes impossible to resell the paintings, and no true art collector would touch them.