From Bloomberg, June 19:
For nearly three decades, detectives have sought to solve the theft of $500 million of artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. They think the end is near.
It’s still regarded as the greatest unsolved art heist of all time: $500 million of art—including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and Manet—plucked from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990, by two men posing as police.
The museum had offered a $5 million reward for the return of all 13 pieces in good condition. Last month, the bounty was suddenly and unexpectedly doubled to $10 million.
For such a long-unsolved case, the investigation is surprisingly active into the disappearance of the artworks, which include paintings, a Chinese vase and a 19th century finial of an eagle. Anthony Amore, the museum’s director of security, says he works on the case every day and is in “almost constant contact” with FBI investigators. Tipsters still call all the time, with leads that range from the vaguely interesting to the downright bizarre. Among them: a psychic who offered to contact the late Mrs. Gardner’s spirit, and a few self-styled sleuths who reckon the paintings can be found with metal dowsing rods.
Most of those go nowhere. Whether the works will ever be recovered, or if they still exist at all, is one of the great questions that has divided the art world.
“Those paintings are gone,” said Erin Thompson, professor of art crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “Either because they were destroyed immediately after they were stolen, or because they’ve already been beaten up so badly by being moved around in the back of cars.”
But there is one outside detective respected by Amore—Arthur Brand, a Dutch private investigator—who believes not only are the artworks still intact, but also that he can bring them home. This year.
“It’s almost certain that the pieces still exist,” Brand told me. “We are following two leads that both go to the Netherlands, and we are now negotiating with certain people.”
Brand, 47, has become one of the world’s leading experts in international art crimes. A British newspaper once called him the “Indiana Jones of the art world” for his combination of crack negotiating skills and uncanny instincts for finding stolen art.
In the past few years, Brand has posed as the agent of a Texas oil millionaire to help Berlin police find two enormous bronze horses from the German Reichstag. He worked with Ukrainian militia members to secure the return of five stolen Dutch masters to the Westfries Museum in the Netherlands. He negotiated with two criminal gangs for the successful return of a Salvador Dali and a painting by Tamara de Lempicka, together valued at about $25 million, to the now-closed Scheringa Museum of Realist Art, also in the Netherlands.
Brand acts as something of a liaison between criminals and the police. Controversially, he’ll try to make deals that allow the culprits to go free, because he says his primary goal is saving the art from the trash heap.
“There are very few like him who understand the reality of this sort of crime,” Amore said.
René Allonge, the chief art investigator with the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation, said his team had been searching for Hitler’s bronze horses since 2013. He contacted Brand at the end of 2014, met him in 2015, and they conducted the investigation and searches jointly, “as far as it was legally possible.” Ultimately, Brand played a crucial role in the discovery of the bronze horses, as well as other populist bronzes from the Nazi era, he said. “He succeeded in penetrating a very closed scene of collectors of high-quality Nazi devotionalia, where we finally found the sculptures that we were searching for,” Allonge wrote in an email.
Brand’s reward in some of these high-profile cases is often the glory and nothing more. Scheringa had originally offered a €250,000 bounty ($280,000) for the Dali and Lempicka, but the museum had shut down by the time they were recovered. Brand was paid an hourly fee and had his expenses reimbursed, though he declined to say by whom. For finding Hitler’s horses, he got no cash at all, just a lot of free publicity, he says.
“He’s not the guy to charge you for every hour he works,” said Ad Geerdink, director of the Westfries Museum, for which Brand recovered five old-master paintings from a militia group in Ukraine. “He knew that we are a small organization with not many resources, so the fee was very, very friendly.”
The biggest bonus Brand’s ever received for solving a case was about €25,000, he says. He adds that he’s investigating the Gardner case for the glory. “It’s the Holy Grail in the art world,” he said....MUCH MORE
HT: Ritholtz's Reads, June 21
At the museum "Thirteen Works: Explore the Gardner's Stolen Works"
Risk: Stolen Gardner Museum Masterpieces Probably Destroyed
The author, James Ratcliffe, is director of recoveries & general counsel at the Art Loss Register, London
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Possibly also of interest:
Duveen, The Greatest Salesman in the World: Isabella Stewart Gardner, Bernard Berenson and the Boston Connection Pt. IV
The courtyard of Mrs. Gardner's home, now the museum and site of the $500 million art theft