Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Stolen Smart Sells Right Under the Noses of Law Enforcement !!

Christie’s sells miniatures stolen from public gallery

The auction house consulted stolen art databases but was not made aware of theft

Martin Bailey and Brook Mason 2.10.08 Issue 195

LONDON. Fourteen stolen portrait miniatures were inadvertently sold in Christie’s King Street saleroom on 10 June, because their loss from a UK public gallery had not been publicised. The works were part of a private collection on display at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, Cumbria, two years ago.

Abbot Hall is a grand house built in 1759 which was converted into an art gallery in 1962 to display British art from the 18th century to the present. The theft took place on the evening of 31 August 2006, when thieves broke into the museum and smashed an 18th-century glass-fronted cabinet, stealing 69 English portrait miniatures. The works were on loan from a distinguished local collector, whose family had collected them a century ago.

The theft was not publicised in the press, and the loss was not recorded with the Art Loss Register, which routinely checks catalogues of the major auction houses, including Christie’s. It was, however, registered with Trace, the other main computerised database of stolen art (Trace was bought in 2006 by the company MyThings), but without images. It is not known why neither Abbot Hall nor the police supplied images.

A Christie’s spokesman said: “This catalogue, like all our catalogues, was sent to both the Art Loss Register and Trace, but the stolen items were not picked up.” A Trace spokesman agreed that the miniatures had been registered and the catalogue searched, saying that the matter “is now under investigation with Christie’s”. He suggested that the lack of images from Abbot Hall had caused difficulties.

Fourteen of the 69 miniatures were offered in the Christie’s sale. These included works by John Smart, £25,000 and £30,000 ($45,000 and $54,000); Richard Cosway, £17,500 ($31,500); and Horace Hone, £15,000 ($27,000). It was only after the sale that it was realised the works were stolen.

The Art Newspaper understands that the vendor acquired and offered the works through Christie’s in good faith. The police have traced the miniatures through a chain of several buyers in the intervening two years.

Abbot Hall’s chairman Dr Adam Nailor has told us that they are “optimistic” that all 69 miniatures will now be recovered. This suggests that the others have remained with the Christie’s vendor and that only a small proportion had been put up for sale.

The whole collection had been insured when it was put on display at Abbot Hall. It is expected that the private lender will return the insurance money in exchange for the recovered miniatures.

Art Hostage comments:

Oops, someone dropped the ball here.

To think these highly recognisable miniatures, stolen from a well known country mansion, slipped through the net at a top London auction house should beggar belief today in 2008.

Sadly, there is not a central govt funded database linked to the Police computer data bank that would automatically enter every single art and antiques theft.

If high profile stolen artworks like these can slip through the net, just imagine the lorry loads of stolen art and antiques from residential private houses that are filtered via the trade and auction houses every week.

During the 1970's, 80's and most of the 90's stolen art and antiques, especially "Headache stolen art" recognizable and publicized, could be sold with impunity at auction, mostly first via provincial auction houses who were only too pleased to be able to sell some cream choice high value pieces they would not normally be trusted with, even entered in false names and then payout in cash.

The only stolen art and antiques list was produced by Sussex Police Art and Antiques Squad, who would circulate the stolen list to all the dealers. The dealers in turn would check the list and any stolen art and antiques that did not appear would be safe to put through auction.

Then we had Trace around 1990 and the Art Loss register.

Today any stolen art and antiques that are properly reported to the Art Loss Register will normally not appear at auction and will be restricted to being passed around the trade before being sold to an "end user" This "end user" is normally a person who has made allot of money from legitimate business but retains their working class roots.

To this new money the thought of a £100,000 stolen painting hanging on their wall for a price of £10,000 is appealing, even better if it is for £5,000, 5%.

As to them getting caught, well their business may be legitimate and they do not commit any crime other than handling stolen high profile art therefore they would not show up on the radar of law enforcement.

I bet the Police investigation will show the chain of selling these items will lead back to the last one saying they bought them at an antiques fair or market from a man who "Walks with a lisp and talks with a limp !!" a dead end.

More on this subject to follow............

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