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section heading icon     theft and other loss

This page is under development

It covers -

     introduction

Key attributes of many collectibles are their portability, uniqueness, value and fragility. Those attributes foster theft (whether by agents of the state or by private thieves). They also foster destruction by vandals, in the course of was or civil conflict, and in disasters that range from earthquakes to warehouse fires. Much theft involves destruction: frantic ripping of canvas out of frames in robberies from museums has led one contact to refer to 'slash & grab' rather than retail 'smash & grab', with damage to the artwork rather than to a shop window.

As noted in a more detailed discussion elsewhere on this site regarding cultural spoliation and repatriation, theft and destruction of art works and other cultural property appears to be inextricably intertwined with civilisation (the ironic "homage paid by power to value"). The following paragraphs do not provide a dossier on theft, intentional destruction or accident. Instead they highlight particular issues and offer points of entry to the literature.

     burglars

For an introduction to the literature and regulatory challenges see John Conklin's Art Crime (Westport: Praeger 1994), Hugh McLeave's Rogues in the Gallery: The Modern Plague of Art Thefts (Boston: Godine 1981), 'Tracking recent trends in the International market for art theft' by William Lawrence, Laurie Bachmann & Michael von Stumm in 12 Journal of Cultural Economics 1 (1988), Understanding International Art Markets And Management (London: Routledge 2005) by Iain Robertson and Museum of the missing: a history of art theft (New York: Sterling 2006) by Simon Houpt.

Works on particular incidents include Matthew Hart's The Irish Game (London: Chatto & Windus 2004), Edward Dolnick's The rescue artist: a true story of art, thieves, and the hunt for a missing masterpiece (New York: HarperCollins 2005), Peter Watson's The Caravaggio conspiracy: how five art dealers, four policemen, three picture restorers, two auction houses, and a journalist plotted to recover some of the world's most beautiful stolen paintings (New York: Doubleday 1984).

     spoliation

In the interim a discussion of spoliation is here.

Key works are Hugh Trevor-Roper's succinct The Plunder of the Arts in the Seventeenth Century (London: Thames & Hudson 1970), Lynn Nicholas' The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Vintage 1995), The Spoils of War: The Loss, Reappearance, and Recovery of Cultural Property During and After World War II (New York: Abrams 1996) edited by Elizabeth Simpson, and The Recovery of Stolen Art (London: Springer 1998) edited by Norman Palmer, The lost masters: the looting of Europe's treasurehouses (London: Gollancz 1999) by Peter Harclerode and Brendan Pittaway.

     theft registers

Simon Mackenzie commented in 2005 that

what emerges from a criminological analysis of art theft is the proposition that the best protection the trade has against art theft is the trade itself. If artworks must re-enter the legitimate market to regain their full value, a legitimate dealer will at some point have to accept them.

 





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