Lastest Art Theft: Museum of Modern Art in Paris

The world of early 20th century painting may have just sustained a serious, permanent blow. If you follow the happenings in the art world, you may have already read that the Museum of Modern Art in Paris was robbed last night. Five paintings were stolen, totaling around $123 million. The especially sad thing about this news? Only 12-15% of stolen paintings ever resurface. Here are images of the five stolen works:

Modigliani, Woman with a Fan, 1919
Picasso, Dove with Green Peas, 1912
Matisse, Pastoral, 1905

Braque, Landscape with Olive Tree, 1906
(Isn’t it fun to see Braque’s work from his Fauvist days, before he and Picasso delved into Cubism?)

Leger, Still Life with a Chandelier, 1922
I hope that the museum ends up offering a reward for the recovery of the paintings. As discussed in a blog for The Economist, sometimes offering a reward is the most effective thing that a museum can do.
Whenever art gets stolen, I always have the secret hope that someone in the art world hired thieves to steal the art, with the intent of later staging a recovery for the stolen goods. When art is stolen-and-recovered, it tends to bring higher prices at the art market. After all, wouldn’t you want to own a work of art that was famously stolen in a museum heist? And wouldn’t you like the reassurance that a painting was valuable, since someone took the time to steal it? The history behind any work of art always affects its market price.
In other art crime news, last week the Feds arrested three people involved with an art heist conspiracy in the Seattle area. A disgraced gallery owner (who had served three years in prison for art theft) had conspired with a cellmate to steal works by Picasso, Renoir, and other Northwest artists. You can read the full story here.
  • Hels says:

    Either the thief had very good taste in early 20th century art, or he was well advised by someone who did. If he only (sic) stole 5 good pieces, the theft was probably done on consignment. Your normal break-and-enter merchant would grab everything his sticky little fingers could hold.

    So I don't think it was done to restore the art to the market, with jacked up prices. I feel some art lover has the 5 objects locked away in the privacy of his own bedroom where he can lust over them in private. Sure he cannot share them, but with a Modigliani and a Braque etc, he wouldn't give a toss.

  • The Ancient says:

    Perhaps it's just my imagination, but notice how complementary the colors are in those five paintings. Even the different styles don't fight too much.

    I wonder if this wasn't a commissioned theft intended to decorate a specific room.

  • M says:

    Yes Hels, I agree, the thief was very well-informed on what pieces of art to select. I read here that several security issues allowed the robbery to be possible – but I also suspect that this heist may have been an "inside job," made possible by someone connected to the museum.

    And I really enjoyed your observation about the complimentary colors, The Ancient! I didn't notice that at first, but I think you are right. Perhaps the paintings will decorate some room (or secret closet), tucked away from the public eye. :)

  • e says:

    I can't help but wonder how many of these art thefts are definitely inside jobs (as you mentioned in your comment). It seems very unlikely that most of these HUGE thefts worth so many millions of dollars could actually be pulled off in some "The Italian Job" kind of way. I wonder if museums ever reserve the right to give their employees lie detector tests or anything like that after such a theft?

  • heidenkind says:

    My coworkers were talking about this last week. It does seem like a deliberate collection of paintings, doesn't it? Interesting.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.