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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Art Theft

  • Did you know that Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 terrorists, tried to sell looted Afghani artifacts to buy an airplane?
  • That some 20,000 to 30,000 works of art are stolen each year in Italy alone?
  • That art theft ranks after only drugs and arms as the third highest grossing illegal trade?

Noah Charney, right, the art historian who founded the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, knows all that and more. Recently a talk he gave at a TED conference, badly titled noah_charney“How To Steal from the Louvre,” was posted on the ARCA blogsite.

I say it was badly titled because art mavens like you probably know that the man who stole the Mona Lisa a century ago was ill-informed about the painting’s provenance, and not your typical art thief. Is there a typical art thief? Charney says much art theft takes place because the perpetrator believes the fiction, film and media representations of the demand for stolen art — that there are a lot of Dr. No’s out there ready to buy that Picasso. Not so, Charney says — there are only abut two dozen of them around the world “that we know of.”

Rather, stolen art — even minimally valuable stolen art — finds its way into the barter/trade system of drugs and arms. That, he poses, is why it’s even more critical to stop than if there were more Dr. No types.



  1. Did you read about that terrible theft in Rotterdam recently?

  2. This is a fascinating talk by Noah Charney. His books are also extremely interesting. He also wrote fabulous guide books to the art museums of Madrid and Barcelona.

  3. The theft of seven painting in Rotterdam occurred on 16 October 2013. According to the NYT (10/16/12):

    “The art, part of a collection amassed by a Dutch investor, Willem Cordia, who died in 2011, was exhibited in public for the first time last week at the Kunsthal, which does not have a collection of its own. The stolen paintings span parts of three centuries: Meyer de Haan’s “Self-Portrait” of 1890 and Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London,” both from 1901; Matisse’s 1919 “Reading Girl in White and Yellow” and Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head”; and Freud’s haunting 2002 portrait “Woman With Eyes Closed.”

  4. Janet Borders says:

    I am interested in what they are doing about art theft. I go to a lot of musuems and the ones that are more secure seem to be the ones with more guards, and they charge more. I recently went to TORONTO AND OTTAWA and saw a very beautiful white painting by Monet, at no time could i even get close enough to it to sneak and take a photograph as I could if it had been in the United States. I have over the years seen so many times it would be easy to pull off an art thett and after I had been to the Menil collection in Houston they had someone come in and spray paint with a stencil a Picasso. I always thought that place did not have good security. In some places like Kansas City you could almost replace a painting take it off the strectcher bars and redo it while no one watched, so it does not come as any surprize that people are stealing whole bunches of paintings worth 100 million. As an artist myself, I am fascinated with all the Impressionistic art that is stolen yearly.

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