Art Heist at Taco Bell Stumps Police (artnet news)

Sarah Cascone, Tuesday, March 17, 2015 original article here.

The stolen Taco Bell painting.

The stolen Taco Bell painting. Artist unknown.

When burritos alone won’t satisfy your late-night drunken munchies, how about some art? That’s most likely exactly what happened at the Taco Bell in Westlake, Ohio, reports the local NBC news outlet, when someone made off with an acrylic painting this past weekend, sometime between 11 p.m. on Saturday and 2 a.m. on Sunday (see Stolen Picasso Seized in Newark Shipped as $37 Christmas Present).

“That place has had nothing but bad luck,” said Westlake police captain Guy Turner. “It’s caught fire, they had somebody crash into it and it caught fire. That place is kind of jinxed.”

While Captain Turner did not know the name of the artist behind the work, he said it was likely commissioned by the fast food franchise. A second copy of the painting was left behind by the thieves. Presumably, this was less of a high-tech, targeted Thomas Crowne Affair type of robbery than an impulsive, taco-and-beer-fueled crime of passion (see Stolen Sculpture Found in Toilet of Paris Museum).

“We’re going to search every dorm room and rumpus room in a ten mile radius,” he said, “round up the usual suspects.”

Believe it or not, the painting is reportedly worth $800—and considering the misguided enthusiasm for such oddities as Pizza Hut perfume, it’s not entirely inconceivable that some fast food aficionado might shell out that much for the work. More likely, however, whoever swiped the piece probably just wanted an ode to the home of “fourth meal” to hang on his or her wall.

Curious to know more about the painting and the artist, we called the Taco Bell.

“Do you know where the painting is or who has the painting?” said the unidentified young woman who answered the phone when we asked if she knew who the artist of the work was. “Do I need to trace this phone call?” She then referred us to the Westlake Police.

As far as outlandish art heists go, this one ranks right up there with the Oscar Murillo canvas someone grabbed off the floor of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (see Oscar Murillo Painting Goes Missing From MoMA—Was it Theft?), the time that drunkards stole sculptures from the Dale Chihuly exhibition at the Denver Botanic Gardens (see Dale Chihuly Artwork Thieves in Custody), and the also-intoxicated raid of a Fernandina Beach, Florida, art gallery by a duo from the US Navy (see Sailors Steal Art in Drunken Gallery Robbery).

5-Minute History of Napoleonic Art Looting (Blouin ARTINFO)

by Noah Charney October 24, 2011, 10:44am original article here.

During the French Republican and Napoleonic eras, art looting became standard practice for victorious armies.  Napoleon took over the leadership of the French army during the campaign in Italy that had begun disastrously, with under-nourished, unpaid soldiers on the brink of mutiny.  Stealing art from the conquered territories became a way of both raising funds to support the war effort, and to raise morale back at home in Paris, where the newly-converted Louvre museum would become a sort of trophy case for the victorious to display the treasures of the conquered.  His policy was first made clear in the armistice signed by the defeated Duke of Modena on 17 May 1796, which stated: “The Duke of Modena undertakes to hand over twenty pictures.  They will be selected by commissioners sent for that purpose from among the pictures in his gallery and realm.” This established a precedent for payment and reparations in the form of art that would continue, both encouraging conquerors and dismaying the conquered, for centuries.

Napoleonic Art Looting (1796-1812)

Napoleon established the first official military division dedicated to seizing and shipping captured artworks.  Specially-trained personnel would follow behind the army to inventory, pack, and ship art.  All confiscations were strictly monitored in the presence of a French army official.  The army would be responsible for the art and its shipping back to Paris.  This division was called the Commission of Arts and Sciences, and was led by a mathematician, a botanist, and two painters.

But despite Napoleon’s attempts at restricting looting to official actions,  it was not only the armies that benefited.  One of Napoleon’s officers in charge of art plunder, the painter Citizen Wicar, took so many prints and drawings for himself that, upon his death, after having sold most of what he stole, he still had 1436 artworks to bequeath to his hometown of Lille. Napoleon’s art advisor, Dominique Vivant Denon, became the first director of The Louvre Museum, and was the mastermind behind the art theft scheme that made The Louvre the treasure house of the world.

In May 1796, when the Commission came to Modena to take the specified twenty pictures detailed in the armistice, Citizen Wicar was present.  He stole a further fifty paintings from the Modena collection for himself and only stopped there because Napoleon himself arrived on the scene.  Not to be outdone, Napoleon ordered his commissioners to stop taking any more art, but then he chose two paintings for his personal collection.

This set a precedent that was followed in the armistices in French victories over Venice, Mantua, Parma, and Milan.  Ironically Venice was stripped by Napoleon of the four bronze horses that the Venetians had stolen from Constantinople in 1204.  Napoleon’s art thefts led to altered military strategy, for Naples and Turin were left largely un-looted because they chose to sign a treaty immediately with Napoleon before they came under attack, and therefore had more leverage in their relations.  They lost the least to plunder of any vanquished Italian cities.

Napoleon extracted the most from the Papal States.  Pope Pius VI signed the Treaty of Tolentine in June 1796, yielding to the Napoleonic army.  In addition to the payment of 21 million lives (around $60 million today), Article 8 of the treaty stated that the pope was to give Napoleon: “A hundred pictures, busts, vases, or statues to be selected by the commissioners and sent to Rome, including in particular the bronze bust of Junius Brutus and the marble bust of Marcus Brutus, both on the Capitol, also five-hundred manuscripts at the choice of the said commissions.” Eighty-three sculptures were taken as well, including Laocoon and the Apollo Belvedere, and paintings taken included Raphael’s Transfiguration.  As if that were not enough, Napoleon insisted that the pope pay for the shipping to Paris of the art stolen from him, a bill of another 800,000 livres (or $2.3 million today).  Forty paintings were taken from papal lands in Bologna and ten from Ferrara.  Looted art from Bologna alone required eighty-six wagons to transport.  Of this, Napoleon enthusiastically wrote: “The Commission of experts has made a fine haul in Ravenna, Rimini,Pesaro, Ancona, Loretto, and Perugia. The whole lot will be forwarded to Paris without delay. There is also the consignment from Rome itself. We have stripped Italy of everything of artistic worth, with the exception of a few objects in Turin and Naples!”

This was the first of several wars in which certain renowned masterpieces, such as Jan van Eyck’s The Ghent Altarpiece, became prized spoils, with armies and collectors vying with one another to capture these key treasures, as valuable symbolically as they were financially.  Much of the desire to possess The Ghent Altarpiece, which bears the dubious distinction of being the most frequently stolen artwork in history, was due to the fact that so many other people sought it, either for personal or national collections.  The result was cumulative—the desirability of the artwork accrued with each high-profile incident of its capture and return.  Denon sought it for The Louvre, and because of the high esteem in which he held the painting, its fame grew, prompting others to desire it for themselves.  It would be one of the top targets for the Germans during the First World War, one of only a few cultural objects listed by name and returned by the Treaty of Versailles, and would likewise top the looted art wish-lists of both Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring.








Nazi-Looted Van Goghs Bring Ruin Upon Greek Woman (artnet news)

by Sarah Cascone, Thursday, April 17, 2014 original article here.

Doreta Peppas with a van Gogh painting recovered by her father during a  Greek resistance raid of a Nazi train.

Doreta Peppas with an alleged Vincent van Gogh painting recovered by her father during a Greek resistance raid of a Nazi train. Photo via Greek Reporter.

When Doreta Peppas discovered a box of Vincent van Gogh paintings among her late father’s belongings in 2003, she thought she was rich. In the over 10 years since, she’s spent her life’s savings trying to authenticate the artworks, which her father, a Greek resistance fighter, recovered from the Nazis during World War Two.

According to the Greek Reporter, Doreta Peppas’s father Meletis Peppas conducted a raid on a Nazi train in Greece in October of 1944. Though his squad was looking for ammunition, what they found was a cache of Impressionist art, labeled degenerate by Hitler’s regime, likely on its way to be sold to bolster the fuhrer’s war chest.

The train carried oil paintings and a sketchbook by Van Gogh, as well as a photograph of the artist as a teen, and a nude painting by Paul Cézanne. Altogether, the stash is estimated to be worth $100 million. Peppas told the Greek Reporter that her father, a captain of the resistance, was “an educated man, and an amateur art buff” who “decided to keep the paintings for himself.”

Following the war, Meletis Peppas was targeted by the government due to his Communist leanings, and spent time in prison. He eventually left his family in order to protect them from the government, all the while managing to keep his priceless art stash a secret. The elder Peppas died in 1973, and for decades the artworks that his daughter claims he took from the Nazis were forgotten.

When Doreta Peppas uncovered the work in November 2003, she immediately turned to experts for X-rays, lab tests, and other means of authentication. Two specialists have identified the sketchbook as dating to Van Gogh’s studies at the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels. A facial recognition expert confirmed the photo of an adolescent Van Gogh as a match to known photographs of the artist as an adult.

A stamp on the back of a Van Gogh portrait of a man smoking a pipe, thought to be one of a series of paintings of the artist’s doctor, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, has been authenticated as an official Nazi mark by the Bundesarchiv in Germany. Much of the art confiscated by the Nazis was cataloged at the Louvre in Paris before being sold to private collectors.

Despite the works’ ties to the Nazis, there are no records regarding their original owners. “I went to great lengths to find out who originally owned the paintings,” said Doreta Peppas. “I even went to Interpol.”

According to Greek law the works are hers, but potential buyers—whether collectors, auction houses, or institutions—remain skeptical. Citing the artworks’ Nazi provenance as a reason for the lack of interest, she claims that institutions have doubted the results of the authentication research for which she has paid so much.

Among the suspicious institutions is Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. “They said they would authenticate it, but the contract they sent me stated they had the right to keep it forever, for free,” Peppas said. Greek dealers and the Louvre have also turned away the works, leaving her with no way to recoup the $150,000 she says she has spent verifying the art’s origins.

“These galleries and auction houses are nothing less than cartels, and word has gone around that my pieces must not be sold,” Peppas complains. “I have been the subject of terrible bullies in the art world.”

At this time it is unclear whether or not this Doreta Peppas—whose last name is alternately spelled “Peppas” and “Peppa” throughout the Greek Reporter article—is the same woman who, in 2007, called upon Greece’s Culture Ministry to grant access to the Temple of Olympian Zeus for the small group of Athenians who continue to worship the ancient Greek deity Zeus.

Bristol Museum Will Display Stolen Banksy Confiscated by City Hall (artnet news)

by Sarah Cascone, Thursday, April 17, 2014 original article here.


Banksy, Mobile Lovers (2014), in Bristol. Photo via

The municipal government in Bristol has stepped in to resolve the controversy over secretive street artist Banksy‘s latest work, which will now be displayed at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, reports the BBC.

Shortly after the painting of a couple embracing, their faces alight with the glow of their mobile devices, was announced on Banksy’s website, an opportunistic local youth club leader, Dennis Stinchcombe, pried the plywood artwork from the doorway where it had been installed.

Where the original stood, a smaller copy was displayed, along with a note reading:

This is where Banksy’s work did stand. It has been removed as it was at risk of being damaged or vandalized or taken away. As some of you may be aware, the Riverside Youth Project which stands to your left is under major threat of being shut down due to funding. You can view the art work in our building where it is being kept safe from harm! We will ask a small donation to be contributed if you do wish to view. Please do not hesitate to pop in!

Reactions to Stinchcombe’s theft have ranged from death threats to an offer of $1.7 million for the painting, according to the BBC. The Broad Plain Boys’ Club claims to need over $200,000 to continue operations, and had initially hoped to raise $170,000 from the proceeds of a sale.

Yesterday, Bristol mayor George Ferguson stepped in, urging the club to turn the painting over to police. “As far as we know it belongs to the city,” he told the BBC. “What’s important is that it’s available for everybody to see.” Reluctantly, the club acquiesced.

Now, it is unclear how much the struggling organization will benefit from the artwork, which is scheduled to go on view tomorrow, “once,” per the museum’s Twitter feed, “we have cleaned the spiders, wasp nest and dirt off.”

The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery promises to put up a donation box next to the work, and the mayor is encouraging Banksy to offer a limited-edition print of the work, with the proceeds to go to the club.

Stinchcombe, for his part, is heartbroken, asking “How often do you see a million pounds walk out of your club?”



see updates about Mobile Lovers here.


Museum Insiders Behind Massive $250M Turkish Art Heist (Hyperallegic)

by Laura C. Mallonee on November 12, 2014 original article here.

State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara


Corruption is on the rise in Turkey, and the State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara is no exception. A new report in the newspaper Hurriyet has revealed that museum staff participated in a $250 million art heist of 302 works in their own institution between 2005 and 2009. The organized crime scheme replaced paintings with fake replicas, selling the original ones to businessmen. When the Turkish Cultural Ministry examined the Ankara collection they found that 302 objects were stolen, which included 46 objects and paintings that have been replaced with forged replicas, including 13 charcoal sketches by artist Hacı Ali Rıza.

The revelation was made by an anonymous antique dealer calling himself “daylight.” Phoning the Turkish culture minister Ertuğrul Günay, he claimed he was approached by ringleader Ahmet Sarı, allegedly enlisted by the museum’s female deputy director to sell authentic works in the museum’s collection. Sarı wanted “daylight” to participate in the plan, which replaced 46 of the museum’s holdings with forgeries created at the Aivazovsky Painting Academy in the Crimea. It also removed scores of others.

The art was allegedly sold to businessmen “through mediators and antique dealers known in their fields.” A famous oil painting by Turkish artist Hikmet Onat was acquired by an antique dealer for $210,000; he then passed it on to a “famous businessman” for $350,000. One of Vecihi Bereketoğlu’s painting was similarly sold to an auctioneer, accused of selling it to the son of another businessman. Since the revelations, three of 18 suspects have been arrested: Ahmet Sarı, museum security official Veli Topal, and antique dealer Mete Aktuna. Just a few of the works have been recovered, while 30 other works in the museum are now considered to be of possible “dubious authenticity.”

Writing on ARCA, Lynda Albertson makes an important point that the case exposes the increasingly favorable climate for trafficking antiquities in Turkey and the region, boosted by wars in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq:

The fact that this group of criminals were able to operate so freely and for so long within Turkish borders and within the legitimate art market without detection reflects the country’s heritage vulnerability as a trafficking conduit not just for its own works of art but also for objects originating from nearby nations such as Syria and Iraq where trafficking and looting have been reported.


Amal Alamuddin (Clooney), George Clooney, and the Elgin Marbles

This article has NOTHING to do with George Clooney, but let’s be honest, in the news recently we can’t see Amal Alamuddin’s name without being mentioned along side George Clooney and that’s a shame! Alamuddin has an extraordinary reputation on her own as a human rights lawyer and activist who specializes in international and criminal law. Now Ms. Clooney (she took her husband’s name) is on a crusade to rescue the Elgin marbles and have them returned to Greece.

In October of 2014, Ms. Clooney began the process of repatriating the Elgin marbles for the Greek government. If you are unfamiliar about the history of these ancient Greek marble sculptures from Greece, here is your history lesson. The Elgin marbles, also called the Parthenon marbles, once were part of the Parthenon and other buildings that make up the Acropolis in Athens. These classical Greek works of art were mostly made by Phidias and his assistants and are made up of sculptures, inscriptions, and other features of the original architecture of the buildings at this historic site. More specifically, the collection includes 247 feet of the once existing 524-foot frieze, 15 of 92 metopes, 17 figures from the pediments, and an assortment of additional pieces of architecture. This by no means is the only remaining collection of the sculptures that still exist from the Acropolis and Parthenon. Long before Lord Elgin took possession of his portion of the sculptures, many other sculptures were pillaged from this historic site prior to the Ottoman occupation of Greece in the 1800s and are held in other museum collections in the US like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Europe such as The Louvre. Athens also removed all the art from this historic location and relocated it to the museum build especially for it, the Acropolis Museum, in 2007.

These British possessed sculptures received their name from Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, better known as Lord Elgin. He “acquired” these works of art during his time as an ambassador to the Ottoman court of the Sultan in Istanbul between 1799-1803. Lord Elgin later sold them to the British Parliament in 1816 and after, they were gifted to the British Museum. They were put on display in the Elgin Room of the British Museum after its completion in 1832.

File:Elgin Marbles British Museum.jpg

The room containing the Elgin marbles at the British Museum. From Wikipedia Commons © Andrew Dunn, 3 December 2005.

Repatriation talk began approximately 40 year ago spearheaded by the late Melina Mercouri, then the Minster of Culture of Greece in the 1980s, but the British government argued that Athens did not have the space or the means to present or maintain the marbles. Many have taken up the fight for the return on the marbles since Mercouri such as Queen’s Counsel Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, Clooney, and current Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Once Greece completed the Acropolis Museum however, it was apparent that this was merely an excuse for the British government to keep the Greek treasures. They claimed the possession of the marbles in the museum “allows different complementary stories to be told about them.” (Guardian, 2014)

There are others that don’t feel the marbles should be returned to Greece, specifically of course, the British government. They have made the case that the British Museum attracts a wider audience and therefore more people will be able to experience these sculptures. The are also quick to point out that the existence of the marbles in London for over 200 years is itself a part of history influencing architecture and design in Britain during that period. The New York Times put it best when it said “imperialism isn’t an endearing argument.”(New York Times, 2009)

For more info check out these additional sources:

“What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?.” British Museum – What are the ‘Elgin Marbles’?. The British Museum, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <;.

Smith, Helena. “Parthenon marbles meet Hollywood as Amal Alamuddin Clooney advises Greece | Art and design.” The Guardian. Guardian News, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <;.

Michael, Kimmelman. “Abroad – Athens Museum Opening Reprises Debate on Elgin Marbles –” The New York Times – Art & Design. The New York Times, 23 June 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <;.

Calvin College openURL resolver

Mystery shrouds discovery of art trove stolen by Nazis (Yahoo News)

Deborah Cole AFP News

The discovery in a rubbish-strewn flat in Germany of nearly 1,500 paintings including works by Picasso and Matisse looted by the Nazis sparked urgent calls Monday to hunt for their rightful owners.

The shock find was reported Sunday by news weekly Focus, which valued the works at around one billion euros ($1.3 billion dollars). Authorities repeatedly declined to comment on the trove uncovered in 2011 but scheduled a news conference on Tuesday.

However German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlin had been aware of the case for “several months” and was assisting an investigation by public prosecutors with experts in Nazi-era stolen art. He said he was unaware of any restitution demands.

Hundreds of the modernist masterpieces are believed to have been stolen by the Nazis from Jewish collectors or seized as part of crackdowns on “degenerate art”.

“I think it’s the biggest single find of Holocaust pictures that there’s been for years, but it’s still a tiny fraction of the total number of pictures that we’re looking for,” Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the London-based Art Loss Register, which runs an international database of stolen and missing works, told AFP.

Investigators came upon the paintings during a 2011 search of an apartment belonging to the elderly son of art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had acquired them during the 1930s and 1940s, according to Focus.

The search was carried out because the son, Cornelius Gurlitt, was caught by customs authorities on a train from Switzerland to Munich with a large amount of cash.

The collection uncovered included many of the masters of the 20th century, among them Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Max Beckmann and Max Liebermann.

A person who was present at the search told AFP that trash and discarded food packaging lay around the apartment and the paintings were stored on hand-built shelves hidden behind a curtain.

Gurlitt’s father, despite having a Jewish grandmother, had become indispensable to officials in the Third Reich because of his art expertise and vast network of contacts.

Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels put Gurlitt in charge of selling the art abroad.

However Gurlitt apparently secretly hoarded many of the works, and claimed after the war that the masterpieces were destroyed in the bombing of Dresden.

His son, a recluse without a job, had sold a few over the years, living off the proceeds, Focus said. For the moment he is only facing possible tax evasion charges.

The works are now stored in a customs warehouse outside Munich.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, led calls for an exhaustive search for the provenance of the paintings, at least 200 of which were officially reported missing.

The spectacular find “makes clear once again that the Holocaust was not only a mass murder, it was a mass deadly hold-up,” he told the WAZ newspaper group.

Anne Webber, founder and co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, called the case “the tip of the iceberg”.

“People have been looking for their looted art for 75 years now so if there are 1,500 paintings here it stands to reason that there are a lot of looted paintings that belong to families which should be returned to them,” Webber told BBC television.

She said the fact that German authorities had still not published a list of the works or located a single rightful owner raised troubling questions.

“There’s a culture of secrecy,” she said.

Among the paintings discovered was a Matisse that had belonged to the Jewish collector Paul Rosenberg.

Rosenberg, who fled Paris leaving his collection behind, was the grandfather of Anne Sinclair, the former wife of the disgraced French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

A Swiss gallery, Kornfeld, said it had made its last purchase from Cornelius in 1990, when it bought works on paper that were part of the Nazis’ collection of “degenerate art” displayed in 1937 and bought by Gurlitt’s father the following year.

“It is important to make a clear distinction between works that were looted and those seized by the National Socialists as ‘degenerate art’ which can be bought freely to this day,” it said.

The Nazis plundered artworks in Germany and across Europe before and during World War II.

Thousands of stolen artworks have since been returned to their owners or their descendants, but many more have never resurfaced.

Webber said restitution efforts were of paramount importance.

“These were works that were taken from families whose lives were utterly destroyed or transformed by the Nazis, and so for them the return of this art is both justice and a form of re-connection to that life that was taken away from them,” she said.