Meet Southern Artist and Scientist Charles Willson Peale


   Charles Willson Peale, a prolific Renaissance man, gave us fine portraits of our Founding Fathers and this is the week to take a closer look at Peale’s life in work in celebration of Independence Day. Peale was a well-known 19th century American painter.

Charles Willson Peale









Charles Willson Peale self portrait with daughter Angelica.

But did you know he was also a scientist? Or that he was a naturalist? Or a soldier and a politician who founded one of our first museums? I didn’t know any of that until I decided to feature his work as an American 19th century painter. His story is a bit romantic in itself.

In July, this blog will feature Southern artists of the 19th century. As an aside, when I chose to focus on this area, a search on an infamous search engine yielded little information. If I didn’t know better I would think their corporate policy was to ignore all things Southern. Imagine that!

Peale’s Early Life

Peale was born in 1741 in Chester, Maryland. He was apprenticed to a saddle maker, then eventually opened his own saddle shop. He was beset by two problems: he wasn’t good at his work and Tory Loyalists were aghast when he joined the Sons of Liberty so they made sure he went bankrupt.

Oddly enough, Peale wasn’t good at working with his hands. After trying several occupations, for which he was not well suited, he decided to paint. That brought a shift in the output of his hands. His talent was readily apparent when he used a brush with paint on a canvas. He found his calling in life, especially by painting portraits.

Painting Studies

He began his studies with two of his era’s greatest painters, John Hesselius and John Singleton Copley. Peale’s friends were kind enough to raise enough money for him to travel to England and study under the renowned artist Benjamin West, which he did for three years.

At the end of his studies, Peale returned to the United States and settled in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1770 near many of the players in our formation as a country. He wasn’t satisfied with being that far from the real action, so he moved to Philadelphia in 1776. This decision would result in solidifying his reputation.

Revolutionary Figures by Peale

Peale created some of his greatest portraits by painting the men who wrote our Declaration of Independence. His work features men of towering reputation from America and Europe. He bought an estate in Philadelphia, began raising money for militias, joined one, and became a captain in the Pennsylvania Militia.

While serving in the field, he painted the portraits of many Continental Army soldiers. This work was done in miniature, but he later created larger paintings of those people and scenes. He served as a representative in the Pennsylvania State assembly for one year, beginning in 1779.

Returning to painting

After his one year term of office, Peale found his way back home and took up full time painting again. Peale painted the greats such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Varnum and John Hancock.

Thomas Jefferson by Peale

Thomas Jefferson










His most famous subject was George Washington, whose portrait he first painted in 1772. Over the course of several years Peale painted almost 60 portraits of Washington.

Here is an art news tidbit: in 2006, Peale’s work Washington at Princeton fetched an astonishing $21.3 million dollars at auction. This was the highest amount ever paid for an American portrait.

George Washington by Peale

George Washington at Princeton

Peale’s Museums and bones

Earlier I mentioned that Peale was a great naturalist. He founded the Philadelphia Museum, which became the Peale museum. Peale’s interest in natural history led him to help fund a scientific exhibition. The items brought back to Philadelphia formed the genesis of the museum.

From stuffed birds (from taxidermy) to fossils, the museum featured a wealth of interesting items. It was the first museum in America to feature mastodon bones. Peale also arranged an exchanged program of natural history items between his museum and the Finbury Museum on Finbury Road in London.

Peale at his museum

Big bone of contention

Jefferson and Comte de Buffon clashed over the mastodon bones in the museum. Jefferson, another great naturalist and Renaissance man, claimed America had a great biodiversity than Europe.

The Comte, steeped in his European heritage, argued otherwise. In the end, it was the great Peale Museum that brought attention to the debate and itself. The museum had several physical homes, but eventually it went under.

Peale needed a massive infusion of cash and was unable to get government funding to keep it open. Don’t say it, I know. We fund stupid things now, but he couldn’t get help then. The collection was sold off.

Family life

In addition to being a prolific painter, Peale was a prolific procreator. He and his first wife, Rachel Brewer, had 10 children. Peale insisted upon naming all his children after painters he admired, including women. From Rembrandt to Miss Angelica Kaufman, the children bore famous names. Many went on to become artists or naturalists themselves.

Upon Rachel’s death, Peale married Miss Elizabeth de Peyster, with whom he had six more children. His success as an artist was absolutely needed in order to feed his large family. When Elizabeth died, Peale married his third wife, Hannah More, a Quaker.

He needed another wife to care for his brood, especially the younger children. They remained married until Peale’s death in 1827. Peale was an Episcopalian, as were so many other early Founding Fathers, and he was buried in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Cemetery.

Elizabeth dePeyster Peale


As a Renaissance man, Peale was knowledgeable in everything from carpentry to painting. After 1802 partnered with John Hawkins, the inventor of the physiogno trace, a handy mechanical drawing device. Peale’s job was to help market the device. As part of his work, he corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, giving a detailed explanation of how the system functioned. Those papers are still among Jefferson’s personal papers.

Peale authored books and continued his interest in science up to his death. Several of his children became famous artists in their own right. And his brother-in law Nathaniel Ramsey was one of the delegates to the Confederation Delegation.

Peale’s enormous legacy consists of art, science, museum founding, right up to owning the patent for the first polygraph machine. He was working, thinking, dreaming and inventing all the time. He left us a vastly richer nation because he lived.

Why am I doing this?

My hope is that featuring different artists, asking questions about what made them great, and passing on the information to you inspires you. All of this is so much grist for the mill for my upcoming books. If I have no knowledge about fine art and what makes people important, you won’t believe much of what I write about in my books.

Especially if my sweet ladies are supposed to be owners of art galleries or work in a museum.

I love doing this research and learning more and more about different American artists and it is my sincere wish that you love these things as well. We can enjoy the art and the artist!

Have a great week!



Harriet Goodhue Hosmer the Premier Sculptor


Harriet Goodhue Hosmer is not a household name these days, but her place in American history is firmly assured by her beautiful sculptures. Never heard of her? Neither had I. When I began researching 19th century American artists for a series of blogs it occurred to me that we probably didn’t know much about the women like Harriet Hosmer.

Harriet Hosmer









Not to be snarky, we tended to give women short shrift in their professional and personal lives until about mid-20th century. We do, after all, live in a more patriarchal world. That’s the way the world turns.arriet Goodhue Hosmer is not a household name these days, but her place in American history is firmly assured by her beautiful sculptures.

Never heard of her? Neither had I. When I began researching 19th century American artists for a series of blogs it occurred to me that we probably didn’t know much about the women like Harriet Hosmer.

So, Harriet Hosmer wasn’t treated with any less respect than most professional women. Quick, name a famous woman physician from the 19th century. See what I mean? It is interesting to me that we tend to know about women writers, however. I wonder why that is so? I digress.

Early life

Here are basic facts about Ms. Hosmer who was born in Watertown, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. (October 9, 1830-February 21, 1908) who was a neoclassical sculptor. She was the first woman professional sculptor and in the United States during the 19th century.

Did you know she invented a chemical process that turned ordinary limestone into marble? Neither did I. That alone is quite a feat that changed how we make things and what we can do. The world is awash in limestone, not marble.

Harriet was a sickly child whose mother and siblings died while she was young. Her father, a physician, encouraged her to pursue physical activities to strengthen her body and its capacity to fight against illness. She became adept at many individual sporting activities that improved her upper body strength.

Rowing on the river gave her body a boost to get strong, a necessary component for a sculptor. Physical activity was only one area of her studies. Her father wanted her to develop her artistic abilities and provided her the opportunity to do so.

Anatomy studies

As her drawing and modeling skills improved, her father knew she could benefit from studying anatomy. He sent to Missouri to attend Missouri Medical College. After that course, she returned home and continued her studies in modeling. Not runway modeling, clay, you guys!

The Sleeping Faun

The Sleeping Faun by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer

          She traveled to Rome for further instruction from Welsh sculptor John Gibson. Naturally her father accompanied her on this jaunt because young ladies did not traipse around the world on their own. Her friend and famous American astronomer Maria Mitchell said of her:

“When Hosmer knew herself to be a sculptor, she knew also that in America was no school for her. She must leave home, she must live where art could live. She might model her busts in clay of her own soil, but who should follow out in marble the delicate thought which the clay expressed? The workmen of Massachusetts tended the looms, built the railroads, and read the newspapers.

The hard-handed men of Italy worked in marble from the designs put before them; one copied the leaves which the sculptor threw into the wreaths around the brows of his heroes; another turned with the tool the folds of the drapery; another wrought up the delicate tissues of the flesh; none of them dreamed of ideas – they were copyists – the very hand-work that her head needed. And to Italy she went…”

Maria Mitchell, c. 1857


In Rome, she belonged to a circle of friends who were all famous artists in their own right, including writers, composers, painters, sculptors and in Florence she was befriend by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. Below see the beautiful piece she sculpted of their hands.

Clasped Hands of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, Clasped Hands of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, American, 1830 – 1908, model 1853, bronze, Gift in honor of Margaret and Raymond Horowitz











Later life

Women sculptors didn’t study with live models as the men did. It was not considered appropriate for them to do so. Of course, women saw sculpture of naked men in the galleries and museums and that was allowed. Very confusing rules in our various cultures! Well, Miss Harriet took matters into her own hands with her studies of anatomy and viewing classical sculpture in Italy.

Her extensive exposure to, and knowledge of, classical and ancient sculpture led her to base her work upon the same kinds of themes as the greatest sculptors. That would include subjects such as mythological creatures, people and scenes. She was so talented and successful her fame grew beyond Italy.

I have included several examples of her work in this blog. It would be spectacular to see some in real life, as it were. Her work is stunning. It looks as though the people could stand up and walk away any minute. Her father was right to encourage his daughter to pursue something she was clearly gifted to do.

Sculpting legacy

Ms. Hosmer spent time living in Chicago and Terre Haute, but she came back to Watertown to live and work. Her work was on both large and small scale, which garnered her even more praise in her lifetime. While women didn’t have careers, especially professional careers, as we do now, Ms. Hosmer literally carved one out for herself.

She was known for the beauty of her work and made a living with her sculpture, something that was quite unusual for her time. She also helped led other women artists into a new future of acceptance with her example of producing excellent work that was in high demand and for which she was paid a decent wage.

Hosmer Illustration

Her sculpting reveals the beauty of the human body and her eye for seeing and capturing it in hard stone. She was recognized as the leading woman sculptor of the 19th century in the United States and beyond.

In June, we will look at three more woman sculptors, all of whom owe their recognition not only to their own ability but to Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, the leading light of 19th century American artists.

Have a great week!

Treasures, Antiquities and Art Historians


Treasures, treasures everywhere, nor any art to hang up on the walls. With my apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge on his epic 1797 poem The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. That is an epic poem due to its length; stolen art is epic in its quantity, quality and the length of time between theft and retrieval. If there is a retrieval. It keeps all those art historians on their toes. Whether it is stolen paintings, antiquities swiped from war torn countries, sculpture that sneaks out under cover of dark, the art history folks keep their eyes opened for all these items.

And, of course, the police. I subscribe to a few blogs that relate in some fashion to art, art history, stolen art, recovering said stolen art, and so on. The information available to read on these topics is a mountain that is hard to scale when you dawdle along as I seem to do. I literally cannot keep up with all the articles that land in my inbox. I can only imagine what art curators must deal with daily. In order to be on the lookout for stolen art, one must first know what is missing from homes, galleries, museums, transportation hubs and private viewings.

The latest blog that caught my eye was from the ARCA blog. ARCA stands for Art la di da and so on find out what this means. The blog highlights the Italian police, known as the Carabinieri, who diligently chase down all the lovely and irreplaceable artworks stolen from Italian soil. The Italians have a finely-honed police art squad, if you will, completely dedicated to the successful return of all stolen items. Italians take art as seriously as food, water and wine. Italians are rightfully proud of their heritage from music to paintings to sculpture to architecture. Their art curators authenticate so much work every day, curate it, and help sell it legally to buyers and collectors, you would think they don’t have time to deal with thefts of art. But all those art thefts are exactly what ruins their galleries, museums, all public buildings, and private collections.

Fabrizio Rossi Luogotenente presso Arma dei Carabineri Photo: UNESCO







The Italian Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale publishes bulletins to inform the public about stolen art because it has proven to help to curb art theft and trafficking. Brigadier General Fabrizio Parulli, the Carabinieri TPC Commander said in the 38th edition of the bulletin:

“We believe that what has been stolen must not be considered as lost forever. On the contrary, we regard it as held hostage by offenders who can and must be defeated by the Italian and the international police force, together with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage Activities and Tourism, the art dealers and all the citizens.”

Clearly you should never steal from the Italians because they will run you to ground in order to retrieve their artwork!

This year the group sponsored a conference entitled “Art Held Hostage” for people who work in law enforcement, academia, galleries, museums, auction houses and the art market. The conference included descriptions of all the artwork stolen this year that has yet to be recovered. There is no end to the work, apparently, for people trying to gain back the works that are a major component of cultural heritage.

Museum of the Missing bySimon Houpt. The book details stolen artwork that has not been recovered.

The problem is obviously not unique to Italy, or even Europe. Art thefts, artifacts and antiquities thefts, criminal networks and willing buyers operate on every continent. Whether it is a Chinese Ming vase, a pre-Columbian artifact from South America, a painting from the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, thieves are working everywhere, under all conditions, to unlawfully earn a buck.

This brings me to what is going on with the characters in my own work. All this information is just so juicy. Unfortunately, I am not writing a definitive academic work on the nature of art and antiquities thefts. My work must curtail all that exploration into dark corners and pick something manageable. It’s been fun to read, ponder, and look out the window. But now it’s time to decide what must actually make its way into a story that is believable to you, dear readers, and entice you to continue reading. So, alas, you won’t be reading all the latest from the world of criminal art sales. There will be fun information, chases to catch the thieves, and many moments of love and longing. These books are, after all, about romance, not just skullduggery and shenanigans.

A little sneak peek might be in order here. One of my characters in one of the books is a woman who owns an art gallery. She tends to specialize in nineteenth century American painters, especially those who paint landscapes. That idea has led me to some very pleasure time spent on the website of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Their website could hold you captive for hours. There is so much to view from their collection. Naturally, I kept viewing and viewing. But viewing isn’t writing, said the inner voice. So, I reluctantly left the website to return to writing.

What I learned was so interesting I decided to share some of it with you in these blogs. The other aspect of all this viewing is to share actual photos of the artwork that has caught my attention. You will also get to see some magnificent examples of American painting. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. So, I will share pictures for your entertainment and edification. Mostly for the entertainment.

My hope is you find all these tidbits intriguing enough to stay around and read. You need something positive in your day, which viewing art can provide. You need a puzzle to solve, which reading about art thefts, antiquities stolen, and the hair pulling of art historians can provide. Sounds like a good mix we can enjoy together.

Have a wonderful week. I hope this inspires you to go online and find artwork you like and learn something about it. Happy viewing and reading!

A Funny Thing Happened…

History can repeat itself endlessly to our amusement or dismay. Years ago, the movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was nearly a cult classic and people would start stories by saying, “You know, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…” to indicate how life has a way of sidetracking you from your best laid plans. Yes, well, as a famous Scots writer once declared, “the best laid plans of mice and men.” Life has a way of turning your plans to mush because God has a sense of humor. Or I think He does.






This is a pretty long-winded way to say after several detours, roundabouts, U-turns and just plain dead ends, I have arrived at the place where I began. Absolutely battered, bruised, and well-worn, but nonetheless still able to laugh that I wanted to write about history, I wanted to write stories that gripped people’s hearts, maybe change their lives, but at least make them feel better. Back in the day, people would claim in horror about the starving artist, writer, dancer, actor, what have you. Few people would encourage a woman, in particular, to write her way through life. So I went to college to become a history teacher.

Mind you, women writers who published potboiler romance novels made actual money. Women who wrote historical fiction made money. Women who wrote inspirational or devotional books made some money. None of that mattered. Women went to college to get a teaching or nursing degree so they could support themselves if necessary. Our mothers and grandmothers had firsthand knowledge of being war widows, or women left in the lurch by philandering husbands. They wanted their daughters to be more independent, which meant occupations that were deemed appropriate for women. Teaching. Nursing. Maybe math or science, if you must. But stable, honest work.







Writers weren’t really considered to the epitome of stability. Never mind about Flannery O’Connor or Harper Lee. So, I trotted off to get that teaching degree. But life is funny. And a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I took classes and studied and then fell in love. I got married, not hitched to a classroom. And with children and one thing after another put the whole idea about writing books on the back burner. Note, it was an idea that was still on the stove, simmering away.

History teachers, people with PhDs in history, were tending bar. That option slid down the drain. Journalism used to be the first draft of history, so I could combine two loves: history and writing. It was a happy relationship as long as I was in school. In real life, jobs were scarce and disappearing like a puff of smoke in the wind. Life was changing rapidly. And so was I.

Now we are in a new time and the itch to write a book about love, or books about love in another time and place, beckon me to the computer every day. Years of reading interesting facts and emotional tomes have left me with a full attack in my mind. I am eager to put all that knowledge or fun to work on behalf of keeping you, dear reader, entertained.

That is the real reason to do all this writing. You readers are what make writers sit in the chair and by hand or by typing toil away over words, paragraphs and plot lines. Without your devotion, there might not be much point to all of this. Some people write to amuse themselves and that’s fine for them. But you want more tales of the heart. Tales of how boy met girl and it changed the course of a nation. You want a happily ever after and to feel good when the book ends. You want to think about the course of true love instead of the traffic jams. I don’t blame you…I want the same thing.

That means we are embarking on this journey together and I hope you enjoy it. I have left some recent posts on this site because all that material about art thefts, Nazi looted art, restitution of artwork to Jewish families, and the underground world of using stolen art as currency is part of a work in progress. I promise you’ll read about it someday.

In the meantime, I intend to share all manner of interesting tidbits with you about art, art history, music, and dance. These topics interest me and I think you’ll like characters who work and play and live in these areas. I know little about engineering, except that engineers are creative problem solvers, so I won’t be writing books about engineering. My heart lies in the arts and we can enjoy ourselves with that.









My wish is for you to have fun, enjoy the books, and feel that it was worth your while to read. I look forward to meeting you and knowing if I helped you have some fun.

Have a happy week!

Art Thefts, Pork Bellies and Big Money Deals


While you take the time to read this article, someone somewhere in the world is buying or selling stolen art. Every day is another opportunity for the thieves to increase their wealth while unscrupulous collectors add another work to their possessions. While these sales are illegitimate, unscrupulous and harmful to the art world, there are people behind the scenes trying to stop the transactions.

Van Gogh Vase








The arts as represented especially by paintings and sculpture top the list of things most easily stolen and sold underground to collectors. I wish we didn’t have to refer to them as collectors because I would prefer to call them criminal collectors. Or maybe just criminals. It seems that they shouldn’t be respected by calling them collectors. They live by their own rules with little concern for the long-term consequences of their criminal activities. What matters to them is an addition to their hoard of artworks that won’t be seen by the public.

Simon Houpt wrote The Museum of the Missing in 2006. The book is about stolen artwork and begins begins with a foreword by Julian Radcliffe, the chairman of the Art Loss Register, a world-wide organization based in London. The Register maintains a database of stolen artwork that is continually updated. Radcliffe notes, “Art theft has become a global problem.” He says, “It is a crime that affects all of us. Nearly half of all items recovered by the Art Loss Register are found outside the country where they were stolen. Great amounts of money are involved, there are links to organized crime, and the lost pieces of our cultural heritage are irreplaceable.”

Museum Room
Depicting Missing Artwork







Mr. Houpt posits the theory that politicians are reluctant to spend money on retrieving the stolen items because most people don’t place a high priority on recovery. If people are ignorant of their heritage and history, they are not likely to think about the ramifications of the theft of art. It’s not that people actually dislike their heritage, but they might be among those who have never had the opportunity to learn about art and music.

As fewer schools teach classes in art and music, as the study of history is watered down or distorted out of recognition of the truth, people are not exposed to the importance of cultural items and historical significance. People who have never really listened to classical music might not appreciate Bach or Mozart, just as they missed the beauty of Renaissance Italian paintings or the French Impressionists.

My point here is not to belittle people who have little or no exposure to the arts. And this is not the article for a diatribe on the curriculum of public schools, although what is taught does affect the attitudes that people develop at an early age.

When I grew up we studied art and music from elementary school through college. I graduated with my undergraduate degree from a teacher’s college where our core curriculum included studying art, music and humanities. It was a shared belief in our nation at that time that well educated people meant people who were exposed to various expressions of our creative nature. Since that flew out the window some time ago, sadly we see the result is a lack of concern for our heritage in western society.

The Concert by Vermeer








The question for us to examine is why is there so much art theft? Art has become the currency du jour of the criminal underworld and terrorist groups. Art is easier to obtain (by stealing, naturally) than diamonds. Most of it can be made portable by cutting the paintings out of their frames and rolling them up or packing them into shipping cartons with other items. Art work can be held in escrow while transactions are being completed or stored safely in numerous places in the interim. Naturally the stolen work escapes the roving eyes of tax collectors so there will never be a public record of art for cash or weapons.

The fact that art prices have risen astronomically, to say the very least, makes all thefts that much more tempting. When the Masterpieces of art fetch millions of dollars each, people are much more willing to take extraordinary risks to obtain that work. Ergo, art has become a commodity not unlike pork belly futures. (I couldn’t resist a silly comparison to lighten up!) Art for dollars, or something more dangerous like weapons. A new methodology has entered the criminal world.

Art thefts and sales weren’t invented in the 20th century, of course. But the idea of trading a stolen Picasso or Caravaggio for a shipment of weapons brought a new seriousness and sinister atmosphere to the trades. It also brought in a higher level of policing. Stolen goods were one thing; swapping stolen art for Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles or fissionable material was a completely different situation. Now the intelligence services and security services have joined the local law enforcement constabulary in trying to find, track and capture the thieves, dealers, buyers and anyone else involved in the supply chain.

As Sherlock Holmes would say, the game is afoot. And it has become quite the game of risk worldwide. So far there is nothing to dissuade the thieves, so the loss prevention must happen at the site of the artwork exhibits. Sadly, that has been ineffectual many times. The thefts continue, the sales continue, and the weapons change hands so the worst among us can kill and destroy the best among us.

This is a moral problem on a huge scale. This criminal activity is the fourth highest ranking crime worldwide. Yes, fourth. I will continue to talk about this aspect of art theft in future blogs. Enjoy the paintings in your local museum and think what you would be missing if they were stolen.



New Ruling Favors Jewish Families and Art Restitution

A landmark ruling on March 30, 2017 favored Jewish families against German holders of stolen art. The families claimed their artwork was stolen by the Nazis as part of the action taken against all Jewish people in Germany and other countries. As the Nazis investigated the financial and art holdings of Jewish families, they confiscated everything of value from silverware, china, artwork, priceless musical instruments, jewelry, money and furniture. Eventually the Nazis took the homes, offices and other real estate owned by Jewish families.









Above, Portrait of A Young Man, by Raphael,  is still listed as missing.

A United States District Court in Washington, DC, found for the descendants of Jewish families who were robbed of their possessions by Nazis. The Germans claim that the artworks and other items were not sold under duress by the owners; their contention is that the owners wanted to sell.

The reason the decision is so critical is that it is the first decision by a court to allow descendants to sue the Germans and others under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The collection names in the lawsuit is currently held in the Bode Museum in Berlin, Germany. Germany claims the Guelph Treasure collection, valued at about $227 million dollars, was purchased legally. The claimants dispute that, saying the portion of the collection that went to Hermann Goering was obtained illegally.

The Germans contend that the Limbach Commission decided in 2014 that no lawsuits could be litigated later. They contended that the sale was proper. The US court disagreed, agreeing with the claimants that the Nazi actions of taking property without compensation is in violation of international law. Since the end of World War II, German officials have insisted that the owners of the artwork and other items willing sold their treasures to individuals. Historic documents, survivors and their descendants dispute this claim, resulting in descendants filing lawsuits in Europe and the United States to return the items stolen by the Nazis to their families.

Jeweled Crucifix from the

Guelph Treasure Collection.

The collection is currently housed in the Bode Museum in Berlin.


Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimpt, a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

The film Woman in Gold told the story of Maria Altmann’s lawsuit to have her aunt’s portrait, painted by Gustav Klimpt, returned to her family. The Altmann family, who lived in Vienna, had all of their property stolen by Nazis prior to Maria’s parents being shipped to a concentration camp and killed. Klimpt painted several portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria’s aunt. The portrait in Austria that was the center of Maria’s lawsuit hung in the family’s living room. After winning her suit, the painting was eventually returned to her. She in turn sold it to Ronald S. Lauder, son of Estee Lauder the founder of the cosmetics company. Ronald Lauder opened the Neue Galerie, a nonprofit art gallery in New York city, and hung the painting in his gallery.

The lawsuit filed by attorneys in February, 2015, against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage, stated that international law was broken and the Europeans had no claim to stolen property. The court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs will no doubt bring more publicity to the question of stolen artwork. Millions of dollars in artwork, stolen from Jewish families and others, remains in hiding or is being sold on the black market today. As more judgments are called in favor of plaintiffs it will be interesting to see if the art really is restored to its rightful owners or if it will disappear into the great maw of underworld criminal syndicates.

The problem of stolen artwork continues every day. In this blog I will share new information as it becomes available. The blogs will cover different aspects of the loot stolen by Nazis and still circulating the globe illegally and under the radar. All the artwork stolen by Nazis is still capturing the imaginations of people everywhere. It is a giant business that keeps law enforcement officers, gallery and museum owners, and affects art sales to both reputable buyers and scoundrels.

Art Thefts and Museums

Over twenty-five years ago, two men dressed as Boston police out smarted the security guard on duty at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston. They convinced him to let them inside the building (the first no-no) then leave his post (second no-no) where he had access to the only alarm (museum’s no-no and incredible dereliction) then call the only other guard on duty (third no-no for guard, second for museum) and then they got tied up with things. Literally. In the basement.

The thieves made off with 13 nearly priceless works of art. With no backup security (museum’s third no-no) the crooks had ample time to get away. The guards weren’t discovered until museum employees reported for work the next day. Hindsight tells us what’s wrong with this picture, and what a picture it is.

As I write this it is March 2017 and we have none of the art returned to the museum. It is now sadder and wiser, as are other museums. But the truth is that the art thefts continue, as do the threats of theft. The thefts aren’t transpiring solely at the museums. Thieves make off with work from galleries, exhibitions and private collections. The works include paintings, sculpture, porcelain objets d’art, jewelry, items of historical value and so forth.

All this combined effort at elaborate thefts and concealment help point out why tracking down Nazi looted art is still so difficult. Clever thieves are interested in payment not producing goods to return to rightful owners. As I have written before, art theft is the fourth most lucrative money making scheme worldwide. Unfortunately, we frequently make it easy for criminals to gain access to artworks and then fail to catch them later.

Here are photos of the items stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum. All these are in a document on their website. The photos are property of the museum.

Enjoy looking at the photos. And if you should run across one of these precious items…call the FBI Art Squad. They will be delighted to hear from you.