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!

Art History Helps Preserve Our Heritage

 

Art history helps preserve and protect our western heritage and that is reason enough to study it. That is a bold statement and I’ll be happy to buttress that with some real-life examples. And the reason for all this? Well, I have all these characters and ideas for story lines that involved history, art, music, dance and so on. We need all those art historians, or curators as they are now known. And we need art history studies in our education tool kit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isabella Gardner Museum Italian Room, Boston, Massachusetts

People who went to college to get a good liberal arts educational background intended to be well-informed, well-rounded in their knowledge and skills, and to understand what makes Western Civilization so special. Also, for those of us who have studied art history, we know it brings delight and a joyful attitude about life. Learning to love art can bring appreciation for the beauty found in all our world.

God gave us a beautiful place to live and humans have been expressing themselves in relation to that beauty. We don’t have to be historians or art majors to appreciate art history. What we need is curiosity and an appreciation for all the things that help make our lives more beautiful. Do you wax poetic over the city dump? Not likely. What about a photo or painting of a spectacular sunset? Much more likely. In fact, I doubt many romances were born from poetry extolling the virtues of the dung heap. Rose gardens? Yep, I’m pretty sure that was done. Also, some comparisons to roses made their way into poetry. And paintings. And maybe a play or movie or book.

Art History-Van Gogh Vase

Van Gogh Vase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are all trappings of our great civilization. As we study the art mankind has created ancient statuary and drawings to the photography now widely available, we see that our forebears have allowed the beauty of life to capture their imaginations. They were compelled to display their love of life in some way that we could all enjoy. And we are just as compelled to honor that endeavor by preserving it. As scholars and ordinary people have studied art history and the making of art in all the ages, we bind together our human experiences. We portray the innocence of children and the pain of lost love. We showcase our pets and our landscapes. A trotting horse catches our eye, while the paintings of flowers bring smiles to our faces.

Art History-Pissarro Art

 

 

 

 

Art can make us cherish the ordinary and fall hopelessly in love with the exquisitely beautiful. Personally, I am completely taken by paintings of flowers. They speak to my soul of summer days and the scent of life wafting in the air. It is easy for me to draft a major character who has studied and analyzed thousands of paintings. Sculpture might be your interest and if so, who wouldn’t be moved by the work of Michelangelo? His David or The Pieta would bring tears to your eyes from the sheer beauty and realism of these works.

Right now I am working out the plotting for a book featuring a main character who owns an art gallery. Some of my time every day is spent immersed in looking at the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. These are some my best moments every day. I love to look at artwork. My favorite is paintings, but I have an eye for sculpture as well. If I could twitch my nose and go to Italy for the purpose of traipsing through galleries and museums I would be the happiest woman in America. Since that isn’t going to happen this month, I content myself with online ogling. It’s all I can do to keep from ordering prints. But I digress….

Art history might seem like some esoteric major to you because you studied something else. But I ask you to answer this: do you appreciate all the benefits of what our civilization has preserved and handed to you? People who are thinking about the larger issues of life have been telling us what they believe and think for a couple of millennia. Contemplating the nature of mankind and life itself is not something relegated to the leisure class. If that were true, how would you explain all those lovely cave drawings in France? People have been thinking and embellishing their lives for longer than you can imagine.

I love to do needle work of all kinds and once upon a time the Chinese invented the elaborate embroidery we now see. Someone wanted to express him or herself with colored silk on a garment. The concept of wearing art was born and we have been making our garments look more beautiful since then. Next someone took on the task of elaborately decorating household items. From pillows, to hangings, to bedclothes and blankets, throws and furniture upholstery, we made things a work of art rather than plain. We said these things are beautiful because we honor beauty. All those items that ended up in museums and galleries tell us something about what their makers, and by larger inclusion, their culture deemed important or significant in some way or just for the sheer beauty of it.

We see the trappings of a civilization and can deduce something about the people from what they valued. A romp through an art history book or class will show you in concrete terms what built our own Western civilization. When you add the writings and music of different time periods into the mix you begin to see real people, not some dry and dusty tour of the past.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, (ahem!) I studied history. It was my major and I intended to teach it in a high school. As I explained before, that didn’t happen. But my little people in the books will leave a fun trail to follow in the corners of historical events. When you start reading about art history and other fun facts in the upcoming books, please remember that it is the story of our ancestors and how they viewed the world. And have fun with all of it. I promise not to lecture about it!

Have a happy week and happy Mother’s Day to all the moms. May you be showered with flowers!

Art, Thieves and Shady Characters

Art thefts don’t rank high as a daily concern for most people. After all, most people in the world don’t own expensive artwork, don’t necessarily understand the art market, and frankly don’t have time to care about the issue. What with caring for ourselves, our families, our friends, going to work and just trying to keep up with the laundry, cleaning and who knows what, who can blame them? In the cosmos, art theft ranks low on the priority list. But there are some of us who fret about it for personal or professional reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gentle readers: you know writers are just about a bubble off plumb compared to normal folks. I am no exception. And somehow this issue about art theft has taken up residence in my mind and I can’t evict it. I act like my Jack Russell terrier with her chew toys…she shakes and shakes her head from side to side but doesn’t let go. Nice mental image, right? Yep, that’s me about all this art stuff.
Naturally that means as a writer I must use all this information as fuel for a book. Or two, or ten or twenty.

If I am going to write books about boys and girls falling in love there must be some kind of fascinating background for their lives. People don’t live in a vacuum and you wouldn’t read a book that doesn’t give you any inkling about who these characters are as people and what they do with their time. It is hard to care about people or things you know nothing about. This sounds just like a circular argument. But I didn’t really mean it to be that way.
The salient point here is a writer must have many tools in her writing bag. Not just pens and paper, computers or typewriters. I mean a different set of tools. Tools like personality types, occupations, interests or hobbies. All the natural things that pertain to us real people are at work in a novel with believable characters.
You don’t want to read anything with cardboard characters. You have a crazy uncle, so do characters in a book. Your aunty is bonkers about making jam, some guy in a book collects baseball cards. You know what I mean? Ordinary ups and downs and activities of a normal life. Note that descriptor: normal. We don’t need to examine the lunatic fringe here!
This art theft business was always in the back of my mind but I didn’t actively research it until the past few years. Okay, a true confession here. I am plotting and scheming a book that is a thriller. It might end up as a romantic thriller, but I haven’t gotten that far. The underlying premise of the books is about how Nazi stolen art is used, along with other art thefts, to finance some nefarious dealings.

How so, you ask?
Believe it or not, art theft is the fourth most lucrative crime in the world. Yep. This is sort of a follow the money trail to show you, only it’s follow the art. First of all, artwork, particularly paintings, is fairly easy to steal and hide while traveling the globe to an eventual buyer. Since the works are hot properties, you won’t find them listed at an auction at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Their catalog lists only works with proven provenance. Thieves are only interested in the money to be made.
Secondly, stolen goods can be held in escrow for a financial transaction or for outright payment. In plain language, some scumbag has the stolen art for sale to raise necessary cash. Yes, CASH. No bank drafts on these deals. The cash is then used to purchase other items such as drugs, weapons, humans, what have you. The underlying cash cow of stolen art is funding human sex trafficking and terrorism.
That might shock you. Most people don’t associate the two. You think ISIS or Al Qaeda buys it weapons from US military surplus sales? No, they deal with shady dealers. There are always people who want to make a buck providing weapons to clients. Their morals being what they are, it doesn’t matter who is going to get killed by these weapons as long as the arms dealer gets his cut.
This explains why ordinary people are starting to take some notice. The problem is not some hush, hush proposition. With irrefutable proof of these deals, we can track what happens to art or money. At least we can sometimes.

The track record on returning the stolen art is pretty sketchy. The record is even worse when it comes to the artwork originally stolen from Jewish families by the Nazis. Then the Communists rolled into Europe from Russia and yanked some of that artwork right out German hands. These boys don’t play well with others, you see. Hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared into the great maw of the underworld.

 


 

 

 

 

 

So where was I? Oh, right. This is really tasty stuff for the books, don’t you see? Why I can just invent all kinds of people and art and bad guys and the hero coming in to rescue the damsel in distress and reward money and…well, you get the picture. It will be fun. And I need some ongoing theme and structure for all my lovely ladies. Don’t be surprised if I turn up with a musician, a dancer, a painter and so on along with all these characters involved in artwork. But I have a soft spot for art historians, or curators, as they are now called. There is nothing boring about what they do all day. And my goal is to entertain, not bore, you, the reader.
As a matter of fact, in the quirky way life works, I started with three ideas, plotted them in my writer’s notebook, and when I sat down to write things took a turn here and a twist there. Such is life. The path is nearly always serpentine, not straight. I’ll let you know what’s happening. Right now, I have a music teacher, a handsome devil of a man, and their fiery dance to write about.
Have a great week and enjoy the books you are reading. I have to dive back into my imaginary world and get my work completed while the cat and dog snooze nearby.
Be happy in this first week of May!

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.