On one hand, I’m excited to share another post in this series (my favorite series, fueling the macabre fascination I have with art heists), but on the other, the simple fact that I have another art heist to share with you means that there was another art heist. Aside from being horribly depressing and scary (I was just at the museum on Sunday, and my heart sunk at the thought of blank walls where masterpieces should be), this particular heist is especially puzzling in its chronology.
Sometime last month, eleven paintings by Cuban painters turned up for sale at an art gallery in Miami. Not suspicious on its own, but art dealer Ramon Cernuda, who purchased a painting by Eduardo Abela (“Carnaval Infantil”, above) was astute enough to realize it had come from Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, and, he surmised correctly, likely not legally. He contacted the museum and turned the painting over to the FBI. It wasn’t until late last week that the museum confirmed indeed roughly 100 works of art had been stolen from storage, “knifed out of their frames in a warehouse. The frames were re-stacked in a way that the canvases’ absence wasn’t readily noticed.” No signs of forced entry were discovered.
Not only did the museum not announce the heist had occurred at all until after the paintings were discovered elsewhere (a detail usually desirable in other art heist cases, where recovery of stolen works is rare), they have yet to release a full list of what exactly is missing. However, in a statement released by the Cuban National Council of Cultural Patrimony, it is believed that “most of the stolen works are from the period called Arte Cubano and are mostly pieces by Leopoldo Romañach.” Oddly, the FBI cannot “confirm or deny the existence of an investigation,” though Cernuda has stated The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation “has begun grand jury proceedings in the case.”
Julian Radcliffe, superhero in the recovery of stolen art and chairman of the Art Loss Register, has offered to help track down the remaining missing works. The Art Loss Register has successfully recovered almost 2,000 pieces of stolen artwork since 1991 (what I wouldn’t give to work there!). The problem, Radcliffe, said, is that Cuba may be sensitive about the entire scandal, because “some missing museum items in the past included works expropriated from families that went into exile after the 1959 revolution.”