Art Heist


My love of art heists is getting a workout. Thanks to an email from Lauren (one line, no subject, body: “Did you hear about the Matisse?”) I found out there was a happy ending to an art heist that occurred over 20 years ago at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm: Henri Matisse’s “Le Jardin” has been recovered by an art dealer in the UK! Look how thrilled the man holding it looks. Dude, you should be grinning from ear-to-ear like someone just slipped you an Ecstasy tablet. Back in 1987, an unknown thief/art-enthusiast broke into the museum with a sledgehammer (Thor-complex) and took off with the 1920 oil painting. It resurfaced recently when it was brought it to be appraised by Charles Fine Art Gallery in England, and was checked against the Art Loss Register (how badly do you want to browse through that bad boy?).

Can you just imagine where the painting has been in the last 25 years? How many hands it’s changed, how many cities it’s been to? How does a painting stolen from a museum in Sweden end up at a dealer in England without someone along the way wondering where it came from? You have to assume the person who brought it in wasn’t aware of it’s shady history, or why would they risk getting in trouble? So at some point, it had to have been sold to someone else. No one is going to be arrested, according to what I’ve read; the time for prosecution has passed and everyone is just happy the painting is back. I am completely fascinated by these types of things, as I’ve mentioned before. Now all I want to do is go home and watch The Thomas Crown Affair.

26 thoughts on “Art Heist

  1. I love happy endings! (And I think that guy is more upset about his white debutante gloves than anything else.) It’s so fascinating to me to look at that piece and think of how Matisse’s work evolved from such straight-up impressionist to the much more modern cut outs. My dad did some big sculptures called Doorway to Matisse inspired to those cutouts so that’s what I think of when I think of him. Funny isn’t it.

    Two books you should read for straight up fun (both are pretty much chick lit, so they’ll go fast). Nora Roberts wrote a great murder-suspense novel about the art world called “Homeport” and “Faking It” by Jennifer Cruise. I have to read something light before I fall asleep at night and either of these fit the bill, although Homeport is definitely darker.

    And now I want to watch the Thomas Crowne Affair too. And read a biography of Matisse.

    1. Right?? I think the first time I saw a piece from Matisse’s later period it was a shock — I was totally expecting his early Impressionist style. That’s so amazing about your dad’s sculptures, I’d love to see them one day! And thank you for those book recommendations. I currently have 7 books sitting on my night table that I have to get through, 2 more couldn’t hurt! xo

  2. thor complex!?! you crack me up big time!!! i love these little mysteries too… thomas crowne affair is a good one! happy watching ladies!

    1. :D You’re too sweet. We should all watch TCA and Skype-chat while we’re watching. How futuristic! xo

  3. wait a minute, did he fold that painting in half in the brief case? He got the painting (hastily, I might add), undid his case so it would fit the painting then all of a sudden he folded it in half! what?!

    i love matisse because he proves you can completely change directions. that is such a lovely little painting they found, i love the proportions of it, it’s just so pretty. oooooh, i just thought of a book idea for you based on something you said in this here post here . . . you know now that you are a writer everyone is going to have the best book ideas for you, right ? ; )


    1. Yeah, so it might not be the most believable heist in all of movie-history. He definitely broke the painting by “folding” in it in his briefcase, but a few scenes later you see him take it out and it’s perfect. Ah, movie magic!

      What was your book idea??? Now I want to know! I tried re-reading the post to see what could have sparked your imagination but I’m coming up blank! You could be a suspense writer, misses! xo

      1. haha. okay so what sparked my imagination was the bit about a stolen painting changing so many hands over the years. the first couple lines in the 2nd paragraph. what if you wrote a book about that? following the characters that get the painting after it’s stolen: those that know, that don’t know, aristocrats and eccentrics and maybe just some old janitor that found it behind some old boxes one day . . .

  4. I’ve always thought it would be amazing if they fitted paintings with some sort of camera device so you could track reactions over the years and their journeys from galleries to galleries (or thieves to thieves). They could call it the “Life and Times of a Painting”? Don’t mind me, just having an afternoon ramble! It really is a wonderful painting that they found, I think made all the more special given it’s exciting history!

    1. That would be so neat! Have you heard about cameras that get lost in the ocean or the forest and then turn up later with a bunch of awesome photographs on it, from animals? That’s kind of what I thought of when I read your comment! That would be hilarious, to see things from a painting’s point of view on the wall of a gallery. All those faces! xo

  5. If that painting could talk, what would it tell us? I am so curious about its journey. Maybe the guy is wearing his best I am holding valuable art I am sexy expression. I wouldn’t mind holding that painting minus the gloves of course ;) I want to touch and feel the brushstrokes. So great that the painting surfaced again! The Thor comment cracked me up too…

    1. Hahaha I totally cracked up at “I am sexy.” Now I see it in his face! So true. Minus the gloves, I’d love to hold it, but I know that’s a “no no.” I’m surprised they aren’t more concerned with where it’s been the past 25 years and who might have touched it without gloves! Although maybe they are and they’re all freaking out behind the scenes… xo

    1. Thanks so much! Yeah, meeting Gary Oldman still doesn’t seem real, but it was super awesome! xo

  6. Do you know all the paintings from the Colombe d’Or (the restaurant in France where R and I got engaged) were stolen in the 1960s? The apparently found them in Marseille train station.x

    1. Ha! No way! That’s incredible. Apparently it’s more common than I realized, who knew? They found the paintings at the train station soon after they were stolen, or years later? So interesting, and so neat you have a permanent tie to that place too.

  7. I just can’t even begin to understand the logistics of planing an art heist – I feel like I can’t even TOUCH a painting without getting reprimanded by security!

    1. Oh my gosh, I know! I get too close to that little ankle-high barrier and I start sweating! I’d never be able to pull off a heist. xo

  8. You almost have to assume the hands it exchanged from either had no clue who Matisse was or could care less that it had been stolen. The person who brought it in should get a reward of some kind!

    1. That’s a good point, either they were clueless or just didn’t care. I can’t imagine either! I hope some story is revealed at some point, that would be an insane read. xo

  9. Haha, yeah that guy is just THRILLED. I like hearing about these little (mis)adventures though – one of the things that keeps art interesting. BTW, have you ever read Seven Days in the Art World? It has been on my to-read list for forever and a half

    1. I haven’t read that but I’ll add it to my list! I set a big reading goal for myself this year, have to make it happen somehow! I’ll check it out, thanks Rooth! xo

  10. I would have never guessed that was a Matisse had you not told me. Van Gogh would have been my guess. What a fascinating story. How on earth do these people get away with art heists?! Think about all that security. Add to that the fact that the final ‘owner’ had courage enough to bring the piece in for appraisal! Perhaps, he truly had no idea. Maybe he bought it at a yard sale! Ha!

    1. It’s definitely more Impressionist-ic than Matisse is known for, that’s for sure, but that was my favorite period of his work. But you’re right, it definitely has some elements of Van Gogh! I could totally see the owner finding it at a Goodwill and thinking it might be worth something. Little do they know…! xo

  11. The story of wherever it’s been is all very dodgy and I reckon a classic case of pleading innocence about how and where it’s changed hands and what it actually is. x

    1. Oh, I’m sure the person who brought it in (innocent or not) will definitely say they had no idea it was a stolen piece! But even that side of the story would be neat to know: the handful of people out there who read this story and chuckled to themselves since they were in on it 25 years ago. Fascinating! xo

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