Art Heist

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.”

22 thoughts on “Art Heist

  1. You’re right. It’s both depressing and oddly thrilling to read about the art heists. I can’t say I’m surprised to learn this about the Cubans though. Lots of secrecy there. Have you seen Monuments Men? It’s like Oceans 10! Fun movie. :)

    1. Everything I’ve read about this particular heist has hinted not so subtly that the Cuban government might have either been involved or known somehow. I don’t know. It’s all just so sad. I’m seeing Monuments Men tomorrow afternoon on a solo-date! I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m breaking my own rule about that because I want to make sure the movie doesn’t leave the theaters. xo

  2. so strange. i just don’t understand how there are so many art heists, as if they won’t be found out if they try to sell them. or they are taken knowing they could never sell it or display it. but i think as i have mentioned and we’ve discussed in another comment in this series, that’s really what makes it all so fascinating and sad.

    1. I think one could pull off an art heist if you were a) only stealing one piece of art, b) were a master thief and wouldn’t leave any clues, and c) if you planned on only hanging the art in your house in a secret room only a few people knew about, thus eliminating the likelihood of someone busting you to the cops. But even then! The GUILT, the TERROR. Gah! There really is something so fascinating and bleak about that whole thing. xo

    1. I’d love to see some formal statement from the Cuban government once the paintings are returned/the additional paintings are recovered. xo

  3. You have made me very nervous thinking about missing paintings from “our wing”. As far as Cuba is concerned….the $hit catches up with you, Fidel! Sucks to be you when you can list stolen art cause you stole it in the first place.

    1. That museum is a fortress, but you’re right, all the heists I’ve researched have made me nervous about any museum’s security system. There have been times when I’ve gone to the museum on a slow weekday and been the only person in a particular wing. They are lucky I’m too honest to try to pull of a heist of my own! xo

  4. Art heists are fascinating. I always love when there is a plot twist too. It would be fun to play Sherlock with it.

    1. Exactly! That’s why I want to work at the Art Loss Register (though I’m sure you need more qualifications than, “Hi, I really really really like art and read a lot about art heists!” haha) xo

  5. that is incredible. if it wasn’t for you, i would have no idea what drama there is involved stolen art! however, it is all shameful and it would be so badass if you could work for the art loss register!

    1. I google every few days and go to my usual art news sites to see if anything is amiss in the art world, and mostly I can breath a sigh of relief. And sometimes, stories like this pop up and break my heart. I think I’d be a perfect candidate for a job at the Art Loss Register! Where do I apply?? xo

  6. it is crazy that stuff like this can get stolen- maybe I watch too many cop shows were I think its to hard to get away with anything now a days. It also makes me sad that art isn’t being viewed- I know I know they rotate art but whats the point of keeping it hidden for months and years.

    1. Right? Art is meant to be shared and enjoyed, I can’t imagine ever being greedy enough to steal a painting and never be able to show anyone or share it. What’s the point?? xo

  7. Knifed out of their frames just cuts into my heart (zing). But after reading that Sotheby’s book you recommended, nothing surprises me anymore

    1. Yeah, that particular wording hurt me pretty badly too. Wasn’t that Sotheby’s book crazy? I’m happy you tracked down a copy, I had to get mine from the Amazon Marketplace (for $4, haha). xo

  8. So this time there are politics involved as well! I love your art heist posts Erin (and I’ve missed them). Say, what are the chances that there will be an art heist in your book?!?! Oh and this reminds me, sometime this week, Tuesday I think, they are showing commercials for the late night news and there is a man literally running down the street with what looked like a huge Basquiat tucked under his arm! lol Think the announcer said something like “…and how this man almost got away with running away with a (insert high number here)thousand dollar painting..” Ok, not so much a heist as a straight up cray cray thief…

    1. I’d say the chances of there being an art heist in my book are pretty good! I forgot that you were on your hiatus when I announced that! Did I mention that I’m happy you’re back? :) I wish I had seen that commercial! Was it a dramatic reenactment, or was the thief so stupid that he really tried to run down a street with a Basquiat on camera?? Good lord, nothing surprises me with dumb criminals anymore! xo

      1. Yay! Well, I am not a reader (hope we can still be friends). But if there will be an art heist- you have sold a copy of the book already ;-)
        Oh no girl, actual images of this fool running down the street with this thing. But you’re question made me want to look up the incident. You gotta hear the guy telling the story on video:
        What makes it so funny is the size of the painting- this thing is huge!

        1. Hahahahahahahaha You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!! That is a riot! Thank you so much for sharing, that honestly just made my entire day. Thieves are so dumb sometimes!! xo

  9. C’est incroyable! C’est la honte, ça reviens toujours au même, la politique!
    Bon weekend ensoleillé pour toi ;)

    1. En particulier a Cuba! Et j’adore l’hiver, mais je souhaite du soleil ce weekend! Bon weekend a toi, Eva. xo

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