Have You Seen This Léger?
Most of the time, though, art theft is much more mundane. Consider the theives in Oslo who stole one of Munch's "Scream" paintings recently:
Armed robbers have stolen the iconic Edvard Munch painting, The Scream, from the Munch Museum in Norway.
Two masked thieves pulled the work and another painting, Madonna, off the wall as stunned visitors watched on Sunday.
One robber threatened staff with a gun before the pair escaped in a waiting car, a museum officer told the BBC.
But sometimes, reality imitates the movies. Have you seen this Léger?
oil(?) on canvas, 29 x 36 inches
According to The Art Newspaper their other fakes included copies of works by Marc Chagall, Pierre-August Renoir, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Klee and others. If you got a work by one of these artists recently for a price that seemed too good to be true, you might want to check with the FBI’s Brooklyn-Queens office. Tel: 718 286 7100.
Vase de Fleurs (Lilas) is not one of Paul Gauguin’s greatest works. It’s a “middle market” painting, which means it changes hands usually for only a few hundred thousand dollars, and without much fanfare. But in May 2000, the painting proved it could still turn heads. When Christie’s and Sotheby’s released spring catalogues for their modern-art auctions, they were alarmed to discover that each was offering the painting—and each house thought it had the original.
One of the paintings, clearly, was a fake. So the auction houses flew both paintings to Sylvie Crussard, a Gauguin expert at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris. She put them side by side and in a few minutes saw that Christie’s version was, in the delicate argot of the trade, “not right.” (The auction house just barely managed to yank its catalogue back from the printers in time.) Still, it was the best Gauguin counterfeit she’d ever seen. “This was a unique case of resemblance. You never see two works which are that similar,” Crussard marvels.
Christie’s broke the news to the horrified owners at the Gallery Muse in Tokyo, who’d had no idea it was a forgery. The real painting went back to Sotheby’s, where its owner—New York dealer Ely Sakhai—successfully auctioned it off for $310,000. But when the FBI traced the history of the fake, they discovered something even more surprising: The original source was none other than Ely Sakhai, too.