Book Review: Stolen Beauty

Stolen Beauty:  A Coloring Book Of Lost Art

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Schiffer Publishing.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Art theft is traditionally viewed as a glamorous and classy sort of activity when it is portrayed in films and television.  One thinks of the elegance of thieves in movies like the Thomas Crown Affair or Entrapment, where art thieves are viewed as connoisseurs of great taste and discrimination.  As someone who is deeply interested in art myself [1], I consider myself to be a person of great taste, even if disinclined to take a five fingered discount of the sorts of artwork portrayed in this book.  The authors note, though, in a detailed discussion of art that has been stolen–some recovered, some not–in various heists that most art theft is of the smash and grab variety where thieves take advantage of weak security as well as the distraction of police authorities during various festivities in order to break into museums and steal sometimes at random.  To be sure, this book includes quite a few paintings that were stolen and the authors are at some pains to give some sort of context and unifying themes to the various forms of art theft that have occurred to note what works are targeted and for what reasons they are.

There are at least two elements of this work that bear a certain degree of interest.  The first is the artwork itself.  The paintings chosen to represent stolen art in general are a diverse group ranging from a couple of paintings by Caraviggio to ones by Goya and Picasso and multiple works by Matisse and Van Gogh and even some from the small body of works by Van Eyck.  Some of the works have been recovered–one of them has been stolen four times in the past half century or so–but many of them remain lost and some have been rumored to be destroyed.  The second interesting quality that ties these paintings together is the thoughtful text that is included that details how the works were stolen and who stole them.  Many of the thefts were acts of opportunity where faulty security and in one case at least faulty museum layout made such efforts easier, and in quite a few cases the thieves were caught but the works remain unfortunately at large with few clues as to how they may be recovered by their owners.

It appears that there are at least a few factors that led to certain paintings being favored by thieves.  Among them include the fact that a skilled thief can rob a painting in a short amount of time, and that many paintings are worth a great deal and many works of art can be found in museums in large cities where it is easy to blend in and getaway.  One imagines, for example, that it might be harder to rob rural art collectors who live hours from the nearest international airports and where there are limited routes to getaway and little population to blend in with–where a getaway van driven by Italian mafiosi or Romanian thieves might be a bit conspicuous, for example.  As long as art remains an expensive but profitable investment and where people would rather steal art than to appreciate museum collections for a modest fee or create good art themselves, though, there will be a temptation on the part of people to steal such art in the hopes of a lucrative sale to someone who is more interested in owning great art than fastidious about the provenance of such works.  In the contemporary world, the idea that theft could possibly pay a great deal is a great encouragement to would be thieves.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/01/22/book-review-the-parthenon-code-mankinds-history-in-marble/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/11/21/book-review-the-prayer-wheel/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/10/22/book-review-the-landscapes-of-anne-of-green-gables/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/03/28/book-review-lit-by-the-sun/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/07/19/we-are-the-landscape-of-all-we-know/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/23/book-review-ivory-vikings/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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