Dutch master stolen
Richard Jinman and Clare Morgan
June 14, 2007
A VALUABLE self-portrait by the Dutch master Frans van Mieris has been stolen from the Art Gallery of NSW.
It is unclear when the small painting, 20 centimetres by 16 centimetres, was plucked from the gallery's walls or how it was taken from the building without alerting security officers.
The gallery's director, Edmund Capon, declined last night to put a value on it, but described it as "a valuable picture, a known picture", and said it would be "completely unmarketable".
Mr Capon, who was preparing to fly home from London, said he was "extremely shocked" by the theft. He believes it is the first time an artwork has been stolen from the gallery in about 15 years.
"It's not something that we're accustomed to," he said. "It's not an easy thing to remove the security screws and take it out of the building.
"It makes you very aware of two things: the extraordinary extent we depend on the goodwill of our patrons and how diligent you have to be."
It is understood that The Rocks police were notified on Monday. Police sources said they suspected it was an inside job. Police have spent three days interviewing gallery staff and examining security footage.
The stolen painting, an oil on oak panel, was painted between 1657 and 1659. It was donated by the art patron and philanthropist James Fairfax in 1993.
The space the painting occupied has already been filled by another work from the collection, a gallery source said.
The robbery comes at an embarrassing time for the gallery, which recently revealed details of the biggest security operation in its history for an Islamic arts exhibition opening in eight days. The exhibition is believed to be tighter than at previous shows featuring key works by Renoir, Picasso, Pissarro and Van Gogh, according to gallery sources.
While Aboriginal art is a popular target for thieves, the theft of European works from public art institutions in Australia is rare. The nation's most famous art theft was more protest than profit-driven.
In 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists unscrewed Pablo Picasso's Weeping Woman from the wall of the National Gallery of Victoria.
The thieves brazenly put an official-looking, typewritten card in the painting's place which, in an embarrassing security lapse, nobody noticed for almost two days. The gallery's embarrassment was compounded by the fact Weeping Woman was its most expensive painting, with a value of $1.6 million.
Apparently fed up with the poor treatment of arts by the state government of the day, the group's ransom was a demand that an art prize for young artists be established.
Police recovered the work, which shows Picasso's lover Dora Maar mourning the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, in a locker at the Spencer Street station a few days later. The thieves were never caught.
Picasso also proved a magnet for thieves in the most recent high-profile art theft. In February, burglars slipped into the Paris apartment of the artist's granddaughter and stole two paintings - one of his daughter Maya and another of his second wife Jacqueline - with a combined value of $85 million.
Perhaps the most high-profile theft was in August 2004 when gun-toting thieves staged a daring daylight raid at Oslo's Munch Museum, ripping Edvard Munch's The Scream and another of his works, Madonna. Three men were found guilty last year of charges relating to the theft, and the paintings were recovered.
Art Hostage comments:
The most tragic high profile art heist has to be the Gardner Art Heist in Boston 1990, then I would say that wouldn't I.
The last time a small Old Master was stolen from a museum, Rembrandt's small self portrait, below,
it ended up being cradled by FBI Art Crime Team Special Agent Robert Wittman in the Bath of a hotel room in Copenhagen, during a sting operation to get it back.
Let's hope FBI Agent Robert Wittman will find himself in the same situation with this stolen Old Master.
Don't forget Bob, it's "G/day Mate," rather than "Its a Done Deal" then flee to the bathroom as Australian police burst in the room.
Art heist overshadows Whiteley record
Matthew Westwood and Corrie Perkin
June 14, 2007
POLICE are investigating a major art heist after a $1.3 million painting was stolen from the Art Gallery of NSW.
The painting - a small self-portrait called A Cavalier (Self Portrait) by 17th-century Dutch artist Frans van Mieris I - was stolen in the past few days.
The theft took the gloss off a new record for an Australian art auction, with a Brett Whiteley painting selling for $3.48 million last night.
The Olgas for Ernest Giles - a lush Whiteley painting in which the outback is depicted as a series of buttocks, breasts and other sexual body parts - was bought by art consultant John Playfoot.
He was thought to be acting on behalf of Melbourne businessman Morry Fraid, co-owner of the Spotlight haberdashery store chain. The painting, which was the gem of the Deutscher-Menzies auction, pipped the previous Australian art auction record of $3.36 million, set at Sotheby's May sale by John Brack's The Old Time.
The missing Dutch painting was one of a number of works donated to the gallery by philanthropist James Fairfax.
Gallery director Edmund Capon said he had been told about the theft on Monday and had cut short a trip to Europe. He flew in from London last night and said he would not make any further comment until he received all the details from gallery staff this morning. In one of the small exhibition spaces at the AGNSW last night, six paintings were missing from the walls. Screw-holes showed where the paintings would have been.
According to AGNSW provenance records, Mr Fairfax purchased the oil-on-oak painting from distinguished London dealer Agnew's in 1988. He gave it to the AGNSW in 1993, where until recently it was displayed in the Fairfax Galleries along with paintings by Rubens and Bronzino. The picture, dated 1657-59, has been displayed in themed exhibitions at the AGNSW and loaned to other Australian galleries in the exhibition The Golden Age of Dutch Art.
Mr Fairfax is in London and could not be reached last night.
Deutscher-Menzies proprietor Rod Menzies said last night he was "exhilarated" by the sale of the Whiteley.
"I always felt the picture was going to break the record," he told The Australian. "I'm extremely pleased with tonight's result - not just with that picture, but with the results on all the other pictures." He added that the night's result was likely to exceed the $10 million mark.
For more than a decade, The Olgas for Ernest Giles hung in the home of Melbourne fashion designer Sally Browne. In recent months, Browne was courted by art dealers and auction houses keen to secure the Whiteley.
Mr Menzies made an offer - believed to be between $2.25 million and $2.5 million - to buy the work. It was a high-risk and audacious offer, but Browne agreed and the painting was secured for last night's auction.
Mr Menzies also had another personal success last night when his 1969 John Brack Backs and Fronts sold for the under-the-hammer price of $1.7 million. Adding on the 20 per cent buyer's premium means it is a win-win for Mr Menzies and his auction house. A painting by Italian-based Australian artist Jeffrey Smart - The City Bus Station, painted in 1985-86 - achieved a record price for the artist when it sold for $900,000.
Experts considered this to be one of the finest Smart paintings to come on to the secondary market in recent years. Its sale is expected to prompt other owners of Smart works to consider selling in the current lively market.
Despite having to compete with the State of Origin rugby league match, last night's auction attracted a big crowd.
And there was no evidence of end-of-financial-year wobbles either, as bidding was vigorous on many major lots.
How long will the boom last? After last night's lusty results, dealers and buyers would be unwilling to speculate for fear of putting the mozz on the market. Even international experts are reluctant to say.
Only last month, veteran New York art dealer Richard Feigen, who witnessed the market collapse after the 1980s boom, told Britain's The Times: "I cannot speculate on how long it's going to last because it has nothing to do with the art any more.
"You could be talking about tulip bulbs," he added, referring to the tulip boom of the 1600s.
Dutch Master Stolen In Million Dollar Theft From NSW Art Gallery
June 13, 2007 4:41 p.m. EST
Richard Bowden - AHN News Writer
Sydney, NSW (AHN) - A valuable self-portrait by Dutch master Frans van Mieris is one of six works believed to have been stolen from the NSW Art Gallery over the last few days.
The tiny 20cm X 16cm (7.8in X 6.2in) "A Cavalier" - painted between 1657 and 1659 - was removed without alerting security from a small exhibition space. Art Gallery director Edmund Capon, who was preparing to return from a trip to London said he was "extremely shocked" by the theft.
Speaking to reporters Mr Capon said, "It's not something that we're accustomed to. It's not an easy thing to remove the security screws and take it out of the building. It makes you very aware of two things: the extraordinary extent we depend on the goodwill of our patrons and how diligent you have to be."
It is believed police were notified of the theft on Monday and have spent three days interviewing gallery staff and checking security footage.
The Sydney Morning Herald today quoted police sources as saying investigators suspect the heist was an inside job.
The painting was donated to the Art Gallery by James Fairfax, below.
Art Hostage comments:
U'm, an inside job, where have we heard that before??
At this rate the case will be solved before FBI Agent Robert Wittman has time to pack his Rubber Duck and head to Australia.