Thieves hit Bergen museum, again
Art thieves described as “professional” and extremely goal-oriented struck an art museum in Bergen over the weekend for the second time in three years. They made off with another haul of valuable Chinese antiques in porcelain, jade, bronze and paper.“The thieves operated quickly, effectively and professionally,” Erlend Høyersten, director of the city’s group of art museums (Kunstmuseene i Bergen), told newspaper Aftenposten. “It’s entirely clear that they knew what they were after.”
Høyersten thinks the thieves had a “shopping list” of sorts when they hit the group’s Permanenten Vestlandske Kunstindustrimuseum, and likely were hired by carry out the theft by clients keen on obtaining Chinese artifacts. The museum’s Chinese collection is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, originally containing around 2,500 items that were donated to the museum by Norwegian adventurer and general Johan Wilhelm Normann Munthe, who died in 1935.
Around 56 items in the collection disappeared in 2010 when the museum known mostly as Permanenten was the target of another break-in. This time the thieves broke into the museum around 5am on Saturday, with surveillance cameras picking up photos of two men wearing high-beam headlights and using crowbars to smash into glass cases. They quickly assembled items into cartons and fled within minutes.
Police told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) during the weekend that they also were investigating two mysterious car fires in Bergen reported about the same time early Saturday morning. The fires were considered unusual, and possibly timed to divert police attention from the museum theft to help the thieves get away.
The museum has published a series of photos on its website describing the art that was stolen (external link, in Norwegian, but click on the photo to see others). Some of the large pieces in the museum’s collection are up to 4,000 years old, but the thieves concentrated on small items that were easier to handle and which are believed to be popular on the international market.
Herman Friele, former mayor of Bergen, was upset by the latest museum theft and blamed poor security at the museum. “It’s a shame that we haven’t managed to take better care of this collection,” Friele told newspaper Bergens Tidende. “It’s incomprehensible that we’re so naive that we haven’t learned from the first break-in. We almost deserved to be robbed again.”
Bergens Tidende wrote just last month that the museum still hasn’t determined the value of the loss from the robbery in 2010, and has filed no insurance claim over it. Friele accused museum officials of being too passive, and urged the museum’s board of directors to demand improvements.
Matisse stolen in Stockholm found in UKA Matisse painting stolen 25 years ago from the Museum of Modern Art (Moderna museet) in Stockholm has turned up in the UK, where a dealer had hoped to sell it on behalf of an elderly Polish client, it emerged on Monday.
Henri Matisse's "Le Jardin", an oil on canvas from 1920 that is now worth about $1 million (€760,000), was found when art dealer Charles Roberts ran it through a global database of stolen art -- standard practice before a sale.
The team at the Art Loss Register quickly identified the painting as the one stolen from the Swedish museum on May 11, 1987, when a burglar broke in with a sledgehammer and made off with the artwork in the early hours of the morning.
Several attempts were made to ransom the painting or sell it back to the museum for a huge sum, according to reports at the time, but the museum refused, and the trail went cold -- until last month.
Within a few days of matching the Matisse with the stolen painting on the database, a specialist had taken possession of the work and put it in his safe, where it is now awaiting delivery to the Swedish museum.
Roberts, who runs Charles Fine Art in Essex, east of London, said he had been asked to sell the painting by an elderly man in Poland who had owned it since the 1990s and now wanted to raise money for his grandchildren.
Given that the dealer did not know who owned the Matisse before that, Roberts ran it through the Art Loss Register to check its provenance.
"I didn't anticipate hearing that it had been stolen. It came as quite a shock to find that out," Roberts told AFP.
"It would have been good all round, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. As soon as I was informed of its status there was no question about doing anything but returning it."
The Polish man had bought it "in good faith", Roberts said, and when he told him it was stolen and could not be sold, the man "was bewildered, taken aback, although he did say, 'So it definitely is a real one?'"
The director of the Swedish museum at the time of the theft had told reporters that the painting was too well-known to sell on the open market, and this is likely why it had been missing for so long.
Christopher A. Marinello, the art recovery specialist and lawyer who has locked the work in his safe, said:
"Stolen artwork has no real value in the legitimate marketplace and will eventually resurface.... It's just a matter of waiting it out."