Art Hostage Services
The Art Hostage team undertakes a wide range of services, including due diligence, collection conservation and management, risk assessment and security as well as legal issues, recovery and dispute resolution involving art and artifacts. Through partnerships with leading organizations, the Art Hostage team can provide a complete service for all aspects of collecting and protecting art.
Stolen Art Watch, Marinello's Mission, As Art Loss Register Comes Of Age
When a priceless
masterpiece goes missing, art detectives Chris Marinello and Alice Farren-Bradley
are who you call, After Art Hostage That is !!
Chris Marinello is
having a good day. Tomorrow, at his behest, police will raid an auction house
in the south of England and seize a grandfather clock worth £200,000. The
clock, which Chris believes was stolen in a raid on a Berkshire country estate
in 2001, will be returned to its rightful owner. The seller will be arrested
As Chris explains in a thick Brooklyn accent: “It’s
not just any clock, it’s a Thomas Tompion – the Ferrari of clocks.”
Along with his quintessentially British assistant,
Londoner Alice Farren-Bradley, 27, former New York attorney Chris, 50, runs Art
Loss Register, an outfit that’s part salvage operation, part art dealership and
part private detective agency. It operates in the grey area between law
enforcement and the legitimate art market, tracing and recovering stolen works
Working with Scotland Yard, Interpol and the FBI,
and small-time criminals such as “Fast Freddy The Fence”, ALR has recovered
tens of millions of pounds worth of lost and stolen art since 1991. The names
on the spines of the files piled on Chris’ desk in his office in London’s
Hatton Garden read like a Who’s Who of fine art: Cézanne, Rubens, Picasso,
Degas. A white board on the wall lists the 150 cases they’re working on.
Chris points out that high-tech heists of Hollywood
films are a glossy fiction. But big crimes do take place. In April, Serbian
police arrested three suspects after Cézanne’s The Boy In The Red Vest was
found in a car boot, after it was stolen in 2008.
“Organised gangs do sometimes become involved in
stolen art, but not as a specialism,” says Alice. “They are people who have
their fingers in many pies. Every now and again one of those pies happens to be
a work of art.”
Up to £5billion worth of art goes missing each year.
Most high-profile pieces, such as the works by Picasso, Gauguin and Matisse
recently looted in Rotterdam, sink into the criminal underworld where they are
used to buy drugs and weapons.
High-end stolen art is impossible to sell on the
open market, so is traded by criminals for a fraction of its true value. Often
it disappears for decades, passed between people, until it resurfaces, usually
when the original thief has long gone.
ALR is currently seeing items up for sale that were
stolen during WW2. People who often have no idea of the history of the items in
their possession put them on the market, only to discover that they were
“Most art thieves don’t have a plan,” explains
Chris. “They think maybe they will take their loot to a country with less
stringent checks, maybe Russia or France. But we are there, checking every
market. Sometimes thieves will wait for an insurance company to get involved
and then try to ransom the item. Sometimes they hold on to it as a bargaining
chip in case they get arrested. And sometimes they call us.”
This is where Chris and Alice’s work gets murky.
Police resources are stretched and the bureaucracy of international law
enforcement can reduce the chances of a successful recovery. So, with the
blessing of the authorities, Chris and Alice execute their own operations and
“We prefer to have the guys with the badges do the
dangerous stuff, but occasionally when the theft is too old for the police to
have an interest, we get involved. Ninety per cent of what we do is negotiating
with criminals, handlers and purchasers,” says Chris.
One case, which Chris can’t discuss in detail for
legal reasons, involves a renowned art thief and a Picasso.
“It was stolen in North America back in the ’70s,”
he explains. “I met my contact in the Musée D’Orsay cafe in Paris to discuss
its return. As far as police are concerned, they don’t have enough to charge
him, but we know he spent time in prison for art theft and we know he had some
sticky fingers around the gallery where the piece went missing.”
The team stresses that they work together with the
police and offer their services to them for free. Clients, including insurance
companies, art dealers, collectors and museums, pay to search the ALR database
and to register stolen items.
“Sometimes the authorities come to the conclusion
that they don’t have sufficient information to prosecute or they don’t have an
interest. In that situation, we say to the person holding the art: ‘This item
is on the system as stolen, so you will not be able to sell it on the
legitimate market. It’s entirely worthless, so it’s in your best interests to
return it,’” says Alice.
“Criminals are looking for money or information and
they look to us as a way out of their predicament,” continues Chris. “And
sometimes they just want to do the right thing.”
This was the scenario faced by Fast Freddy. He
approached ALR with some stolen paintings he had “come across” and helped Chris
and Alice return them to their owner. Often crooks hope to cash in on rewards
offered; other times they find art that can’t be sold is better off out of
“Freddy’s what you’d call a connecting element at
the lower end of the art market. He connects criminals with art handlers. He
calls in regularly with tips. He’s like a cross between Only Fools And Horses
and Lovejoy,” laughs Alice.
While crooks look to ALR for help, the art world
often shuns them because identifying a disputed item hampers sales.
“You get to meet some really nasty people who
couldn’t give a damn if the piece they want to sell was stolen from a Holocaust
victim,” says Chris.
“I’ve been manhandled from stands at art fairs,
literally shoved away,” reveals Alice. “We’ve been accused of being worse than
the Nazis, and my personal favourite is that I am taking the romance out of the
Alice has been working at the firm for three years.
She studied archaeology and Classics, and then went to law school. She
regularly poses as a buyer or dealer to identify work.
“I’m not usually in danger. The only time there
could have been a problem was when my real name was inadvertently given out by
a colleague. Luckily, I hadn’t been at ALR for long, but it was enough to make
the dealer suspicious and back off.”
Early last year, ALR had one of their quickest
A nude print by Czech photographer František
Drtikol was taken from a museum in Prague in daylight on a busy Sunday. The
next day, the £310,000 work was listed on the ALR database as stolen and a day
later a dealer in New York called to check on a piece he was being offered.
Chris says: “We alerted police, but they couldn’t
do anything without international procedures being in place. We advised the
dealer to get the seller to courier it to him. We intercepted it and handed it
to plain-clothes Czech police officers and the museum director in a pub around
the corner from here.”
While Chris and Alice are happy to talk about much
of their work, their biggest success remains shrouded in secrecy.
“It was a Monet worth £37million,” offers Chris.
“It had been taken by the Nazis and, years later, ended up with a billionaire
who was selling it. It had been in a vault in Switzerland for 20 years. It’s
now back with the family of the original owner.”
When a priceless masterpiece goes missing, art detectives Chris Marinello and Alice Farren-Bradley are who you call