Scotland Yard Art and Antiques Unit re-formedThe Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit, disbanded in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, has been re-formed after fears London was at risk from an increase in the theft and fraud of cultural items.
Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire on June 14 the entire art crime squad was disbanded and seconded to help with the inquiry.
Now the unit’s detective constables Ray Swan and Sophie Hayes have returned to the department joining new supervisor, detective sergeant Rob Upham. A third detective constable is due to join the team in the next few months.
Upham, speaking to Antiques Trade Gazette said: “We’ve already started instigating investigations, have already yielded one arrest and from another investigation have recovered two paintings, previously reported stolen.”
Upham recently joined from the Met’s Homicide and Serious Crime Command. The art crime squad had been without a lead since Claire Hutcheon left in March 2016.
A Met police spokesman confirmed that the “Met’s Art and Antiques Unit has been reformed” and a third team member will join as soon as possible.
The unit has been temporarily closed in the past, for instance following the July 2005 bombings. However, this year there were fears it would be permanently closed due to budgetary pressures on the Met.
Speaking during the summer, former Met Police art crime detective Dick Ellis raised concerns of a "vacuum (being) left in Europe's largest art market".
He said the effective investigation of crimes relating to the “burglary of art and antiques, international cultural property theft, fraud and money laundering” are all directly impacted by the lack of a dedicated police unit. He highlighted that in contrast to the UK, the US had trained 400 officers since 2007 and the FBI has 16 special agents on its art crime team.
Six months on from the fire that claimed 71 lives, the Grenfell inquiry began a two day hearing this week to examine issues such as witness statements and timetables. The hearing of evidence will begin next year.
Stolen van Ruisdael painting on display at Ulster Museum
It was stolen from Russborough House in County Wicklow three times between 1974 and 2002 but recovered each time.
Jacob van Ruisdael is considered by many to be a foremost Dutch landscape painter at that time.
In 1930, the collection passed to Otto's son Sir Alfred Lane Beit (1903-1994) who relocated it some 20 years later to Russborough House, where the Cornfield hung in the saloon alongside other Dutch paintings.
The IRA heiress and the GeneralHowever, the paintings attracted much unwanted attention.
An Irish Republican Army gang, that included English heiress Dr Rose Dugdale, stole 19 paintings after tying up Sir Alfred and his wife in 1974.
All of the stolen paintings were recovered in County Cork a few weeks later.
In 1986, a 13-member gang led by Martin Cahill, known in the tabloid media as 'The General', robbed the stately home again.
He took the van Ruisdael as part of a heist involving 18 paintings but the Cornfield was recovered days after the robbery.
And finally, the Cornfield was one of five paintings taken from Russborough in 2002 but recovered three months later.
'Absolute masterpiece'Anne Stewart, a senior curator of art with the Ulster Museum, said it was excited and delighted to have a painting as important as the Cornfield in its collection.
She described it as an "absolute masterpiece".
"Jacob van Ruisdael was really the finest of all the Dutch landscape painters of the 17th century," she said.
"This is one of his most beautiful paintings.
"Jacob van Ruisdael was so adapt and clever at painting landscapes that he really went beyond the representation of what he saw... he gives it a deeper poetic meaning."
While she said it was a very valuable painting, Ms Stewart could not put a value on the piece.
She said every museum had concerns about the security of its collections, but that the Ulster Museum had gone to great lengths to make sure its collection was secure.
Despite the number of times it has been stolen, the painting is in a "miraculous" condition, she added, although a very close look reveals that the Cornfield does bear the scars of ill-treatment at the hands of thieves.
Who was Jacob van Ruisdael?Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9? - 1682) is commonly considered the foremost landscape painter of the so-called Dutch Golden Age.
He was born in Haarlem, in the north of the Netherlands, and was the son of a little known painter, Isaack Jacobsz van Ruisdael.
His work is considered to be source of inspiration for later generations of British landscape artists such as John Constable.
The subject of the cornfield featured in many of Ruisdael's works but was rarely treated as the central theme.
Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI, said: "The Ulster Museum holds a small but important collection of 17th Century Dutch paintings and the undisputed beauty of the Cornfield, an important work from the Beit collection, will significantly enhance this collection.
"I have no doubt that this beautiful painting will captivate visitors to the Ulster Museum."
The Cornfield is on display in the Life and Light Dutch and Italian Painting exhibition at the Ulster Museum.
The museum also holds a painting, River Landscape with Figures in Boats and a Church in the Distance from van Ruisdael's uncle and teacher, Salomon van Ruysdael.
Although they were uncle and nephew, they used slightly different spellings of their surname.
Art heists in movies and on tv can look very unrealistic. As it turns out, many seemingly impossible art heists are successful. In fact, valuable pieces of art are still missing from heists decades old. Learn more about some of the most famous and memorable art heists in the United States, ahead.
Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius, 1995A $3 million violin vanished from its owner’s New York City apartment in 1995. The very valuable violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1727 sat in the china cabinet of concert violinist, Erica Morini, the Daily Beast says. “The violin is among only a few hundred instruments that Stradivari made,” according to USA Today. Morini passed away two weeks after the theft of her precious violin. The person or persons responsible for the theft have never been found and the violin has yet to be recovered.
Maxfield Parrish’s mural, 2002Two panels from Maxfield Parrish’s mural commissioned for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s 5th Avenue mansion in New York vanished from a California museum in 2002, according to the FBI. Thieves took the oil paintings from a West Hollywood art gallery. They cut the paintings, valued at $4 million, from their frames. The paintings remain on the Art Crime Team’s Most Wanted list.
Renoir painting, 2011Upon entering a Houston home, a masked robber took Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair by Renoir. The armed robber, supposedly in his early to mid 20s, got away with the painting after the homeowner heard a noise and saw the intruder. The painting is said to be worth $1 million, according to the Bureau. This theft remains on the FBI’s Top 10 Art Crimes.
Multiple pieces of artwork, 1990Two men dressed as police officers tied up security officers on duty at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and proceeded to have free reign of the museum, TIME says. Taking 13 pieces of artwork, this heist in Boston is one of the largest in American history. What makes this story even more interesting is that the case remains unsolved. The statute of limitations has run out and none of the artwork is back at the museum, the FBI told CNN. As of May 2017, the museum is offering a $10 million reward for help solving the mystery.
18 paintings by various artists, 198818 paintings housed at the Manhattan branch of Colnaghi’s went missing in 1988. The heist “involved a break-in through a skylight and a maneuver with a rope that could have sent the robbers plunging down the stairwell,” Forbes says. At the time, the art valued between $6 and $10 million, making it the biggest heist in New York. Only 14 of the 18 stolen works have been recovered.
Salvador Dalí sketch, 2004During his yearly stay at the St. Regis hotel in New York during the winter months of 1965, Dalí planned to visit inmate artists at Rikers Island, according to the Daily Beast. Dalí, feeling sick, canceled the visit. Feeling guilty about not visiting the prison, he drew a sketch to hang in the cafeteria. Nearly 40 years later, prison guards set off the prison’s fire alarm to distract the night guards, giving them enough time to replace the real sketch with a replica. The poorly drawn replica didn’t fool anyone for long. The guards were caught immediately following the heist, according to Ranker.
Fake artwork, 1987“Antiques dealer, Nedjatollah Sakhai, hired a gang to rob a Queens warehouse filled with forged goods,” according to How Stuff Works. The art dealer and owner of the warehouse, Houshang Mahboubian, planned to file a claim and collect millions in insurance money. After receiving a tip, the police staked out the warehouse and waited for the supposed burglars to make their move. While Sakhai and Mahboubian maintain their innocence, 13 others pleaded guilty.
Planned exhibit about art dealer Max Stern reinstated by German mayorA planned exhibit about world-renowned Jewish Montreal art dealer Max Stern has been reinstated by the mayor of Dusseldorf, Germany, after he canceled it last month.
Due to open in February after more than three years of planning by Dusseldorf’s Stadtmuseum, the exhibit – titled “Max Stern: from Dusseldorf to Montreal” – also was slated to include a stop in Israel before finishing in Montreal.
At the time of the November cancellation, German city officials cited “current demands for information and restitution in Germany” as the reason for the exhibit’s abrupt cancellation.
The exhibit will now go ahead in a “more complete and revised form” at a later date, the city said in a statement. It will now take place in the Stadtmuseum with an additional, yet-to-be-appointed curator and a “scholarly advisory board,” the city statement said. Mayor Thomas Geisel told the New York Times that the target date for the revised exhibition is October 2018. The city also is planning an international symposium about Stern to “offer a forum for research on the subject and to discuss possible forms of communicating and documenting it.”
A native of Dusseldorf, Stern took over his late father’s art gallery there in 1934 until the Nazis made it illegal for Jews to sell art. During this period, the Nazis looted hundreds of valuable artworks from his gallery.
Stern soon left Germany and settled in Montreal, where he established the renowned Dominion Gallery.
Following his death in 1987, Concordia became the base for the Max Stern Art Restitution Project, which uses funds left by his estate to Montreal’s Concordia and McGill universities and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to seek out and recover gallery artworks stolen by the Nazis.
To date, 16 have been recovered and returned to their rightful owners, with hundreds still unaccounted for.
The list of Stern gallery artworks includes some works in the collection of the Stadtmuseum and the city of Düsseldorf.