Friday, February 22, 2008

Art Theft: E.G. Buehrle Gallery

My final installment on art theft is a particularly interesting one, I think, and the crime occurred extremely recently. Click to read installments one, two, three, and four.

During the Holocaust and WWII, Nazis stole a lot of art. Much of it was taken from private collectors, especially Jewish collectors, before they were sent to concentration camps or were met with other unspeakable fates. Some of the art was returned to the rightful owners or the families of the rightful owners. Some was hidden away and has yet to be recovered. Some of the art remained the property of the thieves or entered public collections.

I could easily write a week’s worth of posts on this but in the interest of getting on to the point of today’s article, Emil George Buehrle was a Nazi supporter who created weapons for Hitler’s army during WWII. During this time, he amassed a great collection of art. We know that some of it was looted during the Holocaust because he had to return some of the paintings to the owners. It’s impossible to know where every piece came from but I think it’s safe to assume that at least a few of the paintings remaining in his collection were stolen to begin with.

Buehrle’s collection, housed in a townhome in Zurich, Switzerland, is open to the public for three hours on Sundays. Apparently, that is all the time thieves needed earlier this month to steal four masterworks by Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet, and Degas, valued at about $164 million.

Museums are not often targets of armed robbery which makes this an unusual case. While the gallery was still open to the public, masked gunmen entered, forced museum staff and the few remaining guests to lie on the floor, and took the paintings from the walls. Like in a TV bank robbery.

The paintings were probably ordered by a collector before the robbery but it’s possible the thieves are holding the paintings for ransom. Two of the works have been recovered (the Monet and the van Gogh), safe and still in their frames. The others are still missing. We’ll have to wait and see if the thieves make any demands.

And there you have it. Today you got two thefts in one story (that of the Nazis and that of the recent gallery robbers). That wraps up this series but I’ll come up with something interesting for next week.

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1 comment:

Peter said...

It seems that two of the paintings were recovered yesterday or the day before.