x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Painted into a corner

Paintings stolen from a Dutch museum probably won't find a buyer, making the reasons for the theft puzzling.

Art heists capture the imagination like few other crimes do. Is there some secret cabal of art aficionados willing to pay millions for stolen masterpieces? It might make a good movie, but in real life, probably not.

In fact, the thieves who lifted seven works, including paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, Monet and Matisse, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam this week may well have been amateurs who knew their supposed value - in the tens of millions of dollars - but had no understanding of the art market.

While it's possible the paintings were stolen to order, either to pay off a debt or to satisfy somebody's personal whim, FBI art crime team founder Robert Wittman told The Atlantic magazine that even black-market buyers wouldn't touch such high-profile stolen goods - because their value resides to a great extent in ownership of legal title. If the works are offered for sale, the "buyer" could well be an undercover cop.

More likely, Wittman says, they will sit in storage, for years or even decades, and will eventually be recovered. Or possibly destroyed.

This will be cold comfort to the Triton Foundation, which owns the paintings, but it will illustrate the chestnut that crime doesn't pay.