Friday, October 19, 2012
Slate looks into the shadowy world of big-time art theives and the black market for stolen paintings:
Thieves offer paintings by the masters at incredible discounts. According to Joshua Knelman’s book Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art, a stolen painting usually goes for around 10 percent of its legitimate auction value in the first sale between criminal and shady dealer. The price is low because both parties are at risk. The initial buyers usually know the works are stolen, especially since experienced black marketeers typically buy only from thieves they’re already familiar with. In subsequent sales, the price usually jumps substantially as the risk of punishment drops. In the United States, for example, buyers can be prosecuted under the National Stolen Property Act only if the government can prove that they knew the item was stolen. Once a painting changes hands two or three times, buyers can plausibly (and sometimes honestly) claim that they thought it was legitimate.
(Pic: The most audacious art theft in history occurred in Boston on March 18, 1990 when thieves stole 13 pieces, worth $300 million, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The prize was Vermeer's The Concert, which is considered to be the most valuable painting ever stolen. A reward of $5,000,000 is still offered for information leading to the paintings return.)