Saturday, February 29, 2020
If you purchase a piece of art that bears an ALR (Art Loss Register) certificate, you can be assured that your purchase is not listed as looted, stolen, or otherwise dubious. The organization has no legislative power, but the members do works alongside law enforcement, insurers, auction houses, dealers, museums and many other organizations.
Because of this diligence, the ALR now has what they consider their secret weapon: the world's largest database of stolen and missing art, numbering over 700,000 and being constantly updated. Recent thefts can be logged, and items with questionable provenance or uncertain legal title cross-checked. Individuals or museums pay £70 to submit photos and details of the piece they want to verify and the database is then searched, with 400,000 queries submitted annually.
Major art fairs such as the Tefaf are also utilizing the database. Will Korner, the ALR’s Art Fairs Manager, says that issues do arise, though rarely. “At Tefaf in 2004, we found a still life by [the Dutch painter] Balthasar van der Ast that had gone missing from the Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen in 1945. It took a lot of research to find the rightful owner.” The piece finally made its way back to the museum in 2017.
See Andrew Dickson, Art Loss Register: The World’s Largest Database of Stolen and Missing Art, Financial Times, February 27, 2020.
Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.