Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime – A Review

missingKevin Nance of Booklist describes Houpt’s book through the following angle, “when houses like Sotheby’s trumpet their sales records – $104 million for a Picasso! – what’s a self-respecting art thief to do? In this brief and lively book, Houpt laments the transformation of art into an international commodity and sketches a series of quick portraits of famous latter-day art thieves and the intrepid detectives who try to catch them. In a few cases, Houpt has already been outpaced by events. Munch’s The Scream, stolen from a Norwegian museum in 2004, was recently recovered, and the Picasso sales record was eclipsed this year by the sale of a Klimt (once looted by the Nazis) for a reported $135 million.”

The Hypothesis

Auction house pricing has been a big complaint of many in the art world over the years. It is clear that such enormous prices for famous works by such well-knowns as Picasso only drive up the temptation behind nabbing one of these high-priced canvases for claim in a art thief’s private collection. Taking this idea, Houst takes the reader into the dark underbelly of one of the world’s largest markets and shows the reader just how underhanded some of the worst crimes in art have come to be.

From Munch’s The Scream to the Henry Moore Sculpture

Nothing will illicit intrigue more than when a largely famous work of art goes missing. Houpt does not miss a beat of the action in Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime as the author delves into heavy detail over such infamous thefts as the theft of The Scream and the even more bizarre theft of the nearly two-ton bronze sculpture by Henry Moore. Using photographs, illustrations and case studies, Houpt brings these crimes against art to life while still keeping the reader intrigued to learn just how people were able to pull off these brazen acts.

Large-Scale Thefts: From the Nazis to Iraq

What was most intriguing about this book was the coverage that Houpt included on much more large scale operations such as the Nazis’ art theft during World War II and the acts of looting that nearly crumbled the Iraqi Museum and outlaying institutions. If the Rape of Europa piqued your interest, then Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime will take it even another step.

Museum of the Missing: The High Stakes of Art Crime by Simon Houpt is available for purchase with ISBN 1897330448 through Black Walnut/Madison Press.

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Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures

raidAmerica, specifically New York, was not seen as the center for the art world until the twentieth century. Before that, Europe, specifically Paris, was the center of the art world. Artists from all over the world traveled to the City of Lights to train and broaden their artistic scope. With the artists, came many art enthusiasts and patrons who would become famous in their own right, people such as Gertrude Stein.

Then, by the end of the nineteenth century, America began to overtake England as a world power. In doing so, America began to thirst for the next step up the ladder of power. It needed to show and deem itself an artistically rich nation that too had the likes of Vermeer, Rembrandt and Raphael adorning the galleries of its museum.

Capturing the Madness of Art

In Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures, Cynthia Saltzman takes her readers on an in-depth, striking look at the fever that swept across America in needing to bring both famous and well-known objets d’arts to America. As Henry James called it, and David Michaels references it, Saltzman captures “real people, men and women alike, frantic to lay hands on the power and beauty and immortality – the madness, of art.”

It is most interesting to see this madness, this rush for dominance and immortality as a world power through documents and passages that Cynthia Saltzman lays out for the reader in detail. It goes to show that it was not only Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany that hoarded and often more times then not acquired works underhandedly in the name of nationality and pride.

Overall, Saltzman’s book encourages readers to look beyond the image and to see the high-price that some of these old world masters came with as they made their journey to America. It is fascinating to see and learn how major museums and collectors collaborated together to in essence, loot Europe of some of its most prized and well-known works of art.

Cynthia Saltzman

According to her website, Saltzman holds degrees in both art history from Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. from Stanford. She has also worked as a reporter for Forbes and The Wall Street Journal. Saltzman is also the author of Portrait of Dr. Gachet; The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece. She lives in New York.

Old Masters, New World: America’s Raid on Europe’s Great Pictures by Cynthia Saltzman is available for purchase with ISBN 0670018317 from Viking Adult. It was first published on August 14, 2008.

Death and Restoration (Art History Mystery) – Book Review

dearhThere is nothing quite as lush as pairing the rich, vibrant world of art history with that of a mystery. Iain Pears, an art historian, pairs the two together in his novel, Death and Restoration. It is the sixth novel in Pears’ Jonathan Argyll series. However, readers who are new to it, will not be lost in what came in books prior. Pears subtly reminds his readers of important past events and relationships that are key to following the mystery in Death and Restoration.

The Plot

Again, the book opens with the series main characters, Argyll and his soon-to-be wife, Flavia di Stefano. The two are immersed in the Italian art world– Flavia, as a member of the Rome police’s art squad and Argyll as a professor of art history. The plot is mainly centered around a art-theft, but breaks off into smaller sub-plots that each character seamlessly narrates.

Argyll, for example is bothered by his fiancee’s frequent absences from their wedding planning while, Flavia is more pre-occupied with trying to prove that her revival, Mary Verney is in Rome, bent on master-minding a great art theft. However, everything is changed when it is uncovered that Verney is in Rome to steal a painting, but her reasons for it have nothing to do with personal gain, but rather to free her kidnapped granddaughter Louise from the sadistic Mikis Charanis.

The Mystery

Further questions arise, though, when Verney is supposed to steal the Madonna artifact from San Giovanni. The big question is, why does Mikis Charanis want this artifact? Why would he want the lesser known, not as valuable artifact when he could black mail Verney into stealing the Caravaggio that San Giovanni is known for?

For those who had fallen in love with the Jonathan Argyll series with An Instance of the Fingerpost, they will not be let down by where Pears takes the series in Death and Restoration. Overall, this installment of the series is full-bodied and enticing as the reader is led through the underbelly of the art world and through the lush richness of Baroque-inspired Italy.

Other works in the Jonathan Agryll series includes The Raphael Affair, The Titian Committee, The Bernini Bust, The Last Judgement, and Giotto’s Hand. So far, the series has not been extended past The Immaculate Deception. Pears does have a body of work outside of his Jonathon Agryll series.

Death and Restoration by Iain Pears was published on August 5, 2003 by Berkley Trade with ISBN 0425190420.