Art thefts over the Christmas period? A few months ago I told you in a video here on the channel of a series of art thefts that took place in museums and galleries around the world. In fact, the topic of thefts has always intrigued me a lot. On the one hand because I have the soul of a little detective especially for things related to art. And on the other because I’ve always wondered how you can steal something that in theory should be so difficult to resell. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult if there are so many more or less solved mysteries. One of these happened right around Christmas time. I’m Clelia and today I’m telling you about the three thefts of Christmas 1990 in New York.
The story that emerged from the 2019 Sotheby’s auction
Of this series of thefts that I’m telling you about today for quite some time not much was known online, except thanks to excerpts from the local New York newspaper. Then following a Sotheby’s auction in the spring of 2019, a series of art critics and curators became passionate about this episode and began to investigate.
In fact, it all started with an auction record for a work by Lee Krasner, wife of Jackson Pollock. In the Sotheby’s catalog a story was mentioned that had involved this work years earlier. Intrigued by the news, an American reporter named Nate Freeman wanted to investigate to write a piece and reconstruct the story, which I’m telling you today thanks to his research.
Art thefts at Christmas – 1. Peder Bonnier
The first of these thefts involves an American gallery owner who was quite famous in the art world in the 80s and 90s. It is in fact Peder Bonnier, who went down in history for having convinced his friend Larry Gagosian to open his first gallery in New York in the Chelsea area, renting a space in the building owned by a famous artist in 1986 Italian Sandro Chia.
But Peder Bonnier, as we have said, is personally involved in the first theft of 1990, which took place on December 17 in his gallery which is located in exactly the same building as Gagosian’s. According to the local press, a few weeks after the theft, more was known. the absurd thing is that the police report says that only one left-hand work by the artist William De Kooning was stolen. A 1962 work worth $750,000. Not joking. Of the whole gallery, the theft took place in Bonnier’s office and the thief simply arrived there by elevator and without leaving a trace of his passage.
Art thefts at Christmas – 2. Lee Krasner’s painting
The second art theft in the city took place exactly two days later: on December 19, 1990. This time it not only involved another important gallery owner, but also Stolen was the Krasner painting which then set the auction record in 2019. I’ll tell you how it went according to the police and the newspapers.
This time we are in Manhattan and there are two stolen paintings, both from the seventh floor of a building where both the gallery exhibition space and John Chaim’s house of the very famous American gallery Chaim Read are located. The fact is that once again the thieves have done a masterful job without leaving a trace and moreover in broad daylight. Between 11 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon they broke into the house and stole two works. Krasner’s then worth $1 million versus $11 now and a Salle worth $400,000.
Art thefts at Christmas – 3. The stolen Soutine
Exactly two more days go by. Look at the case! And the third theft takes place, obviously the strangest of the three. This time a 1922 Soutine is stolen. It goes like this. The picture had been taken to the framer and at the time of the theft it was inside a truck that was used by the gallery to get around the city for this kind of business. Between the various rounds of that day the driver stops to deliver another work and while he is away for only a few minutes according to him someone sneaks into the truck and starts driving at a run and then disappears.
Obviously the theft immediately raises suspicions for two reasons. The first is timing. How is it possible that a passerby decided to steal a truck at that very moment? Obviously the thief knew what was inside and what the stages were. And the second is just what I said at the beginning. The value and importance of this work would have made life difficult for any thief wishing to sell it on the black market.
How did the cases close?
But what happened to these 4 stolen works and above all how did the cases close? Well the cases have never been closed by either the local police or the FBI. The reason why these 3 cases seem not to have had so much luck and attention from investigators seems to be the fact that, as I told you in the other video just a few months earlier, the theft of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston had taken place and everyone was busy trying to resolve that given the value of the works.
The latest developments
Furthermore, over time there has been some development. Less than a year later, the two works in Robert Miller’s loft appeared out of nowhere on the black market and were recovered and returned to their rightful owners who then gave the Krasner to Sotheby’s for auction last year. Soutine’s truck was found empty after a few days in the Harlem neighborhood but there was no trace of the painting. and finally, nothing is known about the first of De Kooning’s stolen works and perhaps never will be known.
Art thefts at Christmas. Were they connected?
However, the question that arises spontaneously is: given how these three events ended so differently, is it a coincidence that they all took place within 2 days of each other or not? We will probably never know! However, some journalists have pointed out in reporting the information that the timing may be due more to a desire for Christmas presents and therefore to commissioned thefts than to a real relationship between the three victims.
And if you liked this Christmas theft themed post, subscribe to the my YouTube channel so you don’t miss the next videos related to art, travel and the market. Also I suggest you take a look at my post about 9 most famous thefts in the history of art and the one on Jackson Pollock drips.
Thanks and see you next time!