West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
The Fine Art of Crime
– protecting your cultural property
Collected Impressions of the Special Interest Day
led by Malcolm Kenwood
on November 12th
Our engaging speaker for the day was Malcolm Kenwood,
a former specialist police detective with the Sussex
Constabulary. He was Recoveries Director for the Art Loss
Register which operates an international commercial database of
cultural property. He has trained law enforcement officers and
worked with the Met, New Scotland Yard, Interpol, the FBI and museum
staff. He invited us to travel with him through a day of villainy
and kicked off with the assertion that Antiques Roadshow is prisoners’
favourite TV programme!
Lecture 1: The Mona Lisa Mystery
Malcolm shared with us the details of how the Mona Lisa was stolen from
the Louvre on Monday 21st August 1911, who was charged with the theft
and how it was reunited with its owners. This is considered the
major art theft and it shocked the art world. He set out the
catalogue of unfortunate coincidences which, coupled with incompetence,
meant that an aggrieved employee of a contractor could learn enough
about the workings of the staff at the Louvre to be able to walk out of
the building with the painting under his smock.
It had been the custom to encourage artists to work in the Louvre
copying original paintings and in close proximity to them. As a
concession to concerns about possible damage to the paintings, some
were encased in glass fronted boxes. So the 21ins by 30ins Mona Lisa
became a 14 and a half stone item. On Mondays the Louvre closed
cleaning, the movement of exhibits and the photographing of works, and
staff at work on those days all wore white smocks. One noticed
the picture was not in its usual spot on the wall but assumed it had
been taken for cleaning. It was the next day before the alarm was
raised by a visitor hoping to copy it but finding only four hooks on
the wall. When some staff eventually discovered the empty large
wooden case and the frame another recalled finding a man on the Monday
in a smock struggling to open a nearby door. He had helped
him unlock it without realising it was the thief who had removed the
picture from the frame, concealed it in his smock and then made off
through a public exit to the museum.
The world’s media speculated on a range of possible motives for the
theft and public interest was high. The Louvre was closed for a
and on reopening thousands queued to see the four hooks! With the
wisdom of hindsight many then came forward with tales of lax security
at the Louvre and how taking a statue home was common practice amongst
certain radical groups such as the one led by Apollinaire, opposed to
the very idea of museum exhibits believing they stifled the creativity
of new artists.
The villain was an aggrieved Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian migrant who
hated the French. He had worked as a carpenter for a company
contracted by the Louvre to make the frames for its pictures. He
knew the security weaknesses at the museum, its working practices, had
the smock and knew how to take the painting out of its frame
easily. Failings in the fingerprinting practices of the French
police at the
time (who only took right hand prints from those they arrested) also
helped him evade detection as the left hand prints they found they
could not use. Whilst he kept the painting under his bed in his
few streets away from the museum, police had been searching liners that
had sailed from France in the wake of the theft. It was two years
before they made any progress in locating the painting when Peruggia
made contact with the authorities and claimed he wanted the picture to
be returned to the Uffizi in Florence. This apparent motive for
theft resulted in his receiving only a one year sentence. He then
served in the Italian army in WW1 and ended his days as a painter and
decorator in France in 1947.
|La Joconde est Retrouvée (Mona Lisa Found), Le Petit Parisien, 13 December 1913
In 1932 the story took another interesting twist as a US journalist
uncovered a story about an Argentinian forger who claimed he had set up
Peruggia to steal the painting, had forged 6 copies and sold them to
gullible rich collectors none of whom would want to own up to being
hoodwinked. Thus began the myth of there being more than one Mona
Lisa and the seeds of doubt about its authenticity were sown. The
of the painting and its recovery and forgery sagas have all worked to
propel the painting to iconic status: 6 million a year visit the Louvre
and most go to view it.
Lecture 2: The Fine Art of Crime
Malcolm's second lecture covered 'The Theft of Cultural Property' from
famous works of art to pedal cars! Art theft,
at the moment, ranks 4th highest financially in the criminal
world. The purpose behind these thefts seems to fall into
different categories: Gang Crime, Extortion and The
Collector. All art crime falls under the auspices of The
Art and Antique Unit at Scotland Yard.
Gang Crime: Artwork is often stolen as collateral for
the payment of drugs and firearms rather than large sums of money
having to be laundered. As these shady dealers are probably
not art experts they employ specialist advice to verify that the
painting or object is genuine and it is here that the police can often
use an undercover expert who will report back enabling an
arrest. There have been incidents of museums being targeted
such as Durham Museum and more notably The Fitzwilliam in Cambridge
where some wonderful examples of jade were stolen. In both
cases CCTV footage was released to the public which led to the arrests
of not only the immediate culprits but a further 17 men in cahoots, via
Limerick, with a Chinese gang trading the jade ornaments with
counterfeit goods to be sold back in this country.
Extortion: Art-napping is, in effect, demanding a ransom
from an insurance company once the victim of the crime has been paid
off. The threat being 'pay up or we will destroy the
The Collector: Malcolm then told us the story of the theft
of a 45,000 Euro trumpet from the Richard Wagner Museum in
Lucerne. The following day (the theft having been much
broadcast) a dog walker noticed a man behaving strangely in the
undergrowth behind the museum and had the foresight to notify the
police. This led to the thief's arrest and the subsequent
discovery that he had been stealing small sized objects and artwork for
many years for his own personal collection displayed in the attic of
his home. Unfortunately his mother, in a bid to rid her son
of quite so much incriminating evidence, set about shredding the
priceless paintings and threw the rest of his collection in the local
canal! This was fortunately retrieved later.
Finally Malcolm explained the importance of The Art Loss Register
which is a database of stolen goods that insurance companies have
settled claims on. Auction houses pay to use this data base
in order to avoid unwittingly selling stolen goods and will scan it
closely against their catalogues. If an item appears
similar at first sight further forensic investigation such as wood
grain, scuff marks, chips and cracks can often prove an item's true
identity. A classic example of this was a child's pedal car
which fortunately was still in its original condition ... slightly
bashed and rusty! The trail of this one item went on to
lead to a positive Aladdin's Cave of stolen property.
This was a truly gripping lecture and at times was like listening to a
good who dunnit!
|Another delicious lunch
provided by our special events committee
prompted much convivial conversation
Lecture 3: How
to protect your
Malcolm Kenwood’s afternoon talk covered the steps to be taken to
protect one’s own property.
Use digital cameras wherever possible
and turn off the flash (he suggests asking a 12 year old to assist in
this!). Keep the background plain, and take items outside if
The quality of the image is
important, and so photograph individual objects, not groups.
Uniqueness – if photographing
furniture, include scratches, chips and the grain of the wood.
Damage matters, as forensic
scientists can prove that chips are from stolen property. Marks
although dinner services look identical, the firing marks are unique.
Photograph labels and serial numbers,
and even a case if objects are contained in one. Two sets of
Keep photographs safe – not in a
bureau, which could also be stolen, and ideally on a safe.
- Recording Fine Art
Often there are details on the back
of a canvas – record them, and measure the canvas. Ignore the
- Property Marking
Ultra-violet pens are useful, as post
codes or house details can be marked on items, but the downside is that
they can be erased with a wet rag. Also, they will not adhere to
A modern alternative is “SmartWater”
which shows up under ultra-violet light.
Details are to be found by checking
“Forensic Property Marking” on the internet.
Try to accurately value items. Although loss adjusters and
assessors are usually supportive, it is
important not to under value contents of a house. Malcolm gave an
example of the Duke who had a £3million valuation on his contents, but
stolen items were worth £100million!
- Once you have
photographs and details, sign up to the Auction Search Market, and you
will be notified if any of those items appear in any Auction
Catalogue. The pedal car referred to above was identified when it
appeared in an
auction catalogue in Australia. The seller was then identified,
upon search, was found to have a multitude of stolen goods.
It must be borne in mind that there is far too much
available on the Internet. House details on Right Move, for
with photographs, may reveal valuable items. Google Maps will
access to properties which would not otherwise be available to
In conclusion, Malcolm emphasised that it is all down to Risk
Management; make life difficult for the potential burglar.
This talk offered practical advice to protect one’s valuables, and
concluded a most entertaining day.