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Unravelling the World of Art Thefts : A Library Program and New Reads

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Unravelling the World of Art Thefts : A Library Program and New Reads

art thefts

Art theft is the stealing of paintings, sculptures, or other forms of visual art from galleries, museums or other public and private locations, and have been common throughout art history.

From centuries-old archaeological objects to contemporary masterworks, art heists have involved a range of shadowy figures, from amateurs to security experts to possibly even organized crime syndicates. In some cases, the works have been recovered, while other heists have ended with the works being lost permanently.

On June 3 at 7pm, you can enter the underworld of stolen art as we examine the little known stories of some of history’s greatest art heists in our program “How To Steal A Masterpiece” presented by Mallory Mortillaro.

This lecture will review some of the most significant art theft in the last century and a half, while also questioning and discussing how the legitimate art market has managed to pique the interest of so many criminals. 

Here are some recently published works of fiction and nonfiction featuring art thefts, available with your Livingston Library card, that make for thrilling reads.

art thief

The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession by Michael Finkel

For centuries, works of art have been stolen in countless ways from all over the world, but no one has been quite as successful at it as the master thief Stéphane Breitwieser. Carrying out more than two hundred heists over nearly ten years-in museums and cathedrals all over Europe-Breitwieser, along with his girlfriend who worked as his lookout, stole more than three hundred objects, until it all fell apart in spectacular fashion. In The Art Thief, Michael Finkel brings us into Breitwieser’s strange and fascinating world. Unlike most thieves, he never stole for money, keeping all his treasures in a single room where he could admire them to his heart’s content. Possessed of a remarkable athleticism and an innate ability to assess practically any security system, Breitwieser managed to pull off a breathtakingly number of audacious thefts.

The Borgia Portrait by David Hewson

When Arnold Clover is recruited by Lizzie Hawker to help her look into her family inheritance, he cannot begin to guess the journey he is about to embark on. Lizzie’s mother, an Italian countess, disappeared thirty years ago, presumed dead. Her father, a famous, some say infamous, music promoter, has just died and now the family home Ca’ Scacchi, a leaning palazzo in Dorsoduro, has fallen to her. When her mother vanished so too did a priceless painting, supposedly an erotic portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, which has captivated men for generations. When a body is discovered in a hidden crypt beneath the checkerboard courtyard of the palazzo, other secrets are unearthed with it. Lying with the body is a document, a story of an episode in Casanova’s colorful life, and within it a set of clues that might lead to the location of the painting. But it quickly becomes apparent that Lizzie and Arnold are not the only ones interested in finding the painting. The search for the lost Lucrezia quickly becomes a race through the secret history of Venice, one with potentially deadly consequences.

The Collector: A Novel by Daniel Silva

Legendary art restorer and spy Gabriel Allon joins forces with a brilliant and beautiful master-thief to track down the world’s most valuable missing painting but soon finds himself in a desperate race to prevent an unthinkable conflict between Russia and the West. Silva’s powerhouse novel showcases his outstanding skill and brilliant imagination, destined to be a must-read for both his multitudes of fans and growing legions of converts.

The Duke (DVD)

Set in 1961 when Kempton Bunton, a 60-year-old taxi driver, stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. It was the first (and remains the only) theft in the Gallery’s history. Kempton sent ransom notes saying that he would return the painting on condition that the government agreed to provide television for free to the elderly. What happened next became the stuff of legend. Only 50 years later did the full story emerge, a startling revelation of how a good man set out to change the world and in so doing saved his son and his marriage to Dorothy Bunton.

Fake by Erica Katz

Emma Caan is a fake. She’s a forger, an artist who specializes in nineteenth-century paintings. But she isn’t a criminal; her copies are commissioned by museums and ultra-wealthy collectors protecting their investments. Emma’s more than mastered a Gauguin brushstroke and a van Gogh wheat field, but her work is sometimes a painful reminder of the artistic dreams she once chased for herself, when she was younger and before her family and her world fell apart. 

When oligarch art collector Leonard Sobetsky unexpectedly appears with an invitation, Emma sees a way out—a new job, a new path for herself, and access to the kind of money she needs to support her unstable and recently widowed mother.

But every invitation incurs an obligation . . . and Emma isn’t prepared for what’s to come. As she’s pulled further into Leonard’s opulent scene, she will discover what’s lurking beneath the glitz and glamor. When she does, the past she’s worked hard to overcome will collide with the present, making her wonder how much of her carefully curated life is just as fake as her forgeries.

The Last Mona Lisa: A Novel by Jonathan Santlofer

An enthralling tale about the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, the forgeries that appeared in its wake, and the present-day underbelly of the art world.

lost van gogh

The Lost Van Gogh : A Novel by Jonathan Santlofer

For years, there have been whispers that, before his death, Van Gogh completed a final self-portrait. Curators and art historians have savored this rumor, hoping it could illuminate some of the troubled artist’s many secrets, but even they have to concede that the missing painting is likely lost forever. But when Luke Perrone, artist and great-grandson of the man who stole the Mona Lisa, and Alexis Verde, daughter of a notorious art thief, discover what may be the missing portrait, they are drawn into the most epic art puzzles. When only days later the painting disappears again, they are reunited with INTERPOL agent John Washington Smith in a dangerous and deadly search that will not only expose secrets of the artist’s last days but draws them into one of history’s darkest eras. Beneath the paint and canvas, beneath the beauty and the legend, the artwork has become linked with something evil, something that continues to flourish on the dark web and on the shadiest corridors of the underground art world.

The Omega Factor by Steve Berry

The Ghent Altarpiece is the most violated work of art in the world. Thirteen times it has been vandalized, dismantled, or stolen.  Why? What secrets does it hold?     Enter UNESCO investigator, Nicholas Lee, who works for the United Nations’ Cultural Liaison and Investigative Office (CLIO). Nick’s job is to protect the world’s cultural artifacts—anything and everything from countless lesser-known objects to national treasures.  When Nick travels to Belgium for a visit with a woman from his past, he unwittingly stumbles on the trail of a legendary panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934 under cover of night and never seen since. Soon Nick is plunged into a bitter conflict, one that has been simmering for nearly two thousand years.

The Paris Deception: A Novel by Bryn Turnbull

Sophie Dix fled Stuttgart with her brother as the Nazi regime gained power in Germany. Now, with her brother gone and her adopted home city of Paris conquered by the Reich, Sophie reluctantly accepts a position restoring damaged art at the Jeu de Paume museum under the supervision of the ERR — a German art commission using the museum as a repository for art they’ve looted from Jewish families. Fabienne Brandt was a rising star in the Parisian bohemian arts movement until the Nazis put a stop to so-called “degenerate” modern art. Still mourning the loss of her firebrand husband, she’s resolved to muddle her way through the occupation in whatever way she can — until her estranged sister-in-law, Sophie, arrives at her door with a stolen painting in hand. Soon the two women embark upon a plan to save Paris’s “degenerates,” working beneath the noses of Germany’s top art connoisseurs to replace the paintings in the Jeu de Paume with skillful forgeries — but how long can Sophie and Fabienne sustain their masterful illusion?

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva

When the eccentric London art dealer Julian Isherwood asks “Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel to investigate the circumstances surrounding the rediscovery and lucrative sale of a centuries-old painting, he is drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse where nothing is as it seems. Gabriel soon discovers that the work in question, a portrait of an unidentified woman attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck, is almost certainly a fiendishly clever fake. To find the mysterious figure who painted it–and uncover a multibillion-dollar fraud at the pinnacle of the art world–Gabriel conceives one of the most elaborate deceptions of his career. If it is to succeed, he must become the very mirror image of the man he seeks: the greatest art forger the world has ever known. 

The Thefts of the Mona Lisa : the Complete Story of the World’s Most Famous Artwork by Noah Charney

Historian Charney examines the criminal biography of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, with a focus on separating fact from fiction in the story of what is not only the most famous art heist in history, but which is the single most famous theft of all time. In the process he delves into Leonardo’s creation of the Mona Lisa, discusses why it is so famous, and investigates two other events in its history of theft and renown. First, it examines the so-called “affaire des statuettes,” in which Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire were arrested under suspicion of involvement in the theft of the Mona Lisa. Second, there has long been a question as to whether the Nazis stole the Mona Lisa during the Second World War–a question that this book seeks to resolve.

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr

A gripping tale of a young, ambitious journalist embroiled in an international art scandal centered around a Nazi-looted masterpiece—forcing the ultimate showdown between passion and possession, lovers and liars, history and truth.

Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

 

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