4:47am

Wed October 17, 2012
Fine Art

Paintings, Including A Picasso, Taken From Dutch Museum

Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 8:31 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It was, in the words of one specialist in recovering stolen art, a hell of a haul. The haul being the theft of seven paintings from a museum in the Netherlands, among them were works by such masters as Picasso, Monet, Matisse and Gauguin. Thieves defeated a sophisticated alarm system, lifted the canvases from the walls, and disappeared into the darkness, overnight Tuesday. It's being described as one of the biggest and most daring art heists in modern history.

To talk about this, we've reached Christopher Marinello. He's the head of the world's largest private database of stolen art, the Art Loss Register in London. Good morning.

CHRISTOPHER MARINELLO: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, there are, sadly, seven new editions to the list of thefts your organization maintains. I gather these artworks were on loan to this museum.

MARINELLO: Right, they were on loan to the Kunsthal Museum. The Kunsthal Museum is actually more of a gallery. It doesn't have a collection of its own, and they exist by putting on these exhibits of temporary collections.

MONTAGNE: They must be worth hundreds of millions if the thieves could sell them.

MARINELLO: That's right. I mean I'm always hesitant to throw out high numbers like that because I don't want the thieves to get swelled heads. But I have seen reports of anywhere from 50 to 100 million euros, and that could be conservatives. But these pictures are now worthless. They have no value in the marketplace. No respectable collector, dealer, or gallery or auction house will touch them. And the thieves are soon going to know that.

MONTAGNE: Well, right. I mean if they didn't figure that out before they took the paintings, I mean what could they possibly do with these?

MARINELLO: Believe it or not, a lot of times they don't think about this. I mean, you know, we all think these people are sophisticated gangs of art criminals, you know, that Hollywood, you know...

MONTAGNE: Sort of Cary Grant, you know, jewel thieves.

MARINELLO: You're right. Right, right, these are not. These are common thugs and they don't always think about the next step. And the next step is they're going to want to get their money out of them. But thanks to the Internet, everyone has seen these pictures now and no one is going to touch them. And if people have not seen any of the reports, have no idea that these are stolen, they normally would contact us before they buy art. We would tell them immediately that the piece that they're about to buy his stolen.

MONTAGNE: Just out of curiosity, do you have a favorite among these seven works? One is Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London."

MARINELLO: Well, I think the pair of Monets would look nice on my living room wall.

(LAUGHTER)

MARINELLO: But, you know, let's face it. After they can't sell these pictures, we believe they're going to follow a pretty consistent pattern of waiting to see if an insurance company comes out of the woodwork, and then demand a ransom from the insurer.

MONTAGNE: And do insurers pay ransom?

MARINELLO: Absolutely not, they do not want to encourage further art theft and then the thieves are going to have to go to Plan C. They usually contact me and see if I have any ability to pay them to return the works. They won't succeed there, either.

The pieces are likely to travel in the underworld at a fraction of their true value, maybe five or 10 percent, used as currency for drugs, weapons, even something called a Get Out of Jail Free card. If a criminal thinks that they're going to be arrested, they may try to make a deal with the prosecutor for a lesser sentence, if they have information that leads to the recovery of the seven paintings.

MONTAGNE: Is it likely than that they will resurface eventually?

MARINELLO: Well, I have a lot of faith in the Dutch police and they are meticulous. We might see something over the next few weeks. I mean sometimes when they realize they can't get rid of the haul that they just brought home, they just return them. But if we don't see that happening in the next few weeks, it could be decades before these resurface.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us

MARINELLO: Sure, it's my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Christopher Marinello is with the Art Loss Register in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.