Scotland – The 84 artworks missing from city’s galleries

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Formatted text plus images: The 84 artworks missing from city’s galleries – Herald Scotland | News | Home News.

Ten paintings in total have been stolen from the stores of Glasgow’s museums and art galleries with another 74 believed to have gone missing, The Herald can reveal.

The missing artworks are in addition to three paintings now returned to the city by police after being taken in the 1990s, most likely by a member of staff at the time. Police inquiries are continuing to establish the identity of the thief.

As revealed by The Herald yesterday, the three stolen paintings, with a combined value of £200,000, were discovered after a senior curator spotted one of the works in a catalogue for Edinburgh auction house.

Wooded Landscape with Figures by the French artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was then recovered from Lyon & Turnbull, with the owners revealing that they had sold a work by Scots post-impressionist painter Samuel Peploe from the same source.

The Peploe was discovered missing from the store at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in 1994 and is now back under lock and key after it was recovered from the Glasgow art gallery which purchased it late last year.

As police inquiries gathered pace, a search of the source’s home revealed a miniature of an infant Christ by Italian Renaissance painter Federico Berocci, which was first discovered missing in 1998 during a stock take.

While there is no suggestion that the source of the paintings is the original thief, it is hoped that the recovery of the three works will lead officers to further lost works.

Glasgow Life, the organisation which runs museums in Glasgow, declined to discuss details of the 10 stolen paintings which had been taken over a 70-year period.

The main reason for works being lost or going missing is poor documentation of their movements, particularly when they go on loan. It is feared that any publicity surrounding the stolen works could lead them to be destroyed, given that no gallery would be willing to pay for them.

It is for this reason that stolen art went largely unreported in the past, with no record of staff at Kelvingrove alerting police to the loss of the three paintings

A senior museums manager told The Herald: “Before, the exhibits were centrally monitored by each department, but people could walk in willy nilly. There were other people familiar with these systems and could circumvent them. There are now fewer people who have access to things and reviews were carried out on areas such as key control with far greater limits put on who could access certain parts of buildings.

“In terms of our collections inven-tory, we’re right up there with all the major institutions and having all our records on the one system.”

Glasgow Museums now reports a stolen work as soon as it is realised it has gone and the city has also spend far more on the security of museums and art galleries following concerns about the alleged thefts that were raised in an auditor’s report in 1996.

Meanwhile, a painting stolen from Kelvingrove around the same time as three paintings which have now been returned is no longer believed to be the work of Constable. Salmon Fishers in Carnoustie, by Scottish painter William McTaggart, which is also thought to have vanished in the early 1990s, has yet to be recovered.

Councillor June McFadden, a member of the board of Glasgow Life, said: “The paintings don’t belong to Glasgow, they belong to Glaswegians and that person is stealing from their family and from every family in the community. I do hope the police find whoever is responsible.”

Trade in priceless paintings a booming criminal enterprise

Carolyn Churchill

The stolen art industry is described by the FBI as a booming criminal enterprise responsible for estimated losses of $6 billion annually.

Far from the romanticised notion of paintings being stolen to order by a Mr Big, the theft of valuable artworks and objects is more commonly linked to underworld activities such as trafficking and drug-dealing.

Priceless objects are often taken abroad and exchanged for mere thousands.

The Art Loss Register was set up in 1991 and its database now includes more than 250,000 lost or stolen items. Its chairman Julian Radcliffe estimates the register is handling between 120 and 150 recoveries of precious works at any time and catalogues of all the major auction houses are regularly searched.

Thefts from museums such as those of the Corot, Peploe and Barocci paintings are “not abnormal”, according to Mr Radcliffe. In fact, the FBI’s top 10 art crimes include works by Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet, which have never been recovered.

Mr Radcliffe said: “There are many thousands of items which have been stolen from museums around the world. Many museums which may have millions of objects can only do stock checks every five years.

“We have got a whole raft of cases where we have found items from museums which have been sold, often overseas or a long way away.”

The most notorious theft of recent years in Scotland was of da Vinci’s Madonna Of The Yarnwinder from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire. The £50 million masterpiece was “laid down” in the underworld in 2003 until a scheme was launched to repatriate the work to the Duke of Buccleuch.

It was recovered from a law firm in Glasgow four years later and five men – John Doyle, 61, Robert Graham, 57, Marshall Ronald, 53, Calum Jones, 45, and David Boyce, 63 – were charged with conspiring to extort £4.2m.

The case against Mr Ronald, Mr Graham and Mr Doyle, from Lancashire, was found not proven while solicitors Mr Jones and Mr Boyce were found not guilty. The thieves were never caught.

Mr Radcliffe said innocent people may end up getting caught up by buying an artwork in good faith.

He said Glasgow Museums have been “lucky” the paintings remained in Scotland. “If it had been sold in a minor French auction house the curator would not have spotted it.

“What we hope now is the person who stole or removed it is brought to justice. It could be the person is dead. We are recovering a lot of items from the seventies and eighties where the individual has died and the items have come to the market.”

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