Cave to Canvas: “Art Theft-Large and Small Scale”

Camille Denmark, Reporter

   Art theft, as defined by the FBI as a “which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines—is a looming criminal enterprise with estimated losses in the billions of dollars annually.” Criminals steal paintings or sculptures collateral to secure loans or ransoms, as do the pieces, especially notable pieces such as Van Gogh’s “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, would be easily recognized.  Stolen in Dec. 2002 valued at $30 million, the two thieves broke into the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, were convicted a year later Dec. 2003 but the paintings were not recovered. Incidents such as they occur on a scale at both sides of the spectrum from the 2 small paintings mentioned earlier to the large-scale looting by Nazis during World War Two. 

   Adolf Hitler had a personal interest in this endeavor, in his autobiography Mein Kampf, he recounts how in his youth that he wanted to be a professional artist. However, his dreams were annihilated after failing the entrance exam to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, rejected in 1907 and again in 1908. Hitler wanted to fill his museums with the greatest art treasures in the world and believed “most of the world’s finest art belonged to Germany after having been looted during the Napoleonic and First World wars.” This is exactly what happened during the Nazi’s invasion of Europe, in which over 600,000 works were plundered from Germany and its surrounding nations, many artworks have never been returned to their proper owners or were destroyed.

    This is truly the main problem with Investigations as a whole; According to the FBI, fewer than 10% of artworks are estimated to make it home safely. Recovery is often botched by the very investigation set to Restitute works; after going public about the stolen goods the value of the work in hands of the thieves goes to zero- a sale would be too risky. Even driving to destroy works with their own hands, such as Stéphane Breitwieser, notorious for stealing 239 artworks from 172 museums while traveling around Europe as a waiter in 1995-2001. He was arrested after a blunder, his mother destroyed two paintings by cutting them up and stuffing them down the garbage disposal.