Sunday, July 20, 2014

Art Theft ... a book list

I just realized how many of these I have kicking around, so I thought that I would work up a list. It is going to take me some time to fill in more details, but I thought that others might also be interested. I am posting this outline and will be filling in comments and eventually some mini-reviews. If you have a book that you are curious about or think should to be added please post a comment.

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt
• This book is a coffee table book with nice pictures that gives you a nice, easy to follow overview of several art thefts. Not deep, but broad and shallow. The photos are great.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman
• I remember this one as okay - having a somewhat messy time line and the ego of the author grated sometimes. I don't remember learning much from this one really but I will revisit it to be sure.

The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser
 • The break in at the Gardner is the museum theft - the largest one in history. The stolen works include Vermeer's The Concert; two Rembrandt paintings - The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Portrait of a Lady and Gentleman in Black; A Rembrandt self-portrait etching; Manet's Chez Tortoni; five drawings by Edgar Degas; Govaert Flinck's Landscape with an Obelisk; an ancient Chinese Qu; and a finial that once stood atop a flag from Napoleon's Army (this last one is weird because they took the finial rather than the priceless Titian hanging near it). The paintings have never been found.

I was really excited about this book, but honest it was pretty disappointing. I remember the writing as not very good, the timeline confused and there were some factual errors. I finished it feeling no better informed than I had been reading about the robbery from other general books about the topic.

FYI - FBI has confirmed sightings of Gardner artwork
I would love for these paintings to be recovered, not for just for the paintings themselves but so that people will finally stop writing about it! 

The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick
 •I am re-reading this one now. Focused on the theft of Edvard Munch's The Scream (there are four versions of this composition - and more than one theft ). 

The Irish Game by Matthew Hart
 • I am reading this one too. It starts good but now I have to track down the book that I read about the first Russborough House robbery because some of the details I remembered didn't quite jibe with this version. Not sure if it is a faulty memory on my part or if the versions really are different. I have gotten well over the half way point and things have bogged down quite a bit. Still informative but the way it is written, it is becoming quite hard to keep track of some of the bit players.

Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum by Jason Felch
 • I just got my hands on this one. I will let you know what I think shortly.

 The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel
 •This is the one that the movie (apparently the really boring movie) was based on. Sadly, I honestly can't remember much from this book right now - the story has blurred into several other books at this point.

Making the Mummies Dance by Thomas Hoving
Not strictly about art theft, this book was written by the former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both theft and forgery come up several times. I remember it as a fascinating read with lots of gossip, but oh lordy Hoving's ego got hard to take sometimes. Put me in mind of Zaphod Beeblebrox's If there's anything around here more important than my ego, I want it caught and shot now! 

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken Perenyi
 •Oh dear, I don't remember this one at all right now. I will have to skim through it to refresh my memory.

I have more in my office that I will add later.

Fiction books that involve art theft or contested art 

Since I was a couple of fiction books that got me on this kick, I thought that it might also be fun to add some fiction books to this list as well ...

The two books that annoyed me were -

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Some books that I enjoyed more:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. A sister and brother run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there they become involved in an art mystery.

Elizabeth Peter's Vicky Bliss books all involve stolen art, attempted recovery and even an art thief: Borrower of the Night, Street of Five Moons, Silhouette in Scarlet, Trojan Gold, Night Train to Memphis, and The Laughter of Dead Kings (I confess, I have not read the last one yet. I have it but I keep chickening out.)

Hailey Lind's Art Lover's Mystery series:
Feint of Art, Shooting Gallery, Brush with Death, and Arsenic and Old Paint - they are a little silly and occasionally the protagonist lapses into TSTL behavior, but overall good fun. Hailey Lind is a pseudonym Juliet Blackwell used for the books she wrote with her sister Carolyn.

Harr, Jonathan. The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece. - I have to pull this one off the shelf again too.

Pears, Iain. The Immaculate Deception, The Last Judgment, The Raphael Affair, The Titian Committee, Death and Restoration, Giotto's Hand, and The Bernini Bust - I read all of these too. I remember liking them but at the moment can't remember a thing about them.

Perez-Reverte, Arturo. The Flanders Panel. I have read several of Perez-Reverte's books - I liked them overall but they started getting too repetitive (the mood and behavior if not the actual plot).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the list - especially the fiction titles! Did not realize Hailey Lind is (partly) Judith Blackwell; I'll have to check those out. I'll add to that the Chris Norgren mysteries by Aaron Elkins, a series I really wish he had continued. There are three: A Deceptive Clarity, A Glancing Light, and Old Scores. Well-written and interesting!


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