Monday July 23, 2012

Stolen Matisse recovered in Miami

stolen matisse on the left

Whoa, a newspaper getting cute with a headline? SHOCKING.

Anyway, the picture above left is a Matisse stolen from a museum in Caraces, Venezuela over 10 years ago and replaced with the fake on the right. I suspect that difference in how the two were photographed is contributing to how different they look — the fake is darker overall, but more digitally saturated and color balanced differently. Or so it seems. What happens if we try to bring the photos into digital allignment? It’s a tricky business, because unless you photograph the two pieces in the same light and with the same camera they’re going to look different. But anyway, I fixed it, and I suspect this is closer to reality than the Associated Press’ reproduction:

matisse fixed

Now the fake looks a little better. Let’s give the forger some credit (and the people at the museum, who apparently didn’t notice the swap for years).

Anywho. You always wondered what happens to stolen art. No collector with self-respect would buy it, and if they did they’d risk being reported by anyone who saw it and knew enough to know their thing was stolen. You’d have to be a criminal low-life, and only associate with other criminal low-lives? Well, this particular fake Matisse ended up in Miami, where the thieves thought they had a potential buyer. Turns out the buyer ratted them out, there was a sting, and now the painting is recovered.

I hear that most stolen artworks end up in the collections of organized crime bosses, and more importantly are often used as payment, collateral, and gifts in the big-time criminal underworld, because the pieces have a relatively well-known high value and are easier to move around than truckloads of cash.

One other Miami connection with this theft. When I said the painting was stolen “over 10 years ago” what I mean is that’s when they first noticed it was switched. Who noticed? According to the Daily Mail it was Genaro Ambrosino (as in Ambrosino Gallery), who heard in 2002 that someone was trying to sell the painting and contacted the folks in Venezuela. (The Venezuelans, for their money, “suspect” that the painting was swapped during a loan to Spain in 1997, but if you ever check a painting in your collection against the photo you have on record, wouldn’t it be when it comes back from an overseas loan?)

And now for some fun links: here is a dumb ABC News report on the incident, and here is a book written about the heist in 2009, which you should click through just to look at the cover.

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