Posts Tagged ‘Vermeer theft’

The Czernins want “their” Vermeer back

September 8th, 2009

The heirs of the prominent Czernin family want the Austrian government to return Vermeer’s Art of Painting which they say was sold by force to Adolf Hitler in 1940, a newspaper said Saturday. Allegedly, Count Jaromir Czernin sold Vermeer’s masterpiece to the Nazi dictator “to protect the life of his family,”  his descendants’ attorney told Der Standard. The painting is housed at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum since 1946.

“We are convinced that the Austrian republic will treat this case in an open and honest manner,” said the family attorney adding that he had filed the request on August 31. The culture ministry confirmed Saturday that it had received Theiss’s request and would transmit it to a committee tasked with issuing opinions on restitutions. The family had already asked for the painting to be returned in the 1960s, but their requests were rejected on the basis that it had been sold voluntarily and at an appropriate price.

Hitler had expressed interest in acquiring the painting as early as 1935 to put it in the Fuehrer Museum which he planned to build in the Austrian city of Linz. During the winter of 1943/1944 Hitler transferred the painting to safety in the tunnels of the salt mines Altaussee. Special service units of the American Army retrieved the Art of Painting and other works of art from the tunnels in spring 1945.

For a detailed write-up about the afterlife of Vermeer’s Art of Painting, see the Washington National Gallery special feature.

To see something new, go back to the sources

March 17th, 2009
meegerenb

Essential Vermeer interview with Jonathan Lopez, author of the The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren.

Han van Meegeren, the man who made Vermeers for decades, is justifiably the most written-about forger of all times. The most recent and original book on the topic is written by New York art historian Jonathan Lopez. Lopez casts new light on an old story by  fine tuning the results of years of patient research.

Two key points of the book are Van Meegeren’s hitherto underplayed Nazi sympathies and the mind set which allowed the greatest forger of all times to dupe the leading art specialists of his time. In order to explain the chasm between today’s unanimous view of Van Meegeren’s fakes as unsightly imitations and their original enthusiastic reception as true masterworks by Vermeer, Lopez reveals that “a fake doesn’t necessarily succeed or fail according to the fidelity with which it replicates the distant past but on the basis of its power to sway the contemporary mind.”

Jonathan opened up to an interview in which he explains what went into the book’s making and some fascinating side thoughts on Van Meegeren the man, whose brilliant darkness is probably better understood by Lopez than anyone else.

More about thieves (and black paint)

December 15th, 2008

Although art theft is a fairly fashionable topic, it is not one of my favorites most likely because it has less to do with art and more to do with theft. So the upcoming book about the sordid Gardener theft (which netted Vermeer’s Concert among its victims) is off my reading list for the time being.

Moreover, the loss of The Concert saddens me in particular because it was the first Vermeer I ever saw and one that taught me a big, free lesson as an art student at RISD.  The painting convinced me that, instead of opening doors, my painting teachers had more simply replaced old dogmas with new dogmas which were more or less as restrictive as the first.

Then, as throughout most of the 20th c., one of the most entrenched mantras of realist painting technique was that black pigment would single-handedly destroy the luminosity of shadows. Black was in fact an inexorable sign of the Sunday painter.  But even after my first glance at the real Concert, it seemed obvious that Vermeer had made abundant use of it to render the play of light on the background wall lending this passage a rare pearlessence full of mystery and nuance. Moreover, black was one of the principle components of the composition’s deepest shadows. Scientific analysis reveals that in one form or another, black is the only pigment which can be found in every canvas by Vermeer.

Back to the book:

PW Daily lets us know about the upcoming The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. In a pill, here’s the story.

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, thieves posing as cops entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and left with a haul unrivaled in the art world, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, valued today at $600 million. Boser, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, turned amateur sleuth after the death of a legendary independent fine arts claims adjuster, Harold Smith, who was haunted by the Gardner robbery. Boser carried on Smith’s work, pursuing leads as varied as James “Whitey” Bulger’s Boston mob and the IRA. Along the way, he visited felons—including the notorious art thief Myles Connor—and Bob Wittman, the FBI’s only art theft undercover agent. Boser’s rousing account of his years spent collecting clues large and small is entertaining enough to make readers almost forget that, after 18 years, the paintings have still not been found: the museum is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to their return.