The recent theft from a Paris, France apartment of two important Pablo Picasso paintings valued at over $77 million serves to remind us not only that Picasso is still the number one targeted artist for art thieves, nor that the artist himself is said to have produced more than 20,000 works in his career of which about 3% have gone missing. It also serves to remind us that art theft is still a very real threat in today’s society despite the fact that today security systems are more sophisticated, databases of missing works more accessible and far-reaching and special law enforcement departments in place to deal specifically with such crimes.
The Art Loss Register (ALR), which maintains the world’s largest database of stolen, missing and looted art, has more than 170,000 items listed in its database. While many of these pieces would be considered minor works and probably randomly stolen for a few dollars worth of drugs, there are also many high profile pieces such as the two Picassos which thieves would almost certainly find hard to dispose of unless the paintings were stolen to order. Experts agree that works of this stature could be sold on the black market, albeit for a fraction of their true worth. However, as a result of the intense media attention these pieces have received, and despite the fact that the ALR says the average recovery time for most paintings is seven years, it is felt that the Picassos will likely be recovered fairly early.
So, unless we hear soon that these two works have been recovered, we can assume, I think, that they were likely stolen specifically to join a very private collection of prominent works that are for the personal viewing pleasure of very few, and perhaps just one, individual. Which brings me to my question: Do individuals who commission art thefts do it because they are passionate about the paintings they want stolen, and must have them to complete part of their collection, or is the motive purely financial? “I want a Picasso, I don’t want to pay market rates, find me one!”
Whatever the reasons behind the theft we can be sure the ALR database will continue to grow, and great works will continue to disappear, some, perhaps for ever.