The International Herald Tribune takes a long look at the rings of art thieves who turn out to bear some resemblance to the fantasies of popular culture in that they’re sedulous in their planning and preparation. But, once again, we’re reminded that no matter how well-planned the thefts, selling the works remains terribly difficult. This suggests that the great lost works maybe truly lost instead of hiding in some secret inner sanctum of an unscrupulous collection:
In the murky global black market for stolen art, France’s many museums are prime hunting grounds. While the number of thefts from French museums has fallen from a peak of 47 in 1998, an average of 35 museum thefts have occurred annually over the last 15 years.
They have prompted a wealth of conflicting theories that generally point the finger at a shifting underworld of diversified criminals who operate in fluid cells, share information about potential buyers and available art for sale, and carefully study their museum targets before striking.
“Other museum directors have told me that they think about this every day,” said Christophe Girard, the deputy mayor Paris for culture in Paris. “They all know crime is sophisticated, and the value of art today is beyond imagination.” […]
Experts say it is relatively easy to steal art. The hard part is selling, which requires organization and distribution. Typically, it is at the point of sale that thieves are tripped up, according to Mr. Wittman, who notes that criminals are often better burglars then businessmen.
Art Theft Underworld Frustrates France (IHT/New York Times)