The Globe and Mail follows up the news of a recovered Jean-Paul Riopelle painting with a quick recap of his fame which, the paper says, is one of the reasons his work has been stolen often. Today, Riopelle may be better known for his relationship with Joan Mitchell but in the 1950s and 60s, he was a huge international name. That fame has led to his work being targeted for theft and used as an underground currency.
The Global and Mail explains:
The draw of Riopelle works to thieves is a simple case of high supply, high profile and high demand. He had a prolific career before his death in 2002, he was globally famous for decades and his works routinely draw six-figure prices on the international market. His greatest paintings have sold for $1-million or more at least 14 times, but he also created hundreds of smaller, easy-to-carry works.
The Globe and Mail says Riopelle’s work has been reported stolen 19 times in the past 25 years. That’s just the reported thefts. The paper spoke to Montreal dealer Simon Blais:
Art is currency for Quebec’s biker and Mafia gangs who have their own internal trade on the prestigious items. In the early 2000s when police were cracking down on organized crime in Quebec, they found a bronze Riopelle bust at a gang member’s home. A 2006 drug raid in Quebec City uncovered 2,500 paintings in a warehouse, some of them by Mr. Riopelle. The art was used to launder drug money.
Mr. Blais said art trades in the underworld for about 5 per cent to 10 per cent of its market value, but that’s still plenty of motivation. “If you owe the Mafia money and you don’t have it, a stolen painting provides a handy way to get out of it,” he said. “Paintings are light to handle, relatively easy to rob and for criminals they’re like money in the bank.”
Recovery of three stolen Riopelle paintings just tip of iceberg – (The Globe and Mail)