Events: Spring 2015
Noah will be speaking at the following events in the Spring 2015, in support of his latest book, THE ART OF FORGERY (Phaidon). All are welcome, and should contact the host institution regarding tickets.
Talk with Blake Gopnik 8 June 2015 - 92nd Street Y (NYC)
Talk at the MFA 5 June 2015 - Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)
Talk at the Hay Festival 26 May 2015 - The Hay Festival (Wales)
Talk at the V&A Museum 18 May 2015 - Victoria & Albert Museum (London)
Talk at the Dulwich Picture Gallery 18 May 2015 - Dulwich Picture Gallery (London)
HOW TO WRITE ABOUT ART: a Guardian Masterclass May 16, at the offices of The Guardian Newspaper, London This day-long workshop, part of the Guardian Masterclass series (seminars taught by Guardian contributors) will focus on strategies for writing about art, for academics, journalists, critics and novelists.
Talks on Vasari and Renaissance Forgery 27 March 2015 Renaissance Society of America annual conference (Berlin, Germany) Noah is leading a round-table discussion with fellow specialists on forgery at 10:15am, on the subject of Renaissance Forgery, and then is giving a paper on Giorgio Vasari as part of a panel he organized, which begins at 2:45pm. For more information, visit rsa.org.
Bled Film Festival
Noah has been recruited as "Selector of Feature Films" for the first annual Bled Film Festival, which will be held in Bled, Slovenia June 17-21. This new festival features high-profile stars among its founders, from Hollywood and the Balkans. Noah will be choosing eight films to be screened and contend for juried prizes, plus four films shown for free in an open air theater on the shores of Lake Bled, often called the most beautiful place on earth. For more information, visit www.bledff.com
Cultural Heritage Research Prize
Noah is one of a select number of jury members for a brand new prize, established by the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy and former Italian Minister of Culture, Francesco Rutelli. The Cultural Heritage Research Prize will be awarded annually to someone who distinguishes themselves in the field of cultural heritage protection and recovery. The prestigious prize includes a substantial cash award as well. Noah's fellow jurors include Rutelli, Mounir Bouchenaki, Bonnie Burnham, Jack Lang, Giovanni Nistri, Peter Watson, Hanna Pennock, Ismail Serageldin, and Stefano de Caro. More information is available here.
Noah's BBC and National Geographic Documentaries
Noah appears as a guest expert and presenter on two TV documentaries this winter. "The World's Most Expensive Stolen Paintings" appears on BBC2 on December 21, 2013 and "Hunting Hitler's Stolen Art Treasures" appears on Nat Geo Channel on February 5, 2014.
Noah's "The Secret History of Art" Blog
- ISIS, Art and Terrorism Funding
My latest article for Salon is on what to do about the now well-known fact that art crime, particularly illicit trade in antiquities, funds terrorism. Check it out here.
- Pablo Picasso: Art Thief
The Secret History of Art recently published a peer-reviewed academic article on the “affaire des statuettes,” in which Pablo Picasso may be reasonably seen to have commissioned the theft of statue heads from the Louvre. The article appeared in the journal, Arte, Individuo y Sociedad, and can be accessed here.
For some reason the footnotes were not included in the online version (the editors ave been contacted with a request to amend this), with only in-text citations. Until this is addressed, I am including the footnotes here. Of particular import is my initial note, giving proper credit for the majority of the on-site research to Dr Silvia Loreti, whose pioneering work on this subject first appeared as a chapter in Charney (ed) Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger 2009). Here is the reference that should have appeared in the journal version of the article:
“This article is adapted from a chapter in Charney, Noah The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting (ARCA Press, 2011). I am indebted in this article to the art historian Silvia Loreti, who was the first to break the full details of the story of Picasso and Apollinaire’s “affaire des statuettes.” While scholars such as John Richardson mention the affair, and Picasso’s former lover Fernande Olivier recalls portions of the case in her memoirs, Loreti was the first to focus on the issue and dig deeply into the Louvre archives, noting numerous irregularities for the first time. The examination of the Louvre archives is her work and, rather than citing her efforts in the majority of these notes, suffice it to say that the credit for digging up information on this case goes to her and to John Richardson, in his definitive Picasso biography series. Loreti’s article was first published in Charney, Noah (ed.) Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger, 2009). This article could not have been written without her extensive research, and the credit for discovery of most of the facts is entirely hers.”
My work on this subject is based on Loreti’s and John Richardson’s research, and is largely concerned with painting the entire picture of the “affaire des statuettes” and the Mona Lisa theft, and their roles in the history of art and art theft. I used secondary research for the most part, and the thanks for the primary source material research goes to Loreti and Richardson.
FOOTNOTES (Please contact the author if you would like to be emailed a copy of this article with all footnotes)
*This article is adapted from a chapter in Charney, Noah The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting (ARCA Press, 2011). I am indebted in this article to the art historian Silvia Loreti, who was the first to break the full details of the story of Picasso and Apollinaire’s “affaire des statuettes.” While scholars such as John Richardson mention the affair, and Picasso’s former lover Fernande Olivier recalls portions of the case in her memoirs, Loreti was the first to focus on the issue and dig deeply into the Louvre archives, noting numerous irregularities for the first time. The examination of the Louvre archives is her work and, rather than citing her efforts in the majority of these notes, suffice it to say that the credit for digging up information on this case goes to her and to John Richardson, in his definitive Picasso biography series. Loreti’s article was first published in Charney, Noah (ed.) Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger, 2009). This article could not have been written without her extensive research, and the credit for discovery of most of the facts is entirely hers.
 These statements were made by Edmond Pottier, a Louvre curator, who made comments after he recognized photographs of a pair of statue heads published in Paris-Journal. Pottier, Edmond, August 29, 1911, Archives des musées nationaux, Musée du Louvre, folder A15, first discovered by Silvia Loreti.
 Picasso discussed the affaire des statuettes and its influence on his painting in a 1960 interview: Dor de la Souchère, Romuald Picasso à Antibes (Hazan : Paris, 1960), p.15
 This is attested to in a letter written by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1915: Apollinaire, Guillaume, Letter to Madeleine Pages July 30, 1915, in Apollinaire, Lettres à Madeleine. Tendre comme le souvenir (Gallimard : Paris, 2005), pp.96-8.
 Precious little is known about Géry Pieret (a shame because his biography would be fascinating). Most of the surviving material was first published in John Richardson A Life of Picasso: 1907-1917 – The Painter of Modern Life (Pimlico: London, 1997), vol.2, pp.20-1.
 For more on the origins of the Louvre, please see Charney (2010).
 Le Matin, Nov. 10, 1906
 Esterow (1966), p.122
 Paris-Journal 29 August 1911. Unless cited as “quoted in,” the translations are by the author.
 “On vol au Louvre”, Le Matin, Nov. 10, 1906; “On a volé au Louvre, et on y volera demain, si des solutions seriéuses ne sont prises”, L’Intransigeant, Nov. 11, 1906, p.2. These objects were found in a hairdresser’s shop in 1908, and a Louvre guard was imprisoned for his role in their theft.
 This letter was written on 9 September 1911 and was published 12 September 1911 in Paris-Journal, p.1
 “Le Louvre récupère ses richesses,” Paris-Journal, 6 September 1911, p.1
 Pottier, Edmond, August 29, 1911, Archives des musées nationaux, Musée du Louvre, folder A15. Pottier to Homolle, 31 August 1911
 Pottier, Edmond, Sept. 6, 1911, Archives des musées nationaux, Musée du Louvre, folder A15.
 One may wonder why the actual thief was not demonized—in this period, as we will discuss later, the idea of a gentlemanly thief was romanticized, based largely on the novels, in France, of Maurice LeBlanc. As a Belgian, Géry Pieret was foreign but francophone, and therefore not nearly so foreign as Picasso and Apollinaire who may have spoken good French but who would have drawn the xenophobia of many of the French at this time
 Olivier, Fernande Picasso et ses amis (1933), Pygmalion: Paris, 2002, p.184
 For more on this, see Richardson (1997)
 Apollinaire, Guillaume, Letter to Madeleine Pages July 30, 1915, in Apollinaire, Lettres à Madeleine. Tendre comme le souvenir, Gallimard : Paris, 2005, pp.96-8
 Jacquet-Pfau, Christine and Décaudin, Michel “L’Affaire des statuettes. Suite sans fin…,” Que vlo-ve?, 23 (July-Sept. 1987), pp. 21-3
 “M. Guillaume Apollinaire raconte l’histoire de son secrétaire Géry Pieret, Baron Ignace d’Ormesan, voleur au Louvre et en quelques autres lieux”; “M. Apollinaire prouve que Géry Pieret n’a pas pu voler la Joconde”, Le Matin, Sept. 13, 1911, p. 1.
 Soffici, Ardengo Ricordi di vita artistica e letteraria (Florence, 1931), p.47
 Postcard addressed to Picasso from Bruxelles and signed Guillaume Apollinaire and Géry Pieret, April 13, 1907: Caizergues, Pierre and Seckel, Hélène (eds.) Picasso Apollinaire. Corréspondances (Gallimard: Paris, 1992), p.59
 Letter and postcard sent by Pieret to Apollinaire from Brussels respectively on date April 4, 1907 and April 7, 1907: Stallano, Jacqueline “Une relation encombrante: Géry Pieret”, in Michel Décaudin (ed.), Amis européens d’Apollinaire, Sorbonne nouvelle: Paris, 1995, p.17
 Art objects may be roughly defined as man-made creations deemed part of the cultural heritage of a nation or people, the primary value of which is non-intrinsic (as opposed to jewelry, for example, the value of which is mainly the sum of its components—unless the jewelry was made or owned by a renowned artist or individual, in which case its value would be raised considerably for non-intrinsic reasons). For precise numbers of reported thefts and artworks stolen, please refer to Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art CD-ROM, published annually, or any of the Carabinieri Yearbooks, which list annual thefts from within Italy alone as ranging from 20,000-30,000 objects reported stolen. Reported thefts certainly represent only a fraction of the actual number of thefts taking place each year. For various reasons, many other thefts go undetected, unreported, or are improperly filed and reported
 The link to organized crime is documented in numerous case studies, but the connection to terrorism has been discussed and is believed by prominent government bureaus, but has not been sufficiently substantiated by documents in the public record, beyond a handful of important cases. This assertion, as well as the ranking of art crime as the third highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide comes from a UK National Threat Assessment, conducted by SOCA (Serious Organized Crime Agency). The statistics for the study were provided by Scotland Yard in 2006/2007, but are classified. The report remained in the Threat Assessment for several years. The terrorist links to the Middle East were brought to European attention by the Interpol Tracking Task Force in Iraq and were reported at the annual Interpol Stolen Works of Art meeting in Lyon in 2008 and 2009, after prior meetings had been held in Lyon, Amman, and Washington. The Head of Interpol IP Baghdad claimed to have proof of the link between Islamic Fundamentalist terrorist groups and art crime (primarily antiquities looting). Major bureaus, from Interpol to Scotland Yard to the Carabinieri to the US Dept of Justice, believed these reports and still broadcast the claims of it, so there is no reason to doubt it—but the details have yet to be made available to the general public or scholars
 Pottier, Edmond, Sept. 6, 1911, Archives des musées nationaux, Musée du Louvre, folder A15
 Mentioned by a tour guide on a recent visit to the Louvre
 Dor de la Souchère (1960), p.15. The connections in this paragraph were first noted by Silvia Loreti in her chapter in Charney (ed.) Art & Crime (2009)
 There could, of course, have been another person, an as yet unidentified accomplice. But since Apollinaire and Picasso’s involvement is well documented from various angles, and since neither they nor Géry Pieret ever mentioned another individual, despite being quite open about their involvement, a fourth accomplice does not seem likely
 Read, Peter Picasso et Apollinaire. Les métamorphoses de la mémoire 1905-1973 (Jean-Michel Place : Paris, 1995), p.71
- The Latest on Leonardo’s Lost “Battle”
In an extremely concise dispatch for Hemispheres magazine, the Secret History of Art writes the latest on the search for Leonardo’s lost “Battle of Anghiari” painting, hidden by Giorgio Vasari behind a false wall in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. I’m at work on a big feature story bringing this up to date and correcting some major problems in reporting it that the world media got wrong, as well as breaking 5 new news points… More to come, plus a fuller report on this in my forthcoming, co-written book (with Ingrid Rowland), THE COLLECTOR OF LIVES: GIORGIO VASARI AND THE INVENTION OF ART (Norton, November 2015)
- 2014: the Year Art Theft Went Pop
The following is an excerpt from The Secret History of Art’s regular column in The Journal of Art Crime, the only peer-reviewed academic journal on the interdisciplinary study of art crime. To subscribe or for more information, visit: www.artcrimeresearch.org.
Lessons from the History of Art Crime
Art Crime in Pop Culture: a Year in Review
By Noah Charney
2014 was a year in which art crime, particularly theft, seemed to crop up everywhere, and in surprising places. I was first taken by surprise when I realized, halfway through Wes Andersen’s Grand Budapest Hotel, that there would be an art theft plot thrown into the mix. An Egon Schiele-like painting is snatched away from the eponymous hotel before it can be inherited by an undeserving relation. There is little more to it than that, the theft is merely a vehicle to add some plot to a film that is otherwise an excuse for a set-piece and its wonderfully weird inhabitants, but in the loosest sense of the word, it could qualify as an art heist film.
The next surprise came when I listened to the audiobook of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Goldfinch. I knew that it was meant to be Dickensian, in its size, pace (following a single character from youth into adulthood, with microscopic detail that occasionally dragged the momentum to a near halt), and oddball characters, and that the plot surrounded a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the titular painting, by the mysterious Carel Fabritius. But as the story wound on (and on and on—I felt compelled to finish it, but never liked it particularly, most of all because I did not particularly like, nor care, about the protagonist, Theo Decker), I realized that Ms. Tartt had at least done her homework on the art crime side of things. She had clearly read up, almost certainly articles that my colleagues and I have written, because she paraphrases the lessons ARCA teaches about forgery, theft and the illicit art market with admirable accuracy. A novice to the field can learn true facts about it through this work of fiction, so hat’s off. When a bomb explodes at the Met, killing Theo’s mother, he finds himself carrying out of the museum a painting that a dying stranger urged him to take. His life unfolds, always with the hidden, lifted painting in the back of his mind, an anchor in his otherwise drifting, drug-addled, decidedly humorless existence (his lack of levity, fun and humor are what prevented me from ever liking, and therefore cheering, for him. He becomes an antique furniture dealer, passes off some fakes, and then tries to recover The Goldfinch, rather against his will, when he realizes that a friend has stolen it from him. The details are well-done, and I only wish that more authors (are you listening, Dan Brown) would follow the scrupulous research habits of Ms. Tartt. I only wish I liked the novel better.
The first compliment I will pay to the new art heist movie, The Art of the Steal, is that it did not annoy me. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but I’ve got a good deal more praise to give, and this was its first major hurdle. There are benefits and burdens to possessing an expertise in a subject. I am a professor of art history specializing in the study of art crime—I write books on the subject, teach postgraduate courses, and lecture on the topic regularly. In short, I know too much to enjoy entertainments that get things wrong, or at least ostentatiously wrong. This does not. Jonathan Sobol’s latest film, which opened this weekend, is joyous, clever, and fun—everything an art heist movie should be.
Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) and Nicky (Matt Dillon) play half-brothers who regularly stole art, their preferred scheme being to swap in a forgery for an original, often preferring to steal from criminals who already stole paintings, but know nothing about them, rather than trying to breach museums themselves. While swindling a Polish gangster out of a stolen Gauguin, Nicky got caught and offered up his brother Crunch to the police so he could get off. Crunch served five and a half years in a Polish prison, and is none too happy about it. When he gets out, he makes a meager living as a stunt motorcyclist, until he sees an opportunity, crystallized through the lens of being threatened by a goon who is actually after Nicky. Nicky invites him back into the game, and they plot a seemingly straightforward heist, recovering a rare book on behalf of its owner. They are pursued by an ingeniously comic Interpol agent and his assistant, a stone-faced Terence Stamp, a veteran art thief who is obliged to assist this investigation in order to get out of prison himself. Ticking all the boxes of the art heist genre, they assemble a team of crooks with special talents and punchy nicknames and set to work. But, as can be expected with such films, not all is as it seems, and there is a satisfying and surprising twist at the end that turns everything we thought (including some things that raised suspicions that the film-maker was being sloppy), on its head.
Whether you consider this film to be an homage to the Ocean’s Eleven series or a rip-off of it is really down to personal taste. It is safe to say that this film would not exist, certainly not in its present form, without the lucrative Clooney-Pitt-Damon franchise. On-screen graphics, the font on on-screen text, narrative voice-over, choice of lively music, split screen, colorful nicknames, heists and double-crosses are all nicked straight from the three Ocean’s movies. This style works well with the genre, a cross between caper and heist (capers being largely comical, heist films largely dramatic, but both about the mechanics and sleight of hand of the criminals). But the tone is fun, the film genuinely funny at time, and the plotline sufficiently well-researched as to raise no hackles on this audience member, who is notoriously annoyed when film, fiction and the media get things wrong, as they so often do, about art crime.
In putting The Art of the Steal to the test, let us consider what it gets wrong about real art thefts, but also praise what it gets right. Writer-director Jonathan Sobol clearly did his homework, and what it gets wrong it appears to choose to get wrong, for the sake of the plot and in the name of artistic license, while what it gets right shows an intelligence and research behind a light entertainment that this occasionally-curmudgeonly professor appreciates.
Ten Things It Got Wrong (But Forgivably So)
1. There is no such thing as an Interpol agent, in the sense of a detective out in the field, investigating and chasing bad guys. Interpol is an administrative body that coordinates data from world police departments. Police do the investigating, Interpol files their reports. So to have an “Interpol agent” as adversary of our band of crooks is like having an air traffic controller who is also flying a plane. Police, likewise, do not work alone, especially not with a convicted criminal in tow. It is true that most major stolen art recoveries are thanks to information gleaned from paid criminal informants who are on police payroll, but these informants to do reveal themselves and do not accompany police on their investigations, as Terence Stamp’s dour convict does here.
2. There is likewise, with very few exceptions throughout the history of art crime, no such thing as a professional art thief. There have been some criminals who have stolen art more than once, but the idea that there are career specialists who earn their illicit living by stealing art is largely fictitious. There are career art forgers and tombaroli, tomb raiders, who are professional robbers of antiquities buried in the earth, but not so for thieves of art from museums and private collections.
3. The opening heist, in Poland, is very kind to Polish museum practices—kinder than fact. A character comments that all of the paintings in a Polish museum are alarmed. When last I heard, there was actually only one artwork in all of Poland’s rich museum that had its own, individual alarm system (as opposed to a general security system for the museum itself)—Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine. It is generous of the film-maker to credit a random Warsaw museum with elaborate security measures for every one of its paintings.
4. When Nicky is arrested, he is threatened with 20 years in prison. Art thieves get off far lighter than that, with sentences of 2-4 years far more normal. The largest sentence ever given out to someone involved in stolen and looted art was the ten year sentence Giacomo Medici received for trafficking in hundreds of looted antiquities—and he was no small-time thief, but the head of an elaborate criminal ring with its tentacles in many nations, selling looted works to world-renowned museums.
5. The opening heist is predicated on the fact that a Polish gangster would bother bringing a freshly-stolen Gauguin to a museum conservation department to be authenticated. Criminals involved in art almost never know anything about art, nor have any interest in it, but they likewise would not bother to get a work authenticated. The moment a theft hits the news, the media does the authenticating on the criminal’s behalf, publishing a detailed description of exactly what was stolen and how valuable it is.
6. Most criminals know nothing about art. There is a running joke that all but one of the characters mispronounce the name of the French pointillist painter, Georges Seurat. There is likewise confusion (intentionally sewn, it turns out) over a book supposedly printed by Gutenberg. The band of thieves tell the story of Valfierno and the theft of the Mona Lisa as if it is real, which bothered me until it was revealed as a plot device. A 1932 article in The Saturday Evening Post by Karl Decker purported to convey the story of an Argentine count, Valfierno, who hired Vincenzo Peruggia to steal the Mona Lisa not to own it himself or sell the original, but to trick six dumb American millionaires into buying forgeries of the Mona Lisa, each thinking that they secretly had purchased the stolen original. That entire story was fabricated, but it infected the popular imagination and perpetuated many myths about art theft, including…
7. The myth of the stolen art collector. The film includes characters who regularly buy stolen art and have secret collections of it. This is another common misconception, perpetuated by fiction, film, and sloppy journalism. In reality we know of only around two dozen “criminal art collectors” in history—a negligible number, when you consider that there are tens of thousands of art thefts reported every year.
8. It is a fun idea to pair forgers with thieves, but this does not happen in real life. Art forgers tend to work alone or in pairs (with a con man), and are rarely involved in organized crime. Art theft is largely the realm of organized crime, from small local gangs (like Calhoun’s) to large international syndicates. The closest that forgery comes to involvement in art theft took place in Poland—thieves swapped a framed poster of a Monet, bought at the gift shop, for the real thing, which they lifted from the museum’s wall. So much for well-alarmed Polish collections.
9. The characters use the terms “fake” and “forgery” interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. A fake is an original object that is altered in some way to increase its value in a fraudulent manner. A forgery is a whole new object, made from scratch, in fraudulent imitation of something more valuable. But that is truly splitting hairs—which I only do because the film got so much right.
10. The criminals in this gang are more worldly, witty, and clever than their real-life counterparts. This is fair enough, because it is more fun to watch a movie featuring smart, interesting protagonists. They show a great sense of humor in their choice of modern sculpture in which to hide a forged Gutenberg book (it is a giant, cubic replica of the female anatomy). Our gang has watched their share of art heist movies, and suggest schemes borrowed from them: a “Trojan horse” object, as seen in The Thomas Crown Affair, and “cat suits,” as seen in Entrapment, for instance.
The Art of the Steal is great fun, and unlike in most films of this sort, knowing more about the subject offers some rewards, rather than limiting its entertainment value because of mistakes it might make. An art expert in the film has the surname Panofsky, a reference to Irwin Panofsky, one of the greatest 20th century art historians. And it gets a lot right. An enraged gangster who threatens Crunch demands either a stolen Seurat that Nicky lifted off him, or $30,000. That sounds about right—stolen art seems to have a value of around 7-10% of its legitimate auction value, a fact we know because that is the amount that desperate criminals have asked undercover cops to pay them for stolen art. $30,000 might just be around 7% of the legitimate value of a small Seurat. Hat’s off to Jonathan Sobol and his team of art thieves. They got a surprising amount of detail correct, and that which they got wrong was either volitional or meant to facilitate plot, and forgivable in the context of artistic license. Why they chose to give their film the same title as a critically-acclaimed documentary is another question, but perhaps in this case, stealing titles is as apt as paintings?
 The portion of this article on The Art of the Steal first appeared in Film International magazine. To study art crime in Italy, click here.
- The Art of Sitcoms: You’ll Never Watch TV the Same Way Again
The Secret History of Art’s latest article is called “Cracking the Sitcom Code.” Running in The Atlantic magazine, it looks at the art of writing a TV sitcom, which I had to learn when commissioned to write a Croatian comedy series. Read this and you’ll never watch sitcoms the same way again.