Vastari speaks to ALR's Katya Hills about how to investigate and prevent art theft.
Figure 1: The Art Loss Register recovers a Henri Matisse painting, "Le Jardin" 1920.Taken from the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm during a robbery on May 11, 1987 and found by an art recovery specialist in London. (AP/Jeremy Young, HO)) Image source
Interview with Katya Hills, London
Whether you are buying, selling, reporting stolen property, or registering a family heirloom, The Art Loss Register is indispensable.
As the world’s largest private database of stolen and missing art, antiques and collectibles, the ALR stores information on over 400,000 items.
Established in London in 1991 with the backing of the art trade (major shareholders include Sotheby’s and Christie’s) and the insurance industry, its purpose is to deter art theft and reduce the trade in stolen art.
The ALR operates a due diligence service and offers recovery services for victims of theft. The database includes Interpol and other police losses that have been circulated, as well as registrations from external theft databases.
"Increasingly, the value of a work of art depends on the ability to demonstrate clear title and evidence of its undisputed ownership since creation," says Katya Hills, Client Development Manager at the ALR. "The high incidence of international art theft, not to mention looting during the Second World War, is continuing testament to the fact that many stolen works of art are traded every year."
We spoke to Katya about the procedure and the benefits of using the system. She also shared with us some of the recovery success stories.
Vastari: How does the ALR work?
Katya Hills: Private individuals, insurers, art dealers, museums, auction houses and law enforcement agencies can submit search requests via the website (www.artloss.com) or by email to discover whether an item has been registered. Searching with the ALR minimises one’s chance of acquiring or selling a work of art that has previously been stolen or may be subject to a claim, which could have a substantial impact on its future price and marketability. For art dealers and auction houses, searching is also a significant deterrence strategy to being approached with stolen art.
Vastari: Do your records have actual influence on the market value of the piece?
K.H.:. A stolen item is worth nothing on the legitimate market. Any attempts to sell the work again will be stopped via any reputable dealer or auction house searching with the ALR.
Vastari: An artwork changes hands over time. Once the object is confirmed to be clear there is no certainty it is not stolen the next month.
K.H.: The Art Loss Register search procedure is based on the information available at that time. Once the checks have been completed the ALR issues a certificate confirming that the object is not currently registered on the database nor are we aware of any present claims.
Vastari: Can literally anything be registered?
K.H.: All uniquely identifiable items can be registered on the ALR’s database in strictest confidence: art, antiques, antiquities, furniture, jewellery, silverware, porcelain, watches, books, coins, arms, medals, musical instruments…. Registering greatly improves the security of any valuable possessions.
Vastari: When is the best moment to register an object?
K.H.: Items can be registered subsequent to a loss or theft. Alternatively, they can be registered while in one’s ownership to a ‘positive’ database, which is intended for large permanent collections where inventories are not regularly checked and which are accessible to public viewing. All searches we receive are checked against both the loss and the ‘positive’ databases.
Vastari: Which means that if the owner is unaware of the theft, the ALR still works to their advantage?
K.H.: The worldwide use of the database by ALR investigators, law enforcement authorities, dealers, collectors and auction houses maximises the chance that any attempt to sell your item will be discovered. Approximately 300,000 items that pass through public auctions are investigated per year.
Vastari: So what happens if the registered object is being sold?
K.H.: In the event that the ALR discovers that your item is being offered for sale, you will be contacted to determine the legitimacy of the sale. Working with the relevant law enforcement agency, the ALR will investigate any unauthorised sale and assist in the recovery of the item to you, the legitimate owner.
Vastari: What about fakes?
K.H.: The problem of fakes and forgeries within the art market is becoming an increasing concern and in recognition of this, the ALR has developed a database of authentication issues, which many experts use and contribute to. In the event that a work searched against the ALR database is matched with an item believed to be a fake or falsely attributed the searcher will be alerted. The ALR does not give any final determination on the authenticity of an item, but suggests that further research may be advisable.
Vastari: Any exciting success stories?
K.H.: In the last few years, the Art Loss Register has helped to retrieve numerous important works. Here are five of the most notable recoveries:
Recovered in 2013:
Henri Matisse, Le Jardin (1920)
Oil on canvas, 45 x 34 cm
Stolen from the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, Sweden in 1987
Recovered in 2013:
Jan van Goyen, Harbour Scene (The Beach Scheveningen)
24.99 x 32 cm
Stolen from Paul Mitchell, an antique picture frame dealer and frame historian in London in 1979
Recovered in 2013:
16th Century Astrolabe Martinus Weiler,
Silvered brass Diameter 170 mm, depth 4 mm
Stolen from a Skokloster Castle museum in Sweden in 1999
Recovered in 2012:
Over 400 works of art by celebrated Dutch artist Karel Appel.
Lost in transit in 2002 when sent by the artist to the Karel Appel Foundation in Amsterdam.
(Above: Phantasmagoria No. 162, acrylic and oil stick over print)
Recovered in 2011:
Two 17th century colonial paintings,
Saint Rose of Viterbo and Saint Augustin,
Stolen from the Church of San Andreas de Machaca in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1997