Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Family Plot

The Independent reports of a theft from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. An elaborate plot which stretched over six years and involved the husband and sun of a dead curator.

The curator, Larisa Zavadskaya, died last October of a heart attack in her office around the time renovations of the museum began. Renovations that uncovered the theft. It was only until now that a connections between the theft and the parties involved have been made. The museum director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, is being quoted as feeling that the crime was a “stab in the back.”

Curators at the Hermitage only make 5,000 Rubles a month, or about $200. Which makes one wonder how much the son, Nicholai was making when he quite working there two years ago on account of poor wages. The art stolen, 221 objects in all, is estimated to be valued at between $5M - $100M (the low end is the “official estimate” the high, is from art historians) In any case, even the low end is still twenty-five thousand months’ salary.

Investigators found pawn shop tickets in the apartment of the father. Some objects have been found. One object was returned from an honest Moscow art dealer who also helped lead to the theives’ arrest.

IMAGE: saint-petersburg.com

In an open letter on the Hermitage website, the The World Wide Club of Petersburgers states:
    Dear Petersburgers:
    News about the theft of exhibits at the Hermitage shook the entire cultural world and evoked feelings of anger and protest against those who were a party to this act of vandalism. The misfortune inflicted especially acute pain on us, Petersburgers, for whom the Hermitage is one of the iconic symbols of a great city, its cultural and spiritual epicenter.

    However, we must also note with sadness that some journalists in the mass media reporting on this deplorable event have betrayed all sense of measure and the cultural traditions of our city which developed over the course of three centuries to become one of the great national legacies.
    Safeguarding museum collections is a worldwide problem. For the Russian community, it is an especially topical issue given that our museums are so rich in works of art and so poor in technical means of safeguarding them.


    We believe in the heartfelt tenderness and sensitivity of Petersburgers and we ask that they provide all possible assistance in tracking down the stolen treasures. We appeal to the conscience of everyone who, either knowingly or out of ignorance, may have been involved in this shameful crime which outrages our countrymen and all those who love Petersburg and who esteem the Hermitage's unique collection.
    We ask everyone who willingly or unwillingly came to own the stolen objects to demonstrate civic honesty and bravery, and to return the exhibits to the museum collections, where they belong.

In a statement, the Hermitage admitted to lagging behind current standard in security in just about every aspect. What is it with lax security in Europe? Munch Museum we’re looking in your direction. Apparently the next time you go to view real art treasures abroad, you might never see them again. Unless you help yourself to some.

The Hermitage website has a lot of news on the events that have unfolded HERE

The Independent article, which was the main source of information for our story, can be found HERE

And speaking of the Edvard Munch theft, nothing has ever come of it. Aside from some convictions this past May of men involved in providing and/or driving the getaway car, the gunmen are still at large. And so are the Scream and Madonna. Hopefully they have not been destroyed and will turn up 30 years from now. They are join Lucien Freud’s famed portrait of Francis Bacon in the big giant art loot bin in the sky.

The AP story on the Munch convictions is HERE

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