The recent theft of paintings from the Paris Museum of Modern Art which included works by Picasso and Matisse, will concern all gallery owners and private collectors. Stolen works of art and antiques often disappear never to be seen again, or if they do re-emerge, it is often several years later.
In an attempt to combat the trade in stolen antiques and paintings, the Art Loss Register was established. Its early beginnings was in 1976 as a not-for-profit organisation based in New York and funded by The International Foundation for Art Research. Details of stolen art were recorded, but as it was paper-based system, it was difficult to search the 20,000+ records.
In 1991 a company styled The Art Loss Register Limited, funded and supported by the art and insurance industry, took over the register. Transferred to computer based records it now has a substantial database of information on stolen art works. The company is based in London but has now a number of offices world-wide.
As well recording items stolen, it also provides investigation and recovery services, it also liaises with auction houses, insurers and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and Interpol. Since 1991 it has been instrumental in the recovery of $320m worth of stolen art works. These included a painting by Cezanne stolen in 1978 and recovered 1999, one by Manet stolen in 1977 and recovered in 1997, and a Picasso stolen in 1940 and recovered in 2005.
Owners of art works can also register their possessions with the company. They do not have to be worth thousands of dollars. According to company the average value is $2000. In the event of its theft, registrants will know that subscribers to the Art Loss Register such as art dealers and auction houses can check with the database before making any purchase or auctioning the item. Thus making it difficult for the item to be disposed of.
It will be interesting to see how long before these pictures are seen again in public.
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