Stolen Abraham Lincoln Sculpture Returned to Kankakee County Museum

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Barnard’s Sculpture, from Kankakee Daily Journal

Last year, news was made when a sculpture of President Lincoln’s hand by George Grey Barnard was stolen from the Kankakee County Museum in Kankakee, Illinois. The SAA Issues and Advocacy blog published a post about various thefts of Lincolniana, including the theft of this sculpture. This crime highlights the difficulties that all cultural heritage institutions, but particularly smaller museums, libraries, and archives, have in balancing providing access to materials and protecting them from criminals.

Sometimes, stories of crimes in archives and museums have a nice resolution, and the story of Barnard’s sculpture is one such story. Fourteen months after the crime, it has been reported by the Kankakee Daily Journal that, on the 208th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (February 12), the sculpture was anonymously left at the Saint Rose of Lima Parish Church in Kankakee. It was then returned to the Kankakee County Museum, which, since the theft, has stepped up their security.

Read more on the CBS Chicago website or the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art blog.

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UPDATE: Parisian Art Thief and Accomplices Sentenced to Prison

still-life-with-candleWe mentioned on this blog earlier this month that Verjan Tomic was on trial in Paris for his role in the 2010 theft of five works of art from the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. To this day, none of the art has ever been recovered. Today, a judge sentenced Tomic to eight years in prison for his role in the crime. In addition to Tomic, Jean-Michel Corvez was sentenced to seven years in prison and Yonathan Birn was sentenced to six years in prison for their involvement in the crime. Beyond jail time, the three were ordered to pay restitution of €104 million, the estimated value of the paintings.

Corvez was an art dealer who supposedly commissioned the heist for €40,000 because he was interested in Ferdinand Léger’s Still Life with a Candlestick, 1922 (pictured) on behalf of an international collector. Tomic, who had a reputation for breaking and entering skills, carried out the crime for Corvez. When Tomic broke a window and a padlock to access the museum, he found that he did not trip the security system – the security system had been turned off due to false alarms as a result of over-sensitivity – so he had more time in the gallery than he expected. With this extra time, he decided to take other peices that caught his eye. In addition to the Léger, he took four other paintings including works by Braque, Matisse, Modigliani, and Picasso.

After the theft, Tomic relied on Birn, a watch dealer, who agreed to hide the paintings. When the investigation into the theft began to enclose on Birn, he panicked and supposedly destroyed the canvases to get rid of any evidence of a crime. During sentencing, it is reported that Birn broke down and stated that if he knew where the canvases were today, he would return them. Investigators doubt this and believe that the art is in the hands of unscrupulous dealers or collectors overseas.

Read more about this case in the Guardian, on the BBC News Website, or in Le Figaro (in French, with video).

Major Rare Books Heist Near London Heathrow Airport

There is recent news of a major heist of 160+ rare books from a warehouse near London’s Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom on January 29-30. The books, with an estimated value of upwards of $2.5 million, were being held in the warehouse during transport to the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. The heist is being described as a “Mission: Impossible-style” break-in that targeted rare fifteenth and sixteenth century scientific books. The list of books stolen include works by Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Galileo, and da Vinci, and more. The initial speculation reported in the media is that the thieves were looking for specific books, most likely for an unscrupulous collector.

Read more about the heist from the Mail on Sunday, who first broke the news or Business Insider. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers’ Stolen-book.org has information about the titles stolen in the theft.

Recent News in the World of Crimes Against Cultural Heritage

On January 23, it was reported that Europol made several arrests and recovered thousands of antiquities in November. The investigation, led by the Spanish police forces, was part of an large operation involving 18 countries to break up an international antiquities smuggling ring. Read more about this story on artnet News or NPR.

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“Pastorale” by Matisse, 1905

In another story, on January 30, Verjan Tomic testified in a Paris court in his trial related to a spring 2010 heist from the Musee d’Art Moderne in which he stole five paintings estimated to be worth at least $112 million were stolen. The five paintings are Braque’s “Olive Tree Near l’Estaque,” Leger’s “Still Life With Candlestick,” Matisse’s “Pastorale,” Modigliani’s “Woman With a Fan,” and Picasso’s “Dove With Green Peas.” News outlets including the New York Times, the Telegraph, artnet News, and others have reported on the court case.

There are two points of particular interest in Tomic’s story for those concerned with security in cultural heritage institutions. First, Tomic said getting in was as simple as breaking a pane of glass he weakened with acid before the heist and then quickly cutting through a padlock to access the museum. Second, security staff turned off the security system two months before the heist because of several repeated false alarms due to the over-sensitivity of the system. As the Telegraph remarks, the judge in the case “lamented the ‘disconcerting ease’ in which the athletic thief evaded ‘defective’ security to steal the ‘priceless’ masterpieces whose value ‘far surpasses their market value.'”