Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Night at the Museum

The Vincent Van Gogh Museum, which draws more than 1 Million visitors every year, is located in the Netherlands capital city of Amsterdam and has the largest collection of the paintings of this Dutch artist. In 1991. two thieves stole, 20 Van Gogh paintings, valued at $10 million each from the museum including Van Gogh's most celebrated work, Sunflowers. Yet, the Museum was just plain lucky. Amazingly, police found the thieve's getaway car, left stranded, in few hours with all the stolen paintings intact. The burglars were however gone and could not be found.

The Kunsthal museum in the Netherlands' second largest city, Rotterdam , however may not prove to be all that lucky. Kunsthal Museum, which means Art Hall in Dutch, actually does not have any collection or artifacts of its own and is only a display space. It has been exhibiting presently, 150-strong Triton Foundation's collection to the public, for the first time, to mark the museum's 20th anniversary. Triton Foundation Collection is a collection of paintings collected by the Cordia family, which is ranked among the richest families in the Netherlands, having made its money in oil and shipping. The present exhibition had opened just a week ago and is supposed to run up to 20th January. This collection of paintings incorporates works by the most important and influential artists over a time period from 19th century to present day and has developed international reputation.

Thieves broke in the museum on the night of 16th October 2012 and stole 7 paintings from this collection in a robbery that reminds of a Hollywood flick around 3 AM in the night. The Dutch Police have now circulated the names and photographs of the paintings that have been stolen, which have been circulated all over the world by Interpol. These include; Pablo Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin's Head"; Claude Monet's 1901 "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London"; Henri Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow"; Paul Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window"; Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait," around 1890, and Lucian Freud's 2002 work "Woman with Eyes Closed.

The Kunsthal museum, located in Rotterdam's museum park, which remains quite isolated during nights, has no guards and is supposed to have state of the art, automated security systems and is also equipped with CCTV cameras. During the night of the heist, an alarm had gone off but by the time police arrived on the scene, the thieves had made off. According to police, the robbery was a well-planned and bold operation. There is speculation that that the thieves might have taken advantage of one of the largest ports in the world in Rotterdam, to swiftly move the paintings abroad.

Security experts feel that the thieves found it so easy to steal the paintings in spite of the state of the art protection at Kunsthall, mainly because of the design of the museum building. The museum is a wonderful place for a visit but is a nightmare from security point of view. From a glass window at the back of the building, it is possible to have a full view of the exhibits. This fact makes it far easy for the thieves to plot the heists.

The stolen works of art are worth hundreds of millions of Euros, if sold legally at auction. However, with Interpol circulating the names and photographs of the paintings as stolen, any such action is now an impossibility. The thieves have therefore limited options available. They may try to seek a ransom from either the owners, the museum or the insurers. They can also sell the paintings in the criminal market. But the price they would fetch would be just a fraction. 

There is also another possibility. The paintings might the paintings have been stolen to order by some foreign unscrupulous art collector. In that case the paintings could be hanging on someone's house wall somewhere by now and are unlikely to be seen again by art lovers of the world, unless off course, Kunsthall is as lucky as the Amsterdam museum.

18 October 2012

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