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Lyon & Turnbull has been mentioned in the UK's national news this week in connection with the recent recovery of three paintings which were stolen from Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow approximately fifteen years ago.
We thought we would take this opportunity to detail to our clients the scale of the art-theft problem, the measures we take to minimise its impact on our clients, and what owners of art and antiques can do to safeguard themselves from art crime.
Art Crime - third highest-grossing criminal industry in the world.
Caravaggio’s Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert, Van Gogh’s View of the Sea at Scheveningen, Cézanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise, Salvador Dali’s Two Balconies… these masterpieces are part of the largest and most elusive collection in the world: the gallery of stolen art.
Vermeer’s The Concert
Every day they are joined by more art works stolen from museums and private collections, and by ancient treasures looted from impromptu digs. The vast majority will never be recovered.
Art crime is the third highest-grossing criminal industry in the world, after drugs and arms dealing. Estimates say it could be worth up to £3.7 billion per year, but since many art crimes go unreported the real figure could be much higher.
Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Charney is concerned that, despite proven links to other criminal fields, art crime is not taken seriously by many police forces. “Art crime has gone all but unaddressed on a governmental scale,” he says. “People tend to assume that it’s simply about the collectables of the rich, but if you get upset by drugs or the arms trade or even terrorism, one way to curb that is by addressing art crime.”
Of the tens of thousands of art thefts in the world every year, only a handful involve famous paintings snatched from museums. Many, many more art works are taken from private collections, and less than ten per cent of these are recovered. “These are the most frequently taken and the easiest to convert tocash,” says Charney. “While the famous works are either ransomed or used for barter or collateral in other illicit deals, works not instantly recognisable can be sold on open markets with a simple forged provenance.”
He argues that art collectors are in the first line of defence and advises measures for safeguarding their own collection (at the end of this article) while urging them tocheck the provenance of any new purchase. “The psychology of collecting and the nature of the art market inadvertently fuels criminal activity because there’s such a hunger for new objects to come on to the market. That desire is fed by crime syndicates. When a treasure appears on the market there is such a hunger for it that many will overlook potential question-marks about its pedigree.”
Charney, 28, who has a Masters in Art History from the Courtauld Institute, launched ARCA, which is a non-profit organisation based in Rome, to raise awareness about the problem of art crime, train experts and encourage co-operation and information sharing between academics and police. While seeking funding for ARCA’s activities through grants and donations, he plans to support himself by writing; his first novel, The Art Thief, was published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster.
As many as three-quarters of art crimes involve looted antiquities, ancient treasures dug up by locals all over the world and sold on with false provenances via members of criminal syndicates. Professor Colin Renfrew, one of the country’s leading archaeologists, speaking in a national newspaper, described looting as “a colossal problem (which is) destroying the record of the past”.
Charney advises collectors of antiquities to take particular care, especially if they are considering buying on the Internet. “I would say, never buy anything you haven’t seen or handled in person. You should also be given a complete provenance and be given an opportunity to check it out independently. Beware sellers who pressure you over time or withhold information. Antiquities are rare and expensive: something that seems too good to be true probably is.”
Article by Susan Mansfield
Written for Lyon & Turnbull's 'Perspective' magazine, Issue 4 ©2008
How Lyon & Turnbull combats Art Crime
Like most reputable auctioneers, Lyon & Turnbull maintains a contract with the Art Loss Register, an international organisation with roots dating back to 1976.
The ALR checks each and every Lyon & Turnbull catalogue, comparing the lots with records of stolen works garnered from law enforcement agencies, collectors, galleries and other organisations worldwide. We also ask for details of provenance from clients wishing to sell works, to ensure these items can be tracked back to their point of origin in order to reassure prospective buyers of the item's legitimacy.
Despite the large number of works of art changing hands via auction, auction houses are actually very well protected from art crime, largely due to the diligence with which we discover, record and publicise an item's provenance, and due to the measures (such as the ALR) we deploy to prevent stolen items from being circulated in the market. In reality, auction houses are one of the last places you are likely to find stolen goods.
However, these measures are only effective if thefts are reported to the police and subsequently to the international organisations dedicated to documenting stolen works. In cases such as the Kelvingrove Museum's paintings where the crime has been unreported for over a decade, there is no way of identifying items as stolen.
Peploe's Near Douglas Hall, now returned to the Kelvingrove Museum
If you own art or antiques with a value of over £1000, there are a number of measures you can take to reduce the risk of theft, and to hugely increase the likelihood of your possessions being returned should this happen to you.
How to Safeguard your Art
01 Don’t advertise what you own, or how it is situated and protected in your home. Unlike opportunist house-breakers, art thieves rarely attempt a theft unless they know what’s there and what defenses they will be up against.
02 Keep detailed photographic records of your art, including photographs of the art out of the frame, with close-ups of any distinctive markings or inscriptions. If a stolen object such a map or print is recovered, you will need to prove that it is your copy. Lyon & Turnbull is the second largest provider of independent valuations in the UK, and our valuation documents provide police with the detailed images and descriptions they need to locate possessions and verify them as yours.
03 Keep records and documents relating to your art and its provenance in a separate place nowhere near your art, preferably in a bank deposit box. Not only is this your proof of ownership, handing these to a thief will make the work much easier to sell on. We can help - our valuations are archived in a secure location and can be quickly made available to the authorities if the worst happens.
04 Remember a high-tech security system is only as effective as the response it triggers. More effective are ID tags which can be embedded in artworks and can function as part of an alarm system or as GPS-locators. They are also difficult to remove quickly without damaging the art.
05 There is no reason to be wary of loaning objects from your collection for public exhibitions. Major museum thefts make headlines, but they are rare. Check that the museum will take legal responsibility for the work on loan, and instruct them whether or not you wish to be identified as the lender.
06 An astonishing number of art thefts are not reported. If something is stolen, go to the police immediately. They will disseminate the information straight away, including photographs of the missing work.
07 For added security you can list your possessions on the Art Loss Register, preferably before they go missing in order to ensure you have accurately recorded any distinguishing marks. While the police should report the loss to ALR, by doing it yourself you can rest assured the report has been made at the earliest opportunity, and to a high level of detail.
08 Insurance. Many of our clients are unaware that art and antiques are typically classified as 'low-risk' by insurers, due to their unique and identifiable nature. By looking to the security of your home and documenting the measures you have taken to avoid damage and theft, insurance companies can often insure art collections with a very high value for a relatively small premium. Again, our valuations department can help you to make contact with insurance companies who understand the reduced risk of art and antiques.
Matt McKenzie - 21 January 2011