Why Stealing Great Art Is A Bad Business Plan

Posted filed underArt Market, Art Theft.


Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Stolen Painting? In the wake of last night’s epic theft from a Dutch museum, Robert Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s art crimes team explains why stealing masterpieces is a terrible business plan.

Interview at The Atlantic: “According to Robert Wittman, founder of the FBI’s art crime team and author of the memoir Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, it’s nearly impossible for thieves to sell famous pieces of art, even on the black market. Today The Atlantic talked to Wittman, who now runs a private art security firm, about why yanking a Picasso is such a bad business plan, his investigations into art capers around the world, and why cheap paintings might be more valuable for a crook.

Excerpt: “And the general pattern is that the criminals who do these jobs, these heists, are good thieves, but they’re terrible businessmen. That’s what it comes down to.

They read in the newspaper about about the growing value of paintings and the new records that are set every year by Cézannes and Picassos, and then they think that they can get a payday by going out and doing a heist. What they don’t understand is that the value of art is dependent on three things: authenticity, provenance — the history of the art — and legal title. Those are the things that really do create the value. I mean, let’s face it, an artwork is basically a piece of canvass with some paint on it. So whenever you talk about these paintings, it’s a matter of authenticity and provenance and legal title. And if you don’t have one of those three things, you don’t have value.

So it’s tough to sell a painting when you can’t prove where it came from.

And also legal title. If you steal it, you obviously don’t have legal title. So unless a criminal is stealing the painting because he loves it, to put it on his wall — which in this case I sincerely doubt. You’re not going to steal a Matisse and a Picasso and a couple of Monets. They don’t go together. So unless you’re stealing it just to admire, their attempts to sell it are going to end in failure.”

Photo from Reuters