If you needed more proof that art theft is a futile, dead-end job, look no further than the Kunsthal heist of 2012. After the theft of seven masterpieces worth tens of millions of dollars ——a Picasso, two Monets, and a Matisse, among others—it appears that the mother of one of the suspects said she burned their cache of high-priced art partly because the thieves couldn't find any buyers.
"A Romanian museum is analyzing ashes found in a stove to see if they are the remains of seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others that were stolen last year from the Netherlands," reports the Associated Press, which adds that the ashes were found in the stove of one Olga Dogaru, the mother of prime suspect Radu Dogaru. The AP adds:
Dogaru told investigators she was scared for her son after he was arrested in January and buried the art in an abandoned house and then in a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She said she later dug them up and burned them in February after police began searching the village for the stolen works.
According to Romania-Insider, an English-language news site, the suspects stashed the paintings at Olga's house because they were having trouble finding buyers. And citing a local report from Romania, the NL Times is reporting that experts have confirmed that the ashes are the burned remains of Monet and Picasso work. It should be noted, however, that the AP story conflicts with that local report, saying that the main prosecutor and officials said it could take months for the results to be confirmed.
If the masterpieces (scroll down for the full list*) were indeed burned, it'd be a waste of great art indeed. And there'd be frustration (if there isn't already) about the fact that these alleged thieves, finding no buyer for their stolen goods, could have just given back the paintings. In this end, this is all the more proof that it's close to impossible to sell stolen artwork.
Robert Wittman, founder of the FBI's art crime team, told The Atlantic's Jordan Weissman last year (in the wake of the Kunsthal heist) that buyers want a legal title when they buy a painting. And since thieves can't produce a legal title, that million-dollar painting becomes about as expensive as a sheet of toilet paper—the same reason why the 400 works missing from Picasso's stepdaughter's collection won't sell for much either. "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," Wittman said at the time, seemingly predicting today's news of the paintings' potential ashy demise.
*The paintings stolen were: Picasso's 1971 Harlequin Head; Monet's 1901 Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London; 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.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.