Here’s a question, what’s hidden in your attic?
If you’re anything like me, it’s probably just a lot of old junk, but imagine for a moment if by some twist of fate, there was an old master squirrelled away up there in the rafters. Unlikely, I know, but a lot of very valuable and important artworks have gone missing over the last 90 years and many remain lost.
So, just in case, here are five you might want to keep an eye open for…
In April 1934, a thief took a panel called The Just Judges, from the Ghent Atlarpiece, painted by Jan van Eyck around 1430, from the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent. The thief demanded a ransom from the Bishop of Ghent, but it wasn’t paid. Later the same year, a man who claimed to be the thief, left a deathbed message admitting to being the thief and saying that no one but him knew it’s whereabouts.
Despite strenuous attempts to recover it, the panel has never been found.
In 1945, a replacement Just Judges panel was made and inserted into the Altarpiece.
Perhaps the most valuable painting which remains lost, is by Raphael. His Portrait of a Young Man, believed to be a self portrait and painted around 1513, was stolen in 1945 from its Polish owners by the invading Nazis. It is believed to have survived the war, but no one is saying where it currently is. If you should find this one in your attic, its estimated value is $100m.
One of the most famous art thefts of the 20th century was from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston. In March 1990, two thieves carried off thirteen works of art, including Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, painted around 1633. Although the painting hasn’t yet been found, the FBI believe they know who did it, so if it’s you, better keep a low profile.
While most of us were enjoying the celebrations for the new millennium on 1st January 2000, a rather athletic thief with a taste for drama, slid down a rope into the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and made off with Paul Cezanne’s View of Auvers - sur - Oise, painted in 1879. Police believe the theft was timed to coincide with fireworks from the celebrations, covering the sound of a smoke bomb used to obscure the CCTV coverage.
If you find this one in your attic, it’s valued at £3m, but you’d be advised to have your alibi at the ready.
And finally, there’s Vincent van Gogh’s Poppy Flowers, painted in 1887. This unfortunate painting has been stolen not once, but twice! Both times from the same museum, the Mohamed Khalil Museum in Cairo. It was stolen in 1977, recovered ten years later in Kuwait. Then stolen again in August 2010.
The good news is that it’s quite a small picture, around 65 x 54cm, so it might easily fit in the attic, and even better, there’s a reward of $175,000 for information about its location.
Of course most art theft is carried out by very shady organised crime outfits, certainly not much in common with the image of art thieves we see in films like The Thomas Crown Affair. The chances of randomly coming across any of these missing works is incredibly small. But if you want me, I’ll be up in the loft…x