Travels & Traditions: Artcops - #1205

BURT WOLF: For over 40 years, I have been traveling around the world reporting on history, culture and tourist attractions. Invariably, I would end up visiting the famous museums.

Anyone who has ever been to Taiwan eventually ends up in the National Palace Museum. When I first visited the museum in the early 80s there were very few tourists. Today it is the most visited tourist sight in the nation. There are tourist from Europe, Africa, North and South America and hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists from the mainland who come over to see their artistic heritage.

The museum was built in Taipei, Taiwan by the government of the Republic of China in 1965. The architectural style is based on the traditional Chinese Palace --- four stories, green tiled –roofs with yellow ridges. The primary objective was to protect and preserve over 650, 000 objects that represent 8,000 years of Chinese history.

With the exception of portraits, most traditional Chinese art shows giant landscapes inhabited by tiny people. The artists wanted to illustrate the point that people are insignificant in comparison to nature and its forces.

The museum is an important destination for many tourists, but one of its primary objectives is to give young Taiwanese a sense of their artistic heritage --- to inspire an appreciation of Chinese art.

And it’s almost impossible to get through Paris without someone taking you into the Louvre to see the Winged Victory or the Mona Lisa.

My personal favorite in Paris is the Musee D’ Orsay. The Gare D’Orsay was a train station built for the 1900 World’s Fair. By the early 1950s, however, its platforms were too short for modern trains and the building was scheduled for demolition. But the President of France, Giscard d’ Estaing, understood the value of the structure and turned it into a national museum. A museum filled with works of the great French Impressionists.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): French Impressionism got started in the late 1800s and early 1900s when a group of painters in Paris got fed up with the traditional subjects of French painting. They’d had enough of religion and mythology and history, they wanted something new.

BURT WOLF: During the late 1860s, Claude Monet began concentrating on the effects of light and color. The subject matter of the painting, the depth and the perspective became less important. Surface pattern became more important. The Impressionists did all of their painting outside while looking at their subject as opposed to the conventional practice of painting in a studio.

Today the Musee D’ Orsay presents the works of the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists including Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh---artists who freed Western painting from thousands of years of tradition.

SIGRID IVO (ON CAMERA): And you see especially in the 1950’s, that’s a very typical American one.

BURT WOLF: But I also looked for museums that were virtually unknown to the average traveler. Like the museum of women’s handbags in Amsterdam.

During the last few years, I became aware of the extraordinary amount of art that has been stolen from many of the world’s most important museums and private galleries. And almost all of it is still missing.

A stolen work of art is a missing piece of our history and we need to get these works back were they belong. Where we can see them.

I began to wonder what a television program would look if it’s primary objective was getting back these works. Here’s what I came up with.

Each year over 6 billion dollars worth of art and antiquities are stolen and much of it is used by organized crime to fund drug deals, arm sales and terrorists. And tens of millions of dollars of reward money is waiting to be claimed. A stolen work of art is a stolen piece of our history

In March of 1990, Johannes Vermeer’s “Concert” was stolen from the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston. The Vermeer was part of a 300 million dollar theft and considered the most valuable painting ever stolen. There’s a 5 million dollar reward.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has the most extensive collection of his works.

In December of 2002, Van Gogh’s View of the Sea and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church were taken from the museum.

The total value of the two works is $30 million. 

There’s $150,000 reward.

BURT WOLF TO CAMERA: ARTCOPS will tell you what’s missing, why these objects are an important part of our history, why they are worth a fortune and what you can do to help find them and earn the reward money.


BURT WOLF: Erica Morini was born in Vienna in 1908. By the age of 5 she was considered a major talent. At 16 she was booked for a national concert tour in the United States. She is considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. Her instrument of choice was a Stradivarius violin that was made in 1727.

During the fall of 1995, at the age of 91, while Erica was being treated at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital someone entered her apartment and stole the violin. At the time it was valued at three and a half million dollars. Today, it’s probably worth eight million. The thief also took Erica’s musical scores, which contained her notes.

The New York Police Department ran down the leads.

The FBI was called in.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): A few days later, Erica died without being told of the theft.

15 years later, it’s a closed case …. and mostly forgotten.

BURT WOLF: But, not by us, we want it back.

First question… what makes a violin worth 8million bucks.

The guy to ask is Joshua Bell. He’s a world famous Grammy Award winning violinist who also owns a Stradivarius. 

JOSHUA BELL (ON CAMERA): You can find a modern violin that will play loud, and sound good in Carnegie Hall, you know, to the back of the hall. That’s fine. But when you’re trying to get the nuance and the color in a piece like the Franck sonata, there’s nothing like a Strad. It’ like being a painter, being given thousands of colors to choose from to get the shading just right, as opposed to three or four colors. And, you can be a much greater artist, as a painter, with that at your fingertips. As a musician, you feel the same way. It opens up whole worlds of sound, and nuance, which you can then apply to the music.

There are so many things that make an old Italian instrument. It’s the only thing I can even think of that is that old, I mean it’s a 300 year old. That is as useful, 300 years later. I can’t think of an example anywhere of something that’s still better than anything that you can make today. I think a Stradivarius violin is really one of the great achievements of a human being in history

BURT WOLF: Chris Marinello is the executive director for the Art Loss Register which is the largest private database for stolen art.

In addition to keeping the database, they also search for missing works.

They check out major auction houses, they see what’s happening on line, they go to the important art fairs. 

AUCTIONEER (ON CAMERA): At 75 million dollars then. Are we all done. I’m happy to wait. 

BURT WOLF: I asked Chris Marinello if he had any idea where the Stradivarius might be.

CHRIS MARINELLO (ON CAMERA): It’s really hard to surmise. Who would have a Stradivarius, lying around. It’s a little different than a picture that you put on the wall and look at. We think that there might be some gang somewhere just holding onto it, hoping that one day the time will be right to sell it. We’re finding that art is taking a longer time to surface. So, thieves might just be holding onto it 

BURT WOLF: Dorit Straus is the world-wide fine arts manager at the Chubb Insurance Company

DORIT STRAUS (ON CAMERA): One of the theories that I heard, that it was an inside job because everybody knew that she kept her violin in the closet, but that’s about all that I can tell you about it. I think if it ever surfaced it would be identifiable because it’s a well-known instrument, it has a well-known history. 

Authorities would know what it is, and it would be recovered. I am not sure whether it was insured and who the company was that insured it, and whether they put up a reward, but it is it’s a sad thing when an instrument like that, is missing. It should be played, it should not be just, you know, somewhere.

BURT WOLF: For 20 years Bob Wittman was an undercover agent for the FBI and helped recover over 200 million dollars worth of art. How do you open a cold case like the Stradivarius?

BOB WITTMAN (ON CAMERA): You have to go back to the beginning and follow all those leads through again and see what’s come up since.

The first thing I would do is get the entire investigation, review it all, re-interview all the people that were looked at before, see who wasn’t interviewed ... because that’s always the situation. Use all the resources that we have today that weren’t available at that time. Internet, Artnet, uh, auction records. And look at all of these things that have come up in the past 15 years, ten years that weren’t available maybe 25 years ago, and use all those forensic techniques to come back and see what else we can come up with.

BURT WOLF: Apparently it’s not that difficult to steal a work of art. The problem is now that you have something famous and worth millions, how do you sell it? Crag’s List--- eBay?

BONNIE MAGNESS GARDINER (ON CAMERA): The Internet has been useful to us because it allows us to see what’s out there and identify stolen works of art when they come up on the Internet, because we have information on what’s been stolen. We have images. Sometimes, certainly descriptions and titles. 

So if somebody tries to sell a stole work of art on the Internet, it is potentially identifiable. And that is a good thing. There are elements of the Internet also that are traceable so that you can see who has put up the information and trace it back to a source. Again, that’s helpful.

On the other hand, it allows people to sell things that are stolen quite easily, because you can put something up on a list and it can be gone the next day. 

BURT WOLF: If you spot this Stradivarius, please get in touch with us. There’s a $500,000 reward.


BURT WOLF: During the fall of 2010, the building at 55 Gansevoort Street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District was owned by the family of Robert Romanoff.

There’s a night club in the basement.

A cafe on the first floor.

And a restaurant on the second floor.

There’s an elevator that opens directly on to the street but its right next to a door that’s staffed by a guy who works for the restaurants and the nightclub. The elevator is operated by a key and only a few people had that key.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): On Thanksgiving Weekend when Mr. Romanoff was out town a gang of crooks broke into his apartment by punching a hole through the wall in a hallway closet. They escaped with about $750,000 worth of art and jewelry including ten Warhols and two Lichtensteins. They also took the security camera video tape. Nice touch.

BURT WOLF: The New York Police Department released images of the art, hoping that someone might help solve the crime.

Ten of the works were by Andy Warhol who is often described as the father of Pop Art. The Pop Art movement got started in London during the mid 50’s and caught on in the United States about 5 years later. Pop artists would take familiar images from mass culture, advertising, product logos, labels and comic book art and place them in new and unusual surroundings. Very often the artist would use mechanical means to reproduce his work.

I asked Susanna Garcia of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain to show me some of Wahol’s work.

SUSANNA GARCIA (ON CAMERA): In my tours I usually like starting here --- Andy Warhol, because I think this is quite different. This is not the Andy Warhol we are used to. I mean, this is what he was doing in the Fifties. He was a graphic designer, and he was designing those shoes you see. But from here, I personally – I can see the evolution he is going to have. Because I can see the glamour already, and he is going to be obsessed with glamour. I can see the bright colors. I can imagine his assistants helping him to paint, to color, because he had what he called his coloring parties. And, as he said, he wanted to be a sort of machine; he wanted to work in every medium --- in cinema, photographs, paints, fashion, music, everything. He thought that everything could be art, and are could become common.

BURT WOLF: When he died in 1987 he left behind a body of work worth billions of dollars.

Two other works stolen at the same time were by Roy Lichtenstein. Born to a middle class working family in New York City in 1923, Lichtenstein became one of the most well known Pop Artists of the 20th Century. Art was a hobby, not a part of his formal education until he attended the Art Students League. He shifted the focus of his education and went on to get his undergraduate degree in Fine Arts at Ohio State University. In 1961, Leo Castelli, an influential gallery owner, started showing Lichtenstein’s works alongside other pop artists like Warhol. His work explored pop art through the use of hard-edged compositions and tongue-and-cheek humor. Often his paintings looked like comic strips, which included the use of Ben-Day Dots. He died in 1997. These days his works often sell in the tens of millions of dollars.

CHRIS MARINELLO (ON CAMERA): Those I believe, will surface soon. Those are the types of things that change hands quickly and will end up in the hands of a dealer who will one day check it against the Art Loss Register and they’ll pop up as a match.

We do find insurance claims go up when you have a recession in place. Many cases over the last few years have had circumstances where maybe the gallery had too many art thefts, too many insurance claims. You know, these things are always investigated. 

BOB WITTMAN (ON CAMERA): I’d like to review that case, because I think it would be interesting to see if we could maybe shake the trees a little bit and pull those paintings, those, those prints. Mostly they were prints. They were not paintings.

Well, the fact that where he was located, and restaurants and night clubs above and below. And there’s a lot of interesting things, yeah. 

BURT WOLF: If you have any information about this crime, please get in touch with us.


BURT WOLF: Chris Marinello at the Art Loss Register is particularly interested in the recovery of three specific works.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the harbor at Antibes on the French Riviera has been a playground for the rich and famous. For the last 50 years it has been home to some of the world’s most luxurious private yachts. In 1999, a Saudi billionaire brought his yacht into the harbor to be refurbished.

The Portrait of Dora Maar, who was Picasso’s mistress, hung in the ship’s main living room.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Normally it was kept under a sophisticated alarm system, but because the walls of the room where about to be repainted and the contractor said that the painting was in the way and it had to be removed.

BURT WOLF: The plan was to put it in a bank vault. So the painting was taken down and locked temporarily in a different room. Unfortunately, it was more temporary than planned. The room didn’t have an alarm system. Hay, nobody’s perfect.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): A few days later the owner’s art expert came on-board and the painting was missing. The video surveillance camera at the dock had been out of action for 3 months. The police felt it was a “theft to order” for another private collector.

BURT WOLF: If you have any information about this crime please get in-touch with us. A reward of one million 500,000 dollars is being offered.

This is a portrait by the British painter Lucian Freud of Francis Bacon --- another British artist. 

The painting belongs to the Tate Gallery in London. The Tate lent it to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. It was hanging on a special wall that had been built just for this exhibition and was therefore not linked to the museum’s standard alarm system.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): In fact, it wasn’t linked to any alarm system. In broad daylight the thief walked into the museum, took the picture off the wall and thanks to its small size --- just walked out with it. It’s worth about 2 million dollars and it hasn’t been heard of since.

BURT WOLF: There’s a $150,000 reward.

In February of 1997 a gallery in Italy was being renovated. One afternoon, while the renovation was taking place someone opened a skylight in the roof, dropped a fishing line into the gallery and hooked a painting by off the wall. The work was by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Nice catch.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): It was worth about 4 million dollars. People realized that it was missing, but they assumed it was in storage. Four days later they discovered the empty frame on the roof and decided it had been stolen. Brilliant deduction.

BURT WOLF: A substantial reward is being offered

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): One of the most disappointing things of art theft is the recovery rate. Only 14% of the works that are stolen are recovered within 25 years of the date of the original theft. We are hoping to help change that, and there are things that you as a view can do to help.

BONNIE MAGNESS GARDINER (ON CAMERA): What we would like from the public is information. If someone in the public knows of a stolen work of art, has seen something, then it would be good for them to get in touch with us. If they hear of a theft or somebody who is planning to steal something, again, that is the kind of information that it would be useful for us to know. 

DORIT STRAUSS (ON CAMERA): Things in the public domain are quite, you know, quite, vulnerable, whether it’s, you know, Iraq we had a tremendous amount of looking from the, from the museums…

BOB WITTMAN (ON CAMERA): The public can keep their eyes open. Keep looking at what people have in their homes and if you see a Monet in your friend’s house and if you have a couple of beers with him down the bar give somebody a call. You know, let us know. Basically, they can just keep their eyes open and be observant and pay attention.

RON SIMONCINI (ON CAMERA): I think you need a sophisticated alarm system that has back up. In a museum, in a large enough museum there’s generator back up if the electricity fails due to a black out. Cell phone communication between the museum or the collector’s house and an alarm company so they can then call the cops.

You need to have redundancies in place. If you have a large amount of art in your summer house, I suggest you have staff.

If you're away from home and you don't have enough alarm and enough redundancy, people will steal your art. It’s really you know, I don't know. I think that depending on the amount of art in your house, and you know, and it doesn’t have to be expensive It could be something you really love, um, you have to protect it. 

There is no free lunch in the art theft business.

BURT WOLF: ARTCOPS.COM is our website. On it you will find pictures of each of the works we talked about in this program, the stories of how they were stolen and the amount of the rewards being offered 

If you know anything about their whereabouts, please contact us. Your information will be kept totally confidential. If it leads us to the recovery of any of the objects in our programs we will help you receive the reward money in complete privacy

We also update our website with new information about the works covered in our programs and about other missing art.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Our primary objective is to recover the works of art. A missing piece of art is a stolen piece of our history.

For ARTCOPS, I’m Burt Wolf.

BURT WOLF: Since this program began broadcasting a number of the works we talked about have been recovered. For further details visit And please keep your eyes open for the works that are still missing.