Category Archives: Art Crime

Charles Darwin letter returned to the Smithsonian



The Smithsonian recently received restitution of a long lost letter from Charles Darwin missing from the museum archives since the 1970’s. It is believed that the letter was stolen by an intern working at the museum.

The FBI was tipped off that the letter was quite near Washington, D.C.  The FBI was unable to prosecute the dealer as the statue of limitations had passed, but the letter was proven to be authentic and returned to the Smithsonian who originally owned the letter.

We don’t often hear of items being returned to a U.S. Museum, so this is quite noteworthy in the world of art crime.  The letter was from Darwin to thank geologist, Dr. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, for sending him geology research of the what would  later become Yellowstone National Park. Hayden spent many years between the 1850’s to the 1870’s exploring the American West which resulted in the discovery of many artifacts that remain in the Smithsonian today.

The FBI maintains a database online that lists stolen art and historical artifacts.  Artifacts currently listed include such items as fine arts, decorative arts, antiquities, Asian art, Islamic art, Native American art, ethnographic objects, archaeological material, textiles, books and manuscripts, clocks and watches, coins, stamps, musical instruments, and scientific instruments.

Even in the US Looting is a Problem

A looter/vandal attempted to cut and chisel this 2,000 year old Basketmaker petroglyph out of the cliff in early 2016.
A looter/vandal attempted to cut and chisel this 2,000 year old Basketmaker petroglyph out of the cliff in early 2016.

Even in the US looting occurs.  According to the Durango Herald a surge of looting in San Juan County, Southeastern Utah, has been occurring on Native American sites.  Recently, three remote sites were dug up by pot hunters,  vandalism of a burial alcove was discovered, a prehistoric wall was torn down at Monarch Cave and a wall at Double Stack ruin was also destroyed.

These sites are sacred to the Native Americans and are protected by numerous federal and state laws, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Antiquities Act and the Utah State Antiquities Act. Violations of the laws include theft or intentional damage of cliff dwellings, shrines, pottery, stone tools, rock-art panels, burials and historic structures.

The non-profit organization Friends of Cedar Mesa along with the Bureau of Land Management are fighting to stop such crimes and prosecute looters. The Friends of Cedar Mesa is offering a $2500 award for any information that leads to convictions.

Art Crime: FBI suspects mobster in the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist




Sounds like a movie:  Alleged mobster Robert Gentile suspected in connection with one of the biggest heist in museum history of over 12 paintings including works by Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer and Manet from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum inBoston, MA in 1990.

The value of the artwork is over $500 million dollars and has been on the top of the FBI art crime unit list for years.  The FBI has listed a $5 million dollar reward for the return of the artwork.

This is the third time the FBI has raided Gentile’s home.  At this time, the FBI has only found a stash of guns.  It has not been disclosed yet what information, if any, the FBI recovered from the raid.

Warhol Soup Can prints stolen




Seven of the Ten prints of Warhol’s “Soup Can” prints were stolen from the Springfield Art Museum a couple of weeks ago. Where they will ultimately end up is of great importance to the FBI, which is offering a $25,000 award for the return of the prints.

Unfortunately, the prints can be sold on the black market for much more and end up in a private collection, never to be seen again.  There are only 50 complete sets of 10 still in existance today that are in pristine condition.

Woman in Gold (2015)

The film Woman in Gold (2015) starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Bruhl tells the story of Maria Altmann (Mirren) a Jewish refugee who seeks to recover her family’s possessions that were taken during the WWII by the Nazi’s.  The main artifact in question is a famous Klimt painting – Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Altmann’s Aunt, which now resides in a museum in Austria.

Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I (1907)

This is a wonderful film for anyone who is interested in restitution and the wide-spread dissemination of artwork seized by the Nazi’s during the War and where they reside today.