“When a masterpiece goes missing, civilization loses a piece of its connection with the period in which it was created. When we abandon the search for such items, we are making a statement about our attitudes towards such matters — a statement that does not speak well of us as a people.” -Anthony Amore
A Visual Footnote to the 1972 Worcester Art Museum Heist
Travis Simpkins is a dedicated lover of art. He protects it at the Worcester Art Museum. He creates it in the form of an amazing portfolio of sketches ranging from portraiture to interpretations of important art objects. And he preserves it via a weekly mailing of then-and-now photos of the WAM that accumulated quite a following and garnered him a great deal of publicity.
Now Travis joins me and Vicki Oliveri at Stolen Cavalier, contributing writings and images related to art theft.
Prior to A Cavalier being stolen from the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2007, other thefts of cultural property had occurred within the same precinct. Most notably, $1 million in historic and rare specimens stolen from the Australian Museum, which came to light in 2003. This case resulted in a review and upgrade of security at the Museum and a call from the presiding judge that other museums similarly should “maintain adequate systems to prevent such losses.” Unfortunately, this call appeared to go unheeded when in 2004 the theft of a small wooded carving, worth around $35 000, occurred at the Art Gallery of New South Wales- three years before Frans van Mieris’s masterpiece would go missing. Alarm bells did not go off in 2004 and they certainly did not go off in 2007, allowing the painting to be swiftly removed from the Gallery without a trace. It is, of course, still missing, and the police investigation has lain dormant since June 2008. The 2007 theft did, however, precipitate a major overhaul of security at the Gallery, but a headline I spied today disheartened me for it revealed that there are still significant lapses in the security of our cultural property and heritage:
“Rare coins worth almost $1million stolen from State Library of New South Wales”
Amongst the 12 coins stolen, the most significant piece is arguably the “holey dollar” which, according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, is “an example of one of the first coins struck in Australia.” There are few of these coins available and to give you a sense of their worth, one sold in 2012 for $410 000. Pointing to the cultural and historical significance of this coin and, therefore, to why cultural heritage protection is paramount, Dr Alex Byrne, the State Librarian and the library’s chief executive, said this: “Historically the holey dollar is extraordinarily important. It’s about this country developing all the aspects of a civilised society.”
More than a coin collection was stolen – pieces of history were stolen. Similarly, when A Cavalier was stolen, a piece of history was also stolen. As a society, we were not able to physically hold on to A Cavalier and prevent its theft, but I had hoped we could have held on to the lessons its terrible loss had taught us. Yet, here we go again – another major cultural institution, another major theft… and all within the same precinct. –V.O.