Monthly Archives: September 2014


The Painting:
La Femme à l’Éventail or Woman with a Fan was painted in 1919, and is a prime example of Modigliani’s technique. The typically elongated portrait depicts Lunia Czechowska, a Polish woman whose husband was a friend of Modigliani’s dealer Leopold Zborowski. Lunia posed for the artist ten times during a three year period, with this portrait being completed one year before Modigliani’s death.
The Theft:
On May 20, 2010, a lone thief pulled off one of the biggest art thefts in history. Five works, valued at upwards of €100m, were stolen from the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. The filched paintings were well-known works by top-tier artists: Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, Leger and Braque.
Lax security and careless blunders were largely to blame for the success of the heist. It was discovered that the paintings were gone around 7:00 a.m. The three guards on duty that night were dumbfounded, telling investigators that they “saw nothing.” A closer look at the museum’s security system and the events of that shift painted an unsettling picture. Inspection of the security alarms revealed that the motion detectors that covered the area in which the theft took place had been non-functional for nearly two months, since March 30. The alarms points were malfunctioning, causing false alarms, and the management decided to disable them to alleviate their frustration. Spare parts to make repairs had been ordered, but had not arrived yet.
On the night of May 20, all of the exterior CCTV cameras were focused towards the roof of the building, leaving the guards blind to street level activity. At about 4:00 a.m., the thief sheared a padlock and smashed through a first floor window to gain entry to the Musée d’Art Moderne. Once inside, the masked “burly” thief passed by an array of interior CCTV cameras, which nicely recorded his nonchalance as he perpetrated the crime. The thief spent about 15 minutes removing the five canvases from their frames, and he placed them all together in a large single bundle before exiting from the same window. French investigators theorize that the guards were sleeping, or otherwise distracted, in order to have missed the entire crime playing out on their monitors. The Brigade de Répression du Banditisme believes that the thief acted alone.
In 2011, a suspect told police that he had thrown the five paintings in the garbage and that they were destroyed by a trash compactor. However, this claim is unsubstantiated.
The five masterpieces are unsellable and have not been recovered. -T.S.


Meticulously hand-crafted in gold, ivory and enamel, Benvetuto Cellini’s Saliera (Salt Cellar) is the epitome of opulence, a masterpiece by any standard. It’s elegant design, consisting of a male figure representing the sea facing a nude female figure that personifies earth, is unmistakable and unique. The sea figure rests beside a boat-shaped vessel for salt, while the earth figure reclines next to a temple shaped receptacle for pepper. Completed in 1543 for Francis I of France, the Saliera passed through the Habsburg Collection before finding a place in the vast galleries of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum in the 19th Century. It is considered to be the only work of precious metal by Cellini in existence, currently valued at nearly $60,000,000.
The highly recognizable Cellini Saliera became the target of an unwise thief at 4:00 a.m. on May 11, 2003. The museum was partly covered by scaffolding, which further aided the thief in an already easy job of breaking into the building. A security alarm was set off during the heist, and the thief hurriedly exited with the Saliera. However, he didn’t need to be so rushed. The security guard on duty disregarded the alarm as a glitch and reset it, never bothering to investigate the source. It took four hours before anyone realized the irreplaceable Saliera was gone.
Three slow years passed without word.
Stealing the Cellini Saliera was laughably simple. However, the cold reality of disposing of such a hot object surely proved problematic for the thief right away. Quickly realizing that the Saliera was unsellable and worthless to him, it was then hidden. A break in the case came in January of 2006, when the thief was identified using video footage. Robert Mang, a “specialist in security alarms”, turned himself in to police in the wake of the media attention. He led investigators to a wooded area north of Vienna, where the Saliera was found buried in a lead box. Mang was sentenced to four years in prison for the theft.
Benvenuto Cellini’s golden Saliera was returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it stands not only as a remarkable one-of-a-kind masterpiece, but as testament to lax security and the futility of art theft. -T.S.