Every year priceless artworks are stolen without a trace, leaving authorities stumped and art-lovers dismayed. But are these artworks doomed to be lost forever? This week, the electronics conglomerate Samsung announced the launch of ‘Missing Masterpieces’, the first ever exhibition dedicated to finding the world’s most iconic missing paintings.
Samsung worked in partnership with the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA), whose founder and Art crime expert Noah Charney co-curated the intriguing digital collection. “There’s hardly an artist in history that doesn’t have works that are lost,” remarked Charney.
Many of the 12 works in the collection have truly unbelievable histories. Painted by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) in 1880, ‘View of Auvers-sur-Oise’ was daringly taken from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on New Year’s Eve 1999. As distracted revellers welcomed in the new millennium, thieves climbed an adjacent building’s scaffolding, smashed a skylight, descended into the museum via a rope ladder and concealed their movements with a smoke bomb.
Other masterpieces are rumoured to have been destroyed in an oven by the burglar’s mother. Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) ‘Waterloo Bridge’ and ‘Charing Cross Bridge’ were stolen in 2012 from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal. Although the mother claimed she burned the works in a bid to destroy the evidence, police found no proof of this and still consider the paintings to be lost.
The exhibition’s most recent missing painting was taken in March 2020. Thieves stole ‘Spring Garden’ by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) from Singer Laren Museum in the Netherlands whilst it was closed due to the pandemic, on the very day marking the late artist’s birthday.
“Art is for the enjoyment of everyone,” said Nathan Sheffield, Samsung Europe Head of Visual Display. “And we have a collective responsibility to protect and preserve our culture for future generations. This is why we are launching Missing Masterpieces, to ensure priceless pieces that may never be seen again, can be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible.”
Samsung’s exhibition is of course also a canny marketing tool for their new series of televisions, but it introduces these incredible stories to the masses to help recover them.
“From contradictory media reports to speculation in Reddit feeds—the clues are out there,” explained Charney. “But the volume of information can be overwhelming. This is where technology and social media can help by bringing people together to assist the search. It is not unheard of for an innocuous tip posted online to be the key that unlocks a case.”
‘Missing Masterpieces’ runs online from 12 November 2020 until 10 February 2021.