Showing posts with label Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Show all posts

October 9, 2016

A Persian soldier from Persepolis loses his second home

In February 2014 ARCA wrote about a sandstone bas-relief panel then-titled, "Head of a Guard" stolen in September 2011 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and found 2000 miles away in Edmonton in February 2014. The relief was recovered thanks to a collaborative criminal investigation by the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with a Loss Adjuster from AXA Art.

At the time of the recovery, Clare Dewey, then a Claims Manager with AXA art in Canada stated that AXA's "responsibility to our policy holders doesn’t end with a claims payment; we have a duty to work with law enforcement to recover cultural artefacts."
Achaemenid-era carving of Persian and Median soldiers in traditional
costume (Medians are wearing rounded hats and boots), in Persepolis, Iran
The Persian Achaemenid relief from Persepolis had been, at the time of its theft, part of the museum's permanent collection for decades. So imagine my disappointment when this photograph turned up on ARCA's Instagram feed.


A bit of follow-up research seems to indicate that the handsome soldier holding his weapon unfortunately is no longer part of the MMFA's collection and has entered the commercial art market as the piece is highlighted in an article by Royal Academy of Art's Charles Saumarez Smith and Sam Phillips titled What to see at Frieze 2016.   In the article, the pair pick out some of their favourite artwork at this year’s Frieze fairs in London and our little fella is one of them. 

The article opens with a high-resolution image of the Assyrian relief from Persepolis and goes on to state that it is located at the display stand of Sam Fogg near the show's entrance.  It mentions the relief being museum quality and that it was once part of the Montreal Museum of Art collection but makes no mention of its theft or why the piece apparently didn't return to the museum's collection after all. A guardian article states the piece is for sale for £2.2m. 


"As the curator who was responsible for organizing the exhibition hall from which the object was stolen over two years ago, I am obviously very happy to see this beautiful work of ancient sculpture return to the museum. It was one of our only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE). 

It represents in low relief the head and shoulder of an armed Persian guard and probably decorated the walls of one of the several Achaemenid palaces spread across the Persian empire. Similar pieces are found in various museums and most were looted from palace sites in the first part of the 19th century. This particular piece is very well preserved and had suffered no damage during its recent adventure. 

The work of the RCMP and the Sureté du Québec in recovering this artefact was remarkable and the officers in question are to be complimented for the quality of their work and its successful end. We all hope that this success will deter would-be thieves from attempting other such thefts. The investigation continues to try and recover the second object stolen from the museum also in the autumn of 2011." 


As can be seen by this artworks presence in the London sale venue at Regent's park, insurance claims can get complicated when it comes to magnificent art works held by museums.  This is especially true when high-value, high-portability and rapidly appreciating works of art are stolen and subsequently recovered years later.   

Who gets to keep an insured artwork usually depends on the policy-holder's "buy-back" rights; specifically written clauses contained in property insurance policies that insure against physical loss or damage of high-value tangible property. In many cases buy-back clauses give the insured, in this case a museum,  first rights when in comes to buying the object back from the insurance company.  The buy-back amount is usually the amount of the original physical loss payment plus, on some occasions, a loss adjustment fee. 

When things go missing, in-house counsel for museums and boards of trustees must manage the financial loss when these assets are stolen and then weigh if it is in the museum's best interests to buy the object back if and when they are found.  Sometimes museum's decline to do so, and sadly, as may be the case with this lovely example of Persian art of the Achaemenid period, sometimes a museum just doesn't choose to, or have the financial liquidity to do so, and the object then goes up for sale on the commercial art market. 

By Lynda Albertson








September 4, 2014

Canada's Largest Art Theft: The 42nd anniversary of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Gustave Courbet, French, 1819-77
Landscape with rocks and stream, 1873
Oil on canvas, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 inches
Lady Allan Bequest, 1958
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of Canada's largest art theft, the unsolved 1972 burglary of the prestigious Montreal Museum of Fine Art. 

Readers may find an overview of the theft in last year's post on the ARCA blog. If you would like additional information, here's a blog dedicated to the art crime, including a list of the stolen paintings by Jan Breughel the Elder, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, Narcisse-Virgile de la Peña, Thomas Gainsborough, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jean-François Millet, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, and François-André Vincent. The thieves had selected twice as many more paintings -- what one witness guessed was an intention to clean out the collection -- but had dropped many when spooked into running away by a secondary alarm.

This theft, first brought to my attention in Ulrich Boser's book "The Gardner Theft" -- about the infamous unsolved 1990 Boston case -- had been widely publicized hours after the theft by Bill Bantey, an experienced journalist who was then serving as the museum's director of public relations. In 2009, when I wrote about the Montreal theft for a paper for ARCA (under the supervision of Anthony Amore), Boser directed me to the retired Bantey who was endlessly patient with my questions, my theories, and my attempts to understand the relevance of the theft. Bill Bantey read my 20,000 word report, leaving his comments in the margins -- either his opinions or corrections on grammar -- and when I was in Montreal cooked a five-course meal for his wife and I. Both Bill and his wife Judy have since passed away so it is on this anniversary that I mourn the death of a generous and fascinating couple as I hope that the paintings will someday become available again to the public -- from wherever they have been hidden -- whether in a nearby Montreal neighborhood or a Central American country.

Retired Montreal police officer Alain Lacoursière investigated the case decades after the theft. Three years ago Lacoursière received a video from his prime suspect, the one depicted in the book (biography) and film, L'Colombe de l'art. Otherwise, no other information has been made public.

February 14, 2014

Simon Metke and His Ongoing Relationship with "Protecting" Cultural Heritage


In a strange twist of you are famous three times and not just once, Simon Metke was first interviewed by CBC News Edmonton in December 2011 at his South Edmonton, Water's Edge condo on Saskatchewan Drive regarding incomplete works by the developer on the exterior of the highrise development.  
Photo Credit:  CBC News Edmonton
During his interview with Klingbeil and Pruden, Metke indicated he was drawn to the Achaemenid bas-relief panel stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 because of his own interest in Mesopotamian religion and art.  He also indicated that he was pleased with having protected the object so that it didn’t get destroyed or lost.

Mr. Metke's feeling of protection towards cultural patrimony also seems to have included historic houses.  In March 2013 he was listed as a campaign team member for an Indiegogo crowd sourcing effort to raise $80,000 to preserve a historical landmark home to be designated as "The Healing Arts History House".  The home was to be utilized as a community centre for art, massage, music, dance, health, sustainable research, and community living.   The project only raised $1450 CAD.

CTV Edmonton News has a live interview with the puzzled Mr. Metke which Canadian viewers can see here.   

In further information related to this ongoing investigation, ARCA was informed by Sergente Mélanie Dumaresq, Agent d’information, Service des communications avec les médias for the Sûreté du Québec  (via email) that no reward has been paid out related to this case. When asked if police acted on a tip, Sergente Dumaresq replied that “Information received from the public enabled us to advance the investigation and identify the suspect.”  She added that the investigation was begun by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) but was transferred to the Sûreté du Québec in order to make use of the expertise of the integrated artworks investigation team, a specialized team composed of members of the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Sergente Dumaresq stated that the investigation indicates that the suspect did not commit the theft at the MMFA, but purchased the object knowing that it had been stolen.

Metke has been ordered to appear in an Edmonton courtroom on March 19, 2014.

February 13, 2014

AXA Art Insurance, the Sûreté du Québec, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Announce the recovery of a rare and valuable Achaemenid Bas-Relief Stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011


Sandstone, Head of a Guard photo by @DomenicFazioli
At a press conference today in Montreal, the Sûreté du Québec - Enquête de l'Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d'art and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in cooperation with AXA Art Insurance Limited and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, announced the recovery of the Achaemenid bas-relief panel stolen from the gallery more than two years ago.

On October 26, 2011, a surveillance camera at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recorded a suspect in a baseball cap walking out of the gallery with a satchel believed by police and the museum to possibly contain one of the stolen artifacts reported to be worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars" (Montreal Gazette).

Three months later, an Art Alert (Case File : 11-98, dated February 14, 2012) issued by the Enquête de l'Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d'art (the official name for Canada's Art Crime Enforcement Unit headquartered in Montreal) publicly identified the stolen objects as a 1st century C.E. yellow Numidian marble "Head of a Man, Egypto-archaizing style" and a more valuable 5th century B.C.E. Sandstone "Head of a Guard (fragment of a low relief)" from Persepolis. The announcement advertised a "Substantial Reward (Offered by AXA Art, subject to specific conditions) for information leading to the recovery" of the two archaeological objects. To avoid compromising the police investigation, no details of the theft aside from the video of the potential suspect, were released.

According to the press release issued for today's press conference, the $1.2 million sandstone bas-relief panel "Head of a Guard", valued at 1.2 million dollars, was recovered during a raid on an Edmonton house by an Alberta unit of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on January 22, 2014. This action led to the arrest of a 33-year-old man who has been charged with possession of stolen goods.

Surete du Quebec's spokesperson Joyce Kemp said in today's press conference said the unnamed individual arrested had purchased the object for an amount significantly inferior to its actual value.  The investigation and subsequent arrest have not, as yet, led to the recovery of the second artifact, the Yellow Numidian marble "Head of a Man", valued at $40,000 and reportedly stolen on October 26, 2011 nor the thief responsible for both thefts.

ARCA spoke with Mark Dalryrmple, the specialized fine art loss adjuster appointed by AXA ART assigned to this case, and asked him for his thoughts on today's recovery.  His responded positively with “No comment since as may be appreciated, the matter is sub judice, but we are extremely pleased that it is been recovered safely”.

Here's an excerpt from today's formal press release from the insurance company who offered the reward two years ago:

AXA ART announces the recovery of a rare and valuable Achaemenid Bas-Relief Following an intensive year long investigation between the police authorities in Montréal and Edmonton, AXA ART is pleased to announce the recovery of a rare and valuable Persian Achaemenid bas-relief panel.  The panel, together with a Roman marble head, was stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) in 2011.  The small portable panel was recovered almost 2,000 miles away in Edmonton and has now been returned to the Montréal Museum. “Given the difficulties involved in the recovery of stolen artwork we would like to acknowledge the diligence and extraordinary efforts of the Sûreté du Québec and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with our Loss Adjuster, in securing the return of this precious cultural property”, commented AXA ART’s Claims Manager, Clare Dewey.  “The recovery should serve as encouragement for on-going investigations and as a deterrent for similar crimes. Our responsibility to our policy holders doesn’t end with a claims payment; we have a duty to work with law enforcement to recover cultural artefacts.” The Achaemenid relief dates from the 5th century BC. It is made of limestone, and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It has been part of the permanent collection held by the Montréal Museum for decades.  AXA ART is thrilled that this object can be returned to the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts where it will continue to be enjoyed by the public for generations to come. 

UPDATED: This afternoon via email, ARCA interviewed Prof. John M. Fossey, Emeritus Curator, Mediterranean Archaeology for the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, who gave the following quote as to why the recovery is historically important:

"As the Curator who was responsible for organizing the exhibition hall from which the object was stolen over two years ago, I am obviously very happy to see this beautiful work of ancient sculpture return to the museum. It was one of our only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE). It represents in low relief the head and shoulder of an armed Persian guard and probably decorated the walls of one of the several Achaemenid palaces spread across the Persian empire. Similar pieces are found in various museums and most were looted from palace sites in the first part of the 19th century. This particular piece is very well preserved and had suffered no damage during its recent adventure. The work of the RCMP and the Sureté du Québec in recovering this artefact was remarkable and the officers in question are to be complimented for the quality of their work and its successful end. We all hope that this success will deter would-be thieves from attempting other such thefts. The investigation continues to try and recover the second object stolen from the museum also in the autumn of 2011."

Sergente Mélanie Dumaresq, spokesperson for the Sureté du Québec, answered a few questions also via email on behalf of Canada's Art Crime Team:

Was a reward paid? In this case no reward was given.

Were the police acting on a tip?  Information received from the public enabled us to advance the investigation and identify the suspect.  The investigation begun by the Montreal Police (SPVM) but it was transferred to the SQ in order to make use of the expertise of the integrated artworks investigation team, which is a specialized team composed of members of the SQ and the RCMP.

What charges will be filed against the suspect?  The investigation shows that he did not commit the theft at the MMFA, but purchased the object knowing that it had been stolen. The arrested suspect may be charged with possession of criminally obtained property. He will appear on march 19, 2014 in the morning at the Edmonton courthouse.

We have posted a copy of the French press release from the Canadian authorities in Quebec below (the original can be viewed here):

Objet: Artéfact de 1,2 million $ rapatrié au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal
Montréal, le 13 février 2014 – L’Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d’art de la Sûreté du Québec a retrouvé, le 22 janvier dernier à Edmonton, l’un des deux artefacts volés en septembre et en octobre 2011 au Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. La pièce d’une valeur de 1,2 million $, qui a été volée le 3 septembre 2011, est un fragment de bas-relief perse datant du 5e siècle avant Jésus-Christ. Elle a été rapatriée au Québec et restituée au Musée des beaux-arts à la suite de sa découverte lors d’une perquisition dans un logement d’Edmonton en Alberta. Un homme de 33 ans d’Edmonton a été arrêté à la suite de cette perquisition réalisée avec la collaboration des policiers de la Division K (Alberta) de la Gendarmerie royale du Canada. 

L’enquête se poursuit pour retrouver le deuxième artefact volé, une statuette de marbre représentant la tête d’un homme de style Égypto-archaïsant datant du 1er siècle avant Jésus-Christ. Cette pièce a été volée le 26 octobre 2011. Toute information pouvant permettre de la retrouver peut être communiquée à la Centrale de l’information criminelle de la Sûreté du Québec, au 1 800 659-4264 ou à l’adresse art.alerte@surete.qc.ca. Tous les signalements seront traités de façon confidentielle. Soulignons la collaboration de la compagnie AXA Art qui a permis de faire progresser  cette enquête. L’Équipe intégrée des enquêtes en œuvres d’art est formée d’enquêteurs de la Sûreté du Québec et de la Gendarmerie royale du Canada. Elle travaille en étroite collaboration avec différentes organisations qui détiennent des expertises permettant d’enquêter sur les crimes liés au marché de l’art. 

Pour plus d’informations sur l’Équipe d’enquête et pour s’inscrire au service gratuit de diffusion ART ALERTE, les intervenants du monde de l’art sont invités à visiter le site web de la Sûreté du Québec, au www.sq.gouv.qc.ca.

Here's a link to the article announcing today's press conference and links to other published reports:

"Edmonton man charged with possessing stolen artifact 'honoured' to have looked after it", Jana G. Purden, Cailynn Klingbeil, Edmonton Journal:

EDMONTON - For two years, a stolen ancient artifact worth $1.2 million sat on an Ikea bookshelf in a south Edmonton apartment, displayed above a plastic Star Wars spaceship, flanked by crystals and a small collection of stuffed animals. The Persian bas-relief sculpture, dating from the fifth century BC, sat slightly behind a handmade vase decorated with a painted fish and filled with dried flowers. Then, at about 9 a.m. on Jan. 22, a team of police officers working with Quebec RCMP’s Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team banged on Simon Metke’s apartment door. “There’s like 20 RCMP officers flooding my place, the sunshine’s coming in, the crystals are making rainbows everywhere, the bougainvillea flowers are glowing in the sunrise light,” Simon Metke, 33, said Thursday evening, sitting cross-legged in his south Edmonton apartment. “And I’m just sort of, ‘What the heck is going on?’ And, OK, here’s the thing I think you’re looking for. This thing is a lot more significant than I thought it was.”

Police say the sculpture was stolen from Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts in September 2011. The same thief is then believed to have taken a second piece from the museum a month later. That piece, a statuette of a man dating from the first century B.C., is still missing. The man who took the pieces has not been charged. Police aren’t saying what led them to Metke. Metke said he bought the sculpture from the neighbour of a friend in Montreal, thinking it was an “interesting replica” or maybe an antique — but mostly drawn to it because of his own interest in Mesopotamian religion and art. “I didn’t realize that it was an actual piece of the Persepolis,” he said, referring to the ancient Persian ceremonial capital. “I’m honoured to have had it, but I feel really hurt that I wasn’t able to have a positive experience in the end with it.” He said he was somewhat skeptical about buying the piece for $1,400 — mostly because he thought it might not be worth it. In the end, he said he bought it to help out his friend, a “starving artist” who received a $300 commission, and the seller, who said he needed to pay child support and rent, and assured Metke it was “a good deal.”


Twice during fall 2011, someone walked into Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts and walked out with two ancient artifacts worth close to $1.3 million. The Sûreté du Québec, with the help of the RCMP, recently found one of the rare pieces of art in an Edmonton home and arrested a man. The other, from the first century BC, is still missing. Yet the museum said its security system — cameras and agents — is fine and they have no intention of putting the treasures under protective glass. "This is very unusual," Danielle Champagne, director of the museum's foundation, said about the thefts. "Montrealers are very respectful." The last theft from the museum was in 1972, she said. 

"Artifact taken from Montreal museum found in Edmonton; 2nd piece still missing", Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press:

A reward was offered several months after the theft. Provincial police spokeswoman Joyce Kemp said Thursday that whoever bought the artifact after it was stolen paid less than what it was actually worth. "We know that the person purchased it for a price really inferior to what is the real value of the artifact," she told reporters. Kemp would not give any details about how it was purchased. "The investigation is still ongoing (and) it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation," she said.

The SQ/RCMP Integrated Art Crime Investigation Unit issued an Art Alerte for the "Recovered World of Art" (Case File: 11-098) to announce the return of sandstone Bas-Relief, noting its size (21 x 20.5 x 3 cm). Here's the link to the YouTube channel for the Sûreté du Québec if they publish a video of the conference.

by Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO and Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

January 18, 2014

Unsolved Museum Thefts: The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

PARIS - My visit to the Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris yesterday reminded me of another museum with not one but two unsolved thefts.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was robbed in 1972 and had 18 paintings stolen by three thieves who have never been convicted and the paintings have not been seen since the thieves failed to show up to collect a ransom for the kidnapped paintings (you can read about Canada's largest theft here).

In October 2011, a man walked out of the museum in Montreal with two objects from antiquity.

Can you think of other unsolved museum thefts?

How about the 1990 theft of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum?

Those are the mysteries that bother me the most -- what are your most problematic museum thefts?

September 4, 2013

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Theft: After more than four decades the paintings are still missing and the thieves remain unidentified

School of Jan Breughel the Elder
Landscape with vehicles and cattle, about 1620-80
(Recovered in 1972)

Oil on copper, 7 ½ x 10 ½ inches
Gift of Miss Jean Scott, 1958
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Canada's largest art theft occurred during Labor Day weekend more than four decades ago.

After midnight on Monday, September 4, 1972, a man with picks on his boots -- the same equipment used to scale telephone poles -- climbed a tree onto the roof two-story 1912 Beaux-Arts building on Sherbrooke Street which held the collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He found a long construction ladder and lowered it to two accomplices on the ground who joined him on the roof.

The trio walked over to a skylight that had been under repair for two weeks, opened it, and slid down a 15-meter nylon cord to the second floor. A plastic sheet placed over the skylight had neutralized the security alarm. At 1.30 a.m., one intruder twice fired a 12-pump shotgun into the ceiling when a guard completing his rounds hesitated before dropping to the floor. Two other guards were overpowered, bound, and gagged. All three guards were held at gunpoint by one of their assailants (one of the guards would later untie himself an hour after the thieves left the building).

After 30 minutes of selecting paintings and jewelry, the thieves used a guard's key to open the door of the museum's panel truck parked in the garage. In the process, a side door alarm was tripped and the trio escaped on foot, abandoning more than 15 paintings by artists such as El Greco, Picasso, and Tintoretto and stealing 39 pieces of jewelry and 18 paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Corot, Courbet, Daumier, Delacroix, Gainsborough, Millet, and Rubens.

The Museum's Vulnerability

The museum's art collection, assembled over the past century from some of the wealthiest families in Canada, was insured for almost $8 million. Many of the stolen paintings had been widely publicized in Masterpieces from Montreal, an exhibition that had visited eight cities in the United States in the 18 months leading up to the Montreal Expo in 1967. The building itself was more than 60 years old and had not been updated (in 1973 it would close for three years for extensive renovation and expansion). Financially, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art was struggling -- many of the English-speaking, mostly Protestant art patrons that had supported the MMFA had fled Montreal when Quebec nationalists gained political power. The provincial government provided grants making up only 40 percent of the museum's revenues. During Labor Day weekend, many of the top museum officials -- the MMFA's president, director, and the head of security and traffic -- were on their summer holidays outside of Canada. The highest ranking museum official -- and the first one called after the robbery -- was the director of public relations.

Recovery Efforts

The museum director received an envelope containing snapshots of the paintings as 'proof of life' and a ransom demand later negotiated down to $250,000. Someone with a "European" accent called the museum director and asked him to send someone to a telephone booth near McGill University where a pendant was recovered from inside a nearby cigarette package. The MMFA demanded additional proof that the thieves had possession of the paintings and were led to a locker at Montreal's Central Station and a painting by Brueghel the Elder (now re-attributed as belonging to the School of Brueghel). A rendezvous arranged between the thieves and an "insurance adjuster" (who was really a police officer) to exchange the ransom for the paintings was aborted when a squad car from a neighboring police district drove by the meeting spot. The insurance companies posted a $50,000 award for information leading to the arrest of the thieves or the recovery of the art before paying more than $1.9 million to settle the museum's claim. In 1973, a "wild good chase" between an anonymous caller and an insurance agent cost the museum board of directors $10,000 but recovered none of the paintings.

Suspects

The museum guards described two of the thieves as 'long-haired' men of medium height wearing ski hoods and carrying sawed-off shotguns. Two of the thieves spoke French, the third English. A week into the investigation, police officials focused on five art students from the neighboring Ecole des Beaux-Arts and surveilled them for 15 days without arresting anyone. In Montreal, local criminal organizations included French-Canadian mobsters, the English-speaking Irish West End gang that controlled the seaport, and the Italian mafia. However, the thieves' method of entering the museum through a skylight under repair led some police officers to believe that the thieves represented an experienced international crime network.

In May 1972, two criminals working for Florian "Al" Monday robbed the Worcester Art Museum in central Massachusetts, taking four paintings, including the gallery's only Rembrandt, St. Bartholomew.  (All four paintings were returned within a month). 

"Art-napping" in the 1960s in the South of France

Since 1960, criminal networks from Corsica or Marseilles had stolen paintings and held them for ransom in the South of france. An art dealer's home outside of Niece had been robbed of 30 paintings and two months later thieves climbed up the building of a museum in Menton to steal seven paintings. The next month, thieves broke into a restaurant through a window and stole 20 paintings. In July 1961, thieves in Saint Tropez climbed a fence to steal 57 paintings; the next month, thieves stole eight paintings by Paul Cézanne from a guarded temporary exhibit. Most of these artworks were found months later upon payment of ransom, showing the profitability of "art-napping", the holding of a work of art to extort money. In December 1971, a Rembrandt painting was stolen from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tours, France.

Where are the paintings now?

The paintings may have been destroyed to prevent the 'evidence' being used against the thieves in the prosecution of the crime. None of the paintings, listed by Interpol and the Art Loss Register, have been knowingly sold at public auction. However, the paintings may have been sold through small art dealers who did not check the stolen art databases. Before 1985, not even the larger auction houses checked stolen art databases. If the paintings have been sold privately, the value may have been discounted. One or more of the paintings may be in the winter residences belonging to one or more of the members of the West End gang who are beyond the jurisdiction of Canadian authorities in Costa Rica. 

After the Theft

More than 25 insurance companies paid the MMFA $2 million for the missing works. In 1975, the museum purchased a large painting by Peter Paul Rubens, The Leopards, with a substantial part of the insurance proceeds. On the 35th anniversary of the theft, the painting by Rubens was placed in storage following an expert opinion that the work was not by the artist but by assistants from his studio.

You may read more about the theft at the blog, Unsolved '72 Theft of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

October 26, 2012

Theft Anniversary: Two artifacts (Assyrian and Roman) stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Art last year


by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Last year on October 26, someone stole two ancient sculptures from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Three months later, the Montreal Gazette and AXA Art, the insurance company which insured the pieces, released a video on YouTube from the surveillance camera inside the museum showing a suspect wanted for questioning in the investigation.

AXA Art Insurance issued a press release dated February 13, 2012: "AXA Art Offering Substantial Reward for Safe Recovery of Rare Artifacts".  The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts issued no press release in 2011 or 2012 regarding the theft, a reward, or an ongoing investigation -- at least it's not listed on the museum's website.

The Sûreté du Québec's Art Alerte publicized the stolen works  and the poster in English and French offering the "Substantial Reward" also on February 14 (Alain Dumouchel responded in an email at that time that the Montreal police were in charge of the investigation).  The Art Alerte for Case File: 11-98 also included a picture of the suspect captured by the museum's surveillance cameras.

Reward Poster

The "Head of a guard" (fragment of a low relief) is estimated to as old as 5th century BCE from Persepolis (Persia), the capital of the Achaemenid dynasty (558-330 BC).

Assyrian low relief Sandstone, 21 x 20.5 x 3 cm
A marble head dating from the Roman
 Empire 20,2 x 13,3 x 8,5 cm
The second object, Head of a Man (Egypto-archaizing style) of yellow Numidian marble, is dated from the Roman Empire around 1st century A.D.

Neither of these objects was highlighted in the MMFA's museum guide.

In 1972, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was the site of Canada's largest art theft when three thieves stole 18 paintings, including a painting attributed to Rembrandt.  The theft remains unsolved after an aborted ransom attempt and 17 of the paintings are still missing.

September 5, 2012

40th anniversary of Canada's biggest art theft quietly passes

This painting by Rembrandt was stolen from
the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
 in 1972 and remains missing. 
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor

Forty years ago today three men robbed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts -- they have never been caught and 17 of the paintings have never been found.

When three men stole 18 paintings by such well-known artists as Rembrandt, Corot, Courbet, Breughel and Millet from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on September 4, 1972 it was the largest art theft in North America.  The thieves have never been arrested for this art heist and the pictures remain missing but it was not the perfect crime.  The setting off of an old security alarm scared the thieves off and prevented them from stealing more art.  And the attempt to ransom back the loot, which also included 39 pieces of jewelry and decorative art, failed.

One of the difficulties of describing the robbery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972 is that the police do not show the crime's files to journalists or researchers since the case remains open.  Luana Parker's reporting after the heist for The [Montreal] Gazette under the headline "Art worth $2 million stolen from museum" provided the foundation for much of information about the thieves' physical description and how they stole the paintings and 39 pieces of jewelry and decorative art. Her work is footnoted in an academic article on this subject published in the Spring 2011 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Five years ago, retired journalist Bill Bantey, the museum's director of public relations and the first official alerted to the art heist, wrote an article about the theft. In 2009, I met with Mr. Bantey and retired Montreal police officer Alain Lacoursière to piece together information about the theft.  Mr. Lacoursière discussed information he recalled from working on the case in the 1990s while investigating art crime.

Here's a synopsis of my version of the art heist nicknamed "The Skylight Caper" (by columnist L. Ian MacDonald writing "Montreal this morning" for The Gazette in 1975):

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was robbed in the early hours of Labor Day on September 5, 1972. The city had plenty of distractions that weekend. On Friday night, three men set fire to the Blue Bird Café and Wagon Wheel killing 37 people of the 200 trapped on the supper floor of the country western bar.  On Saturday night, Canada's national hockey team lost 7-3 to the "amateur" team from the Soviet Union which stunned overly confidant fans.  Sunday's newspapers were filled with stories about the victims from Montreal's fatal fire, otherwise Montreal residents were looking forward to a rematch against the Russians in Toronto the next day and marking the end of a summer exposition with fireworks.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the city's most prestigious art gallery was expecting a quiet weekend. The museum's director, its head of security, and even the president of the Board of Trustees were on vacation in Mexico and the United States. The 60-year-old building housing the art collection, created through donations from some of Canada's wealthiest residents, had a skylight under repair and was scheduled to be closed for a major renovation.

Early Monday morning a man wearing "picks" on his boots (similar to equipment worn by telephone and utility repair personnel) scaled a tree outside of the building on Sherbrooke Street to reach the roof. He found a construction ladder, slipped it down to the ground for two more men to join him on top of the museum building.  The three men walked over to the skylight under construction and opened it up. A plastic tarp laid down by the construction crew had de-activated the skylight's alarm. The thieves, who had a 12-pump shotgun and a .38 Smith and Wesson handgun, slid down nylon ropes at about 1.30 a.m. They ordered a security guard to lie down on the floor, when he did not move quickly enough, two shots were fired into the ceiling. Two more guards arrived and the thieves tied up the three guards.  While one man watched the security guards, the other two men gathered up paintings, jewelry and other valuable portable objects.  Luana Parker cites this description of the thieves from the police report:
They said they saw two long-haired men, about five feet, six inches tall, and wearing ski hoods and sports clothes.  One spoke French, the other English.  But they heard another French voice of a man they never saw.
The thieves planned to escape in a museum panel truck parked in the garage.  However, one of the thieves "tripped the side-entry alarm on his way out with the first load, the men ran out, taking what they could" (Parker).

While Parker reported that the thieves "escaped in a panel truck", Alain Lacoursière told me that the thieves ran out of the building, carrying only half of the paintings that they had selected.

Bill Bantey, the senior museum official on duty that weekend, received a phone call from the head security guard about an hour after the thieves had escaped.  He told the security guard to call the police, and then Bantey went down to the museum in the early morning hours.  Ruth Jackson, a long-time museum curator, also arrived at the museum, now a crime scene, and would describe later what she saw:
There was a sea of broken frames and backings, and smashed showcases.  Upstairs in the room where the major theft took place, it was just devastation.  They'd cleaned it out completely. 
For the second pile, they'd gone around selecting from various rooms.  I shudder when I think what might have been if they hadn't opened that door ... With what they'd proposed to remove, if they'd been undisturbed -- it was just like they meant a general clear out of the museum.
Mr. Bantey organized a press conference a few hours later and released information about the stolen paintings.  Only one painting was recovered a few months later.

You can read more about the theft on my blog here and see images of the stolen paintings.

August 31, 2012

Approaching 40th anniversary of Canada's largest art theft: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, September 4, 1972


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Forty years ago, someone was plotting the largest art theft in Canadian history.  The plan was to steal the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ masterpiece paintings over Labor Day Weekend.  Although the thieves aborted the job and ended up taking fewer paintings, the three men who entered the museum on September 4, 1972, have never been arrested or imprisoned for this robbery.

In 1972, the art collection was housed in a three-story building that was already 60 years old.  Workers had been on the roof repairing a skylight for weeks.  The thieves may have been one of the people who had sat in chairs on the roof seeking relief from the sweltering August heat.  They would have had the opportunity to watch the routines of the security guards, typically unarmed university students also charged with managing the parking and traffic around Canada’s oldest art institution.

Summers in Montreal are typically hot and humid and nearly empty.  Residents traditionally retreat to the Laurentian Mountains or south of the Canadian border to escape the heat.  On that weekend, the museum’s president of the board of trustees, its director, and security director had all fled to the United States and Mexico for their holidays leaving Bill Bantey, the museum’s director of public relations, the most senior museum official on duty that weekend.

Mr. Bantey, a political and criminal journalist who had also worked for two decades for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, was my mentor in 2009 when I traveled to Montreal to study this unsolved museum theft.  I was not allowed to read the police files on this still-open case although I met twice with a semi-retired Montreal police officer, Alain Lacoursière, who told me what he recalled from his investigation and his recollection of the information in the files.  Mr. Lacoursière appeared to have been the only one to investigate the case in recent years.  Both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière had appeared in a film, Le Colombo d’Art, which identified a suspect in the theft who refused to confess or release information as the whereabouts of the stolen paintings supposedly by Rembrandt, Jean Brueghel the Elder, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, Narcisse-Virgile de la Peña, Thomas Gainsborough, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jean-François Millet, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Peter Paul Rubens, and François-André Vincent.

The museum opened its archives to me and I spent days reading about the stolen paintings and jewels.  Many articles had been written in the more than 35 years since the robbery on the theft, the attempted ransom, and speculation on the whereabouts of the missing 17 paintings.  In separate conversations with me, both Mr. Bantey and Mr. Lacoursière believed that the paintings had not been destroyed and had probably been sent out of the country to a jurisdiction friendly to members of organized crime who spent Quebec’s cold winters in warmer southern climates.

On this anniversary I find myself wondering about the three thieves who climbed up onto the roof of a three-story building, opened up an unsecured skylight, and vaulted down ropes into the museum.  At least one of the three carried a gun and shot off a round when the first guard hesitated to drop to the floor.  Then the thieves tied up three guards and spent about one-half to an hour in the museum selecting 39 paintings, which also included works by El Greco, Picasso, Tintoretto, and a second Rembrandt.  The thieves piled up the paintings and then one of them opened the door into the garage where they had planned to use a museum van to escape.  However, the alarm to that door was engaged and frightened the thieves who did not know that the alarm was not hooked up to a source outside of the museum.  The thieves panicked, grabbed the paintings they could, and supposedly escaped on foot out of the museum down Sherbrooke, a major east-west boulevard that transverses the city from some of the wealthiest residential neighborhoods passed McGill University and the École des beaux-arts.

I think about the three thieves running supposedly unseen down the street with more than $2 million worth of insured paintings.  Was this their first theft? Did they steal again? Were they art students paid to rob the museum for an ‘art dealer’ who’s clients were willing to purchase stolen paintings?

In the 1966 art heist movie How to Steal a Million starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, two thieves rendezvous in the bar at the Ritz Hotel in Paris the day after committing the robber: “We did it! Did you see the paper and the television? Did you hear the radio? It’s the crime of the century, practically, and we did it!”

Who wants the bragging rights to having robbed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts more than four decades ago?

You may read more about Canada's largest art theft on my blog here.

June 15, 2012

Reviewing two stolen Corot paintings and updating the catalogue raisonné of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Corot's "The Dreamer"/MMFA
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Theft and authenticity intertwined in the case of the 1972 robbery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  In the years prior to the break-in, museum curators had been examining the collection and questions of authenticity had been left in the archives' files.  A recent article in the June issue of ARTnews about the authenticity of paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) sent me back to my notes on two Corot oil paintings stolen in 1972 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the largest art theft in Canada.  What kind of research is available to study the provenance of two missing Corot paintings?

Two oil paintings by Corot, "La rêveuse à la fontaine/The Dreamer at the Fountain" and "Jeune fille accoudée sur le bras gauche/Young Woman Resting Her Head in Her Left Hand), had both completed in the 1860s and donated a century later to the Quebec art gallery.

The museum's archives have very little information about the medium-sized paintings removed four decades ago by three thieves who entered the MMFA through a unsecured skylight on Labor Day Weekend and stole 18 paintings and 39 decorative art objects.

"The Dreamer", with its right corner signature of "COROT", was believed to have been painted between 1855-1863.  The museum received the painting from an anonymous donor in memory of Mr. and Mrs. William F. Angus (steel foundry executive).  In a 1969 press release, prepared for the exhibition From Daumier to Roualt, Bill Bantey -- a notorious journalist and the director of public relations for the museum -- noted that the painting 'was virtually unknown as it had been "lost" to scholarly knowledge for over 60 years in a private Montreal collection'.  The other stolen Corot painting, "Young Woman Resting" was a donation in 1963 from the estate of Miss Olive Hosmer, daughter of 'multi-millionaire financier Charles S. Hosmer'.  Miss Hosmer also bequeathed Jean-François Millet's signed portrait of his first wife (Portrait of Madame Millet), also taken on September 4, 1972.

Corot's "Young Woman Resting"
The collection at Montreal's premier art gallery had been built from donations from wealthy Anglo families that had prospered from the construction of Canada's transcontinental railroad and trading from the port of Montreal.  During the late 19th century and early 20th, many art dealers had offered paintings to Montreal collectors before approaching buyers in New York City.  The MMFA published a book by George-Hébert Germain, A City's Museum: A History of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which chronicles the growth of the art gallery founded in 1860.  (Journalist and art historian Cynthia Saltzman tells of how American collectors bought up European masterpieces a century ago in her book, Old Masters, New World).

Laurie Hurwitz, writing for ARTnews, 'If It Doesn't Dance, It's Not Corot', tells of how 'a family steeped in Corot uses connoisseurship and instinct to distinguish the real paintings from copies and fakes'.  Hurwitz's article features the two-decades long work of Corot expert, Martin Dieterle, and his stepdaughter, Claire Lebeau, to create a database of authentic and fake paintings by the Barbizon School painter.  Alfred Robaut's four volume catalogue raisonné of Corot's work published in 1905 (you can read it online through the Getty Research Portal) identified 2,460 paintings.  A supplement published in 1948 added 100 canvases.  According to Dieterle, the notoriously generous artist had gifted numerous canvases to friends -- and those works had little documentation.  Dieterle's connection to Corot goes back to his great-great-grandfather who painted with the artist on the Normandy coast.  Other paintings not inventoried by Robaut had been those sold early on out of Corot's atelier "so it is impossible for Robaut to have known about them," Hurwitz quoted Dieterle.  According to Dieterle, most copies were executed during the artists' lifetime "thus eliminating the need for forensic authentication." Dieterle and Lebeau are preparing the sixth supplement to the artist's catalogue raisonné.

Hurwitz's article is available in the June issue of ARTnews.

August 28, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2011: "The Skylight Caper: The Unsolved 1972 Theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts"

Catherine Schofield Sezgin's article "The Skylight Caper: The Unsolved 1972 Theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts" has been published in the fifth issue of The Journal of Art Crime (Spring 2011).

Rembrandt Stolen from MMFA in 1972
This article examines previously published articles on Canada's largest art theft, the 1972 unsolved theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and compares the information with two principals involved with the museum and the investigation. It explores the ideas proposed in the last four decades as to who may have committed the theft and the alleged whereabouts of 39 pieces of jewelry and silver and the 17 missing paintings, including art by Rembrandt, Corot, Rubens and Courbet. This article describes the history of museum thefts in Canada, how the crime was committed, and some characteristics that may have made this museum and those paintings a target for theft.

Catherine Schofield Sezgin, a graduate from ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime Studies in 2009, worked closely with Bill Bantey, retired journalist and director of public relations for the museum at the time of the theft, and Alain Lacoursière, retired Montreal police officer specializing in art crime.

You may read updates about the case on her blog, The Unsolved 1972 Theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The Journal of Art Crime is available via subscription through ARCA's website and from Amazon.com.

May 27, 2011

Part Two: Alain Lacoursière's Biographer Sylvain Larocque Writes about the Unsolved 1972 Theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Museum image of Courbet landscape stolen
 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972.
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

In the sixth chapter entitled “Le vol du musée des beaux-arts” (“The theft of the Museum Fine Arts”) in his biography of retired art police officer, Alain Lacoursière: Le Colombo de l’art, journalist Sylvain Larocque speculates about the fate of the 17 stolen paintings from the 1972 theft in Montreal.

Larocque echoes what Lacoursière told me in November 2009, that some people believe that the thieves were unable to sell the works and afraid of being caught, destroyed the evidence by throwing the paintings into the St. Lawrence River. However, Larocque writes, that is hard to image as the paintings could be worth $50 million today and few instances of thieves destroying the art has been known to have happened. Larocque writes that most experts expect that the paintings will reappear some day. Lacoursière has said to both Larocque and I that he believes that the paintings are still in the hands of the people who planned or sponsored the theft and that they are aware that due to the notoriety of the theft cannot sell the paintings in the legitimate market. Possibly, Larocque writes, the heirs to those paintings will donate the works back to the museum.

Larocque writes that governments could help solve the crime by granting immunity to anyone who would be able to recover one or more of the paintings stolen in 1972. While such an offer would preclude punishment of the perpetrators of the burglar, Larocque writes, is that really a concern almost four decades later? Even if the criminals were convicted, there is no guarantee that the paintings would be returned, Larocque writes.

According to Larocque, the Civil Code in Quebec says that after three years a buyer who acquired a painting in good faith may keep the stolen work. Only works from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec, the Museum of Civilization and the Musé d’art contemporain de Montréal are exempt since those are national museums.

In 1989, when Alain Lacoursière was finishing his degree in art history, according to his biographer, he proposed to that the Government of Quebec duplicate the policies of France and Italy that would require anyone who acquired an artwork, whether in good faith or bad, would be forced to return the object to its rightful owner, regardless of how long it has been. ‘Aprés tout, personne ne peut contester que ces oeuvres appartiennent au patrimoine’/’After ll, no one can deny that these works belong to the collective heritage,’ Larocque writes.

Yet, Lacoursière’s proposal was not well received and he abandoned the idea in 2002.

Larocque retells the story of the 1990 theft of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, then tells readers that some stolen artworks have been recovered 50 to 80 years after their disappearance.

Then Larocque tells the story of the May 2, 1965 theft of what is now the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham. Around 9 p.m. two guards on duty settled in the boiler room to watch an episode of the television series Perry Mason. A bell rang at the door. One guard went to see what was happening and saw a hand holding out a card on which he could read the name of a museum curator. He opened the door and saw a masked man who pushed him back inside. Two other assailants burst in and the trio tied up the two guards, evening though one of them had been a professional wrestler. The thieves escaped with 28 paintings worth $800,000, including works by Pierre-August Renoir, Krieghoff, Suzor-Coté, Horatio Walker and Frederick Simpson Coburn. Most of the paintings had been in the collection of the former Premier of Quebec, Maurice Duplessis, who had been in office in the 1930s and from 1944 to 1959. Four years later, the wife of Eric Kierans, a native of Montreal and a member of Canada’s House of Commons, contacted the police because a stranger had tried to sell to the couple a few of the paintings that had belonged to Duplessis.

According to Larocque, the theft of the paintings from the Duplessis collection had been committed to finance the Christian Nationalist Party that advocated “the sovereignty of the French-Canadian Catholics” and demanded the departure of Jews from Quebec. The 28 stolen paintings were found in a large bin at the home of one of the thieves, Leo Tremblay, who was found guilty of receiving stolen goods, a verdict that would be appealed two yeas later.

You may read more about Canada's largest art theft on the blog "Unsolved '72 Theft of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts."

May 26, 2011

Part One: Alain Lacoursière's biographer Sylvain Larocque Dedicates Sixth Chapter to The Theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Alain Lacoursière, Photo by Robert Skinner, Archives La Presse
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Sylvain Larocque, an economic journalist with La Presse Canadienne, wrote a book about my favorite retired Quebec art cop: Alain Lacoursière: “le Columbo de l’art” (Flammarion Quebec, 2010). His sixth chapter is titled “Le vol du Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal” (The theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts).

With patience, I used Google Translate to read the chapter as I have written on the 1972 unsolved theft (to be published in the upcoming Journal of Art Crime).

Three burglars entered through the unsecured skylight of the Montreal museum on Labor Day in 1972 and selected 35 paintings to steal. However, when one of the thieves inadvertently tripped a security alarm in the garage housing the museum's van that they planned to use as their getaway car, the three men grabbed only 18 of the paintings and ran down out of the museum and down Sherbrooke Street in the early morning hours. Sherbrooke Street is a main east-west thoroughfare that stretches through metropolitan Montreal in some of the most exclusive real estate so I have always found this an amazing sight to picture as three thieves carry $2 million worth of paintings by Rembrandt, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Peter Paul Rubens, Honoré Daumier, Jan Davidszoon de Heem, Jean Bruegel the Elder, Eugene Delacroix, Thomas Gainsborough, and Jean-François Millet.

According to Larocque, the fleeing thieves fled on foot presumably to join a car parked nearby although no witnesses, according to journalists reporting at the time, commented on any such reports. It does not make that assumption incorrect, only that it could be speculation. The newspapers at the time did not write about how the thieves might have left the scene. The police records are not available to the public.

A few weeks after the theft, the museum received a request for $500,000 and a polaroid of all the stolen art before lowering the ransom to $250,000. Subsequently, one painting was returned and another negotiated ransom failed, ending all contact with the thieves. The insurance companies paid almost $2 million in restitution to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. With those proceeds, in 1975 the museum purchased what they hoped would be the largest Rubens to be held in a Canadian collection, The Leopards. However, in the 1990s, Marie-Claude Corbeil of the Canadian Conservation Institute established that The Leopards was a copy. According to Larocque, Corbeil's analysis revealed that the red pigments found in the painting were invented in 1687, almost four decades after the death of Rubens. The museum now attributes this work to the Studio of Peter Paul Rubens.

In subsequent years, Larocque writes, a $10,000 paid reward in 1973 failed to produce the paintings; an FBI tip that the works were possibly in South America resulted in no recoveries; and in 1982 an offered reward of $250,000 was also unsuccessful.

Lacoursière, then a police officer in Montreal, decided in 1984 to review the file on the museum theft which he requested from the department's archives where the file had languished for years. "In fact," Larocque writes and I translate, "the documents were not far from the shredder./En fait, les documents n'étaient pas loin de la deechiqueteuse."

Five years later, Larocque writes, Lacoursière was contacted by an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who told him that a drug addict said that the paintings were buried in the backyard of the residence of a lawyer but the lead was useless as the would-be informant could not say precisely where the lawyer lived.

In 2002, Larocque writes, Lacoursière attended an opening at the Maison de la culture Frontenac in Montreal East and met an art collector and manufacturer of wooden boxes from a community located about one-hour's drive by automobile outside of Montreal. Larocque does name the man, the community and the municipality, however, when I was writing my article on the museum theft, Alain Lacoursière asked that I not reveal the man's identity.  I do not know about the agreement between Larocque and Lacoursière for the book, however, I shall honor the original agreement with Lacoursière until he notifies me otherwise.  In addition, the man has not to my knowledge been arrested or officially questioned in connection with the museum theft.  In the biography, Larocque writes:
L'homme aborda de son propre gré le vol de 1972 en racontant qu'il fréquentait l'UQAM au même moment et que les étudiants d l'institution se faisaient régulièrement expulser du Musée des beaux-arts./The man brought up the subject of the 1972 theft on his own and said that he had frequented the UQAM (the Université du Québec à Montréal) at the same time and the students of the institution were regularly expelled from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Lacoursière told me in November 2009 that the reason the art students were regularly expelled from the art gallery was that the staff kicked them out to enjoy their afternoon tea.

According to Larocque (and what Lacoursière told me two years ago), Lacoursière was intrigued by his encounter with "Smith" because he knew that after the theft that the police had followed and photographed student from UQAM (I was given the institutional name of École des beaux-arts) in connection with its investigation. He then led "Smith" to believe that approaching the 30th anniversary of the theft that there might be a million dollar reward to anyone who could provide information to retrieve the stolen paintings.

In 2003, Larocque writes, Lacoursière, a Detective Sergeant with the Montreal police, went to visit "Smith" at his home. Although "Smith" gave him a tour of his studio and his property, he did not say anything more about the museum theft.

Over the years, Larocque writes, Lacoursière kept in contact with "Smith" 'juste au cas' (just in case) and in 2007, while filming a documentary, le Colombo de l'art, Lacoursière filmed a visit to "Smith's" home and this time offered a "two million dollar" check as a reward for information leading to the recovery of the paintings but with the camera filming, "Smith" remained silent and did not react. "Smith" denied that he had even been watched or questioned by the police investigating the museum theft in 1972. Larocque writes:

À l'été 2010, au cours d'un entretien téléphonique, [Smith] a toutefois réfuté avoir joué quelque rôle que ce soit dans l'affaire du Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Selon lui, le vol a été perpétré par des employés de l'UQAM, possiblement des professeurs et des appariteurs qui avaient été soupçonnés d'avoir effectué un important cambriolage à l'université, quelques semaines auparavant./In the summer of 2010, during a telephone interview, [Smith], however denied having played any role whatsoever in the case of the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal. He said the theft was perpetrated by employees of UQAM, possibly professors and porters who were suspected of having carried out a major robbery at the university, a few weeks previously.

You may read about this book here and more about the 1972 unsolved theft of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on my blog here.