The Art Stealers by Milton Esterow
New York: Macmillan, 1966. Stated "First printing" on the copyright page. Hardcover. 246 pages ; 22 cm. Dust jacket's price clipped. Pages are age toned. No markings to pages. Binding is firm.
"Art stealers are as old as art itself, and art thieves are a wildly assorted breed, from urbane, debonair professional thieves to beatnik homosexuals, from connoisseurs of Braque and Brueghel to illiterates," writes Mr. Esterow. The stories he tells here of these thieves and their thieveries read like the best suspense fiction, particularly the art stealers' misadventures with the loot. As Mark Twain commented, "How easy it is to steal a white elephant, but how hard to get rid of it."
The book ranges from the account of the most famous art thief of them all, Vincenzo Perugia, who in 1911 carried off the "Mona Lisa" from the Louvre because he felt it belonged back in Florence, to the spectacular 1961 theft of eight Cdzannes from an exhibition at the Pavilion de Venddme in Aix, valued at $2,000,000.
There are many other stories. On a day when nearly 6000 people visited London's National Gallery, Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington disappeared. The thief asked for £140,000 as a ransom, "to be given to charity." There is a fascinating chapter about the world's most stolen masterpiece, "The Adoration of the Lamb," a polyptych by the brothers van Eyck which was stolen several times throughout three centuries— finally by the Nazis in World War II, but miraculously discovered by two Americans in a salt mine in Austria. The Gainsborough portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire was removed from a London art gallery and lived in exile for twenty-five years before Her Grace was returned to England. Another Louvre robbery in 1939 involved a love affair with Watteau's "LTndiffdrent," taken by a thief who wished to restore what he regarded as outrageous earlier restorations of the picture he adored. And then there was the Paul Klee which found itself in a ridiculous and very funny battle in the courts to determine whether or not it really was an oil painting.
There are many other stories in this unique book, all highly entertaining. It will be a special delight for art lovers and for detective-story fans.
With 12 illustrations
MILTON ESTEROW is Assistant to the Cultural News Director of The New York Times.
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