Art Crimes in Brazil

International art crime is a phenomenon that is on the rise linked to the struggling world economy. In Latin American countries, where valuables are often unprotected, art crime is not a recent phenomenon (Werner, 3). A significant number of art crimes within Latin America happen in Brazil.

During Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, four armed thieves made their escape through the crowds while casually getting away with stealing Pablo Picasso’s The Dance and the book Toros by Picasso, Henri Matisse’s Garden of Luxembourg, Salvador Dalí’s Two Balconies and Claude Monet’s Marine. The value of the hoard stolen that day has been estimated at over $50 million. The heist took place on February 26, 2006. The thieves used force and speed to accomplish the task at hand; they forced the staff of the museum to disable the building’s security and camera systems, mugged five tourists, and assaulted two police officers who attempted to stop them. The thieves knew exactly what they were taking which suggests they were professionals or may have been hired to pull off the heist on behalf of a third party (Agence France-Presse). The paintings have not been recovered to this day (Bazley, 58) and this heist is on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) current list of Top Ten Art Crimes (Werner, 3).

The São Paulo Museum of Art was targeted on December 20, 2007, by three burglars who made off with Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Suzanne Bloch and Cândido Portinari’s The Coffee Worker. The stolen pair of paintings, both highlights of the museum’s collection (Philips). They were valued at an estimated $56 million. The Picasso was reportedly valued at $50 million and Portinari’s painting valued at approximately $5.5 million (Bazley, 59). In the early stages of the investigation, the police officers involved believed that the heist was carried out by professional criminals, but it turned out to be a local job (Philips). The thieves bypassed other even more valuable paintings during the heist so this was a targeted attack, police said. The raid was carefully planned and the thieves were in and out of the building within minutes, leading to the suspicion that it was an inside job (Bazley, 59). The paintings were eventually recovered when the suspects were arrested. This heist was orchestrated by a Saudi art collector who wanted the artworks for his own collection (Bazley, 59).

The last large-scale art theft in Brazil took place at the Pinacoteca do Estado of São Paulo in June 2008 less than a year after the São Paulo Museum of Art heist. Three armed robbers paid an entrance fee to get into the museum and managed to overpower the guards on duty. The robbers walked away with Lasar Segall’s Couple, Emiliano di Cavalcanti’s Women in the Window, and Pablo Picasso’s Minotaur, Drinker and Women and The Painter and the Model prints. The combined value of these works was a reported $612 000. Like the other two robberies, this was a targeted theft. All of the works except for Pablo Picasso’s Minotaur, Drinker and Women were recovered when two of the three suspects were arrested (Bazley, 60).

Some stolen works of art are recovered many years after the crime. Illegally traded art occasionally ends up in New York City. U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York handed over two paintings to Brazil on September 21, 2010. The paintings are Roy Lichtenstein’s Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave and Joaquín Torres García’s Figures dans une structure which were allegedly smuggled out of Brazil by Edemar Cid Ferreira in 2006. Brazilian authorities seized and confiscated his assets, including his vast art collection after his bank was charged with fraud. The paintings were smuggled through customs because Ferreira had declared that they were other paintings not worth a lot of money. Roy Lichtenstein’s painting was sold to collector Seth Landsberg, and subsequently seized when it was put up for auction with Sotheby’s in 2008. Between 2009 and 2010 the paintings became U.S. property until their return to the Brazilian government.[1] A UNESCO Convention compels the United States and other countries to cooperate in stemming the global trade in illegal art. The treaty is put into effect when antiquities are stolen, but it also covers incidents of art smuggling (Bishop).

Leah Carleton

Note

 [1] For more see <http://www.justice.gov/interpol-washington/pr/manhattan-us-attorney-announces-return-brazil-two-masterpieces-linked-bank&gt;

 Works Cited

Bazley, Tom. (2010). Crimes of the Art World. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

Bishop, Marlon. (2010). “Lichtenstein and Torres Garcia Paintings Head Back to Brazil.” WNYC <http://www.wnyc.org/story/95485-us-returns-brazilian-art/&gt;.

France-Presse, Agence. (2006). “Brazil Art Heist Is Cloaked by Carnival.” The New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/international/americas/26brazil.html&gt;

Phillips, Tom. (2007). “Art thieves net 50m worth of paintings from Brazilian gallery.” The Guardian. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/dec/21/brazil.artnews&gt;.

Werner, Louis. (2009). “Art theft online.” Americas 61: 3.

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