So this lawyer calls up the FBI, and says, “Look. I know where you can find that Goya painting jacked from a truck two weeks ago. You’ll find it at this address. You won’t need a warrant. Just come pick it up.” Sure enough, there’s the painting, at an out-of-the-way place in central New Jersey,not far from where it was stolen out of a truck at a Howard Johnson’s early in the morning. The lawyer tells the FBI he’s not in a position to tell them any more about the case — how to find the painting is the sum total of his knowledge.
Apparently, a group of thieves had broken into the truck, where they grabbed the largest and most interesting box, not realizing it contained a masterpiece by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya. One police official joked that the robbers thought they were getting a crate of PSP3’s. Instead, they got a hot painting, worth about $1 million. The painting was en route to the Guggenheim Museum in New York (Where a certain police officer played by Will Smith in Men in Black almost nailed a cephlapid with two sets of eyelids), from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio when the truck was raided sometime between midnight and 6:30am in Bartonsville, PA.
A few years ago, there was a daring theft from the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston, MA, when a group of thieves nabbed a couple of Vermeers right off the wall in one of the galleries. The blank spaces, a slightly different color of paint than the rest of the museum’s walls, are still there, as a reminder of the damage such thefts can cause to the world of art.
The difference with this Goya painting, Children with a Cart (1778), and those Vermeers is simple. The thieves in this caper didn’t know what they were stealing. They had gone on a truck, grabbed something, and walked away. Once the hunt for the painting began, and the thieves realized that the market for such a unique property (there are maybe a dozen Goyas in the United States, and 80% or so are in the Prado Museum in Madrid) was necessarily small, they must have been quite eager to turn it over and get it out of their hands.
But their decision calls up images of those Vermeers from the Gardner, hanging in the back bedroom of some insanely wealthy person, or more likely hidden in a safe deposit box. Once or twice a year, their owner goes and has a look at them, fearing discovery, fearing they will be taken away. He can’t have any guests with any knowledge of art history in his house; these paintings are instantly recognizable as Vermeers, in the same way that Children with a Cart is recognizably a Goya. The whole world knows that they are stolen. I hope this guy is regularly at some fancy party, meeting pretty young women, and finding ways to entice them to come home with him, only to find out on the way that they work for Sotheby’s or Christie’s — and that he can’t bring them home.
There’s some poetic justice in that: the fellow has two priceless, impossibly beautiful works of art… and he can’t show them off. He can’t display them to anyone who knows. He can’t demonstrate his wealth or power to the world. His ownership of these paintings is as impossibly stolen as the One Ring on the finger of Gollum. The Vermeers belong to someone else, and we can only hope that his unlawful ownership of these paintings is driving him mad.
Please, sir: for the sake of art, for the sake of culture, for the sake of your own sanity and the sake of your reunion with the society of people…. it’s time to return the paintings to the Gardner Museum. It’s the right thing to do, and you’ll set the art world — and the ordinary world — abuzz. There will be new appreciation for Master Vermeer, and you can go to the gallery and listen to the awe and wonder in people’s voices as they see the paintings again after so many years. You can smile a little, secret smile, and silently say “you’re welcome.”
Please. Return the Vermeers, so that a triad of spectacular art will return to the light.