ROGUES IN THE GALLERY: The Modern Plague of Art Thefts by Hugh McLeave

ROGUES IN THE GALLERY: The Modern Plague of Art Thefts

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A decently assembled but surprisingly undramatic roundup of art-theft cases--nearly all from the Sixties and early Seventies--by a versatile writer of suspense fiction, medical reportage, and varied non-fiction. Part of the problem is that, after an opening chapter on the fascinating Mona Lisa theft of 1911 (poet Apollinaire was a suspect), McLeave finds few cases with either personalities or art-history ramifications worth exploring; most chapters group a handful of cases together, no single story developed enough to generate real interest. Two notable exceptions: the theft of Goya's portrait of Wellington from London's National Gallery--by a 61-year-old, overweight, unemployed bookmaker's clerk from Newcastle-on-Tyne who was enraged over the government's refusal to exempt the elderly from TV license fees (he kept the picture for four years before returning it, with apologies); and the familiar but still-potent saga of van Eyck's Adoration of the Lamb--in which the mysterious, paneled work itself provides the magnetism. Otherwise, however, there's, little to grab the attention as McLeave covers about three dozen incidents and several trends: gangs in the South of France, syndicates in Britain; the ransom racket and under-the-table deals between thieves and insurers (with praise for owners who've refused to negotiate with crooks); a few cases involving shocking absence of security measures; first-person testimony from an undercover agent posing as a fence (he recounts a Mafia-connected caper); an oddly bland profile of Rodolfo Siviero, who takes on Nazis, the Mafia, and US museums in his war against Italian-art piracy; suggestions of collusion between Italian police and the underworld; the massive Picasso museum theft of 1976; the ""Affaire PÉtridès,"" centering on the shady doings of Maurice Utrillo's dealer. And finally McLeave makes suggestions--some concrete, some platitudinous--for reducing the ""epidemic"" of international art thefts. Reasonably informative, then, but rather flatly written, without strong appeal either to art mavens or fans of heist/caper dramatizations.

Pub Date: Aug. 12th, 1981
ISBN: 091799082X
Publisher: Godine