On August 17, Interpol announced that it had “established direct online access to authorized users via a secure website to its international database on stolen works as part of its fight against the illicit trade of stolen cultural property.” Recently, I was granted access to this database of some 34,000 stolen works of art, and so decided to examine its contents.

After obtaining access, my first thought was to see how updated is the database. Impressively, the recent missing Roerich paintings were listed; however, “Talung Monastery” had not yet been posted as “discovered” (the term Interpol uses for recovered/returned art). My next search was for the Picasso sketchbook stolen from the Picasso Museum in Paris. This was quite a pleasure because the database actually provides one with images of the sketchbook’s binding in addition to all thirty three sketches found between its covers. Certainly, these images will now make it harder for the thieves should they attempt to disassemble the book and sell each individual sketch. Unfortunately, I could not find the etching by Picasso and the prints by Braque and Matisse which were stolen this past January from a gallery in Berlin. Possibly, these have been quietly returned, recovered, and/or “discovered.” The works, stolen during a New Year’s Eve art theft, totaled an estimated $250,000, so it is a surprise that these valuable works would not have been reported to Interpol (assuming that they have not been recovered).

Amazingly, the ALR’s missing art database is nearly six times larger than Interpol’s (200,839 v. 34,000, respectively). While Interpol’s database includes many objects stolen during recent art thefts in addition to those from history’s “greatest” unsolved art thefts (for example: 1969, Palermo, Sicily Caravaggio’s “Nativity”; and fortunately, 12 of the 13 objects taken from 1990 Boston, MA Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft – for some reason they have left out the bronze finial which sat atop the Napoleonic flag), it does not – from my quick evaluation – list art looted during World War II. For example, there were no paintings in the database that matched those listed on the Max Stern Art Restitution Project’s website. This may account for some of the difference in total missing objects between the ALR and Interpol databases because the ALR does include art looted during World War II. However, it does not account for the entire margin of difference, and therefore raises the question, if one has decided to list their missing art with the ALR, then why would they not also register it for free with Interpol?

Furthermore, using once again the Art Market Monitor’s “Art Loss Register Data Dump,” I have compared the ALR’s numbers of “Top Ten Artists in All Media” to the numbers I determined by searching Interpol’s database (Unfortunately, there is no search function in Interpol’s database that allows one to sort artists by number of postings, by theft location, or by media. There are pdf’s with stats on theft by object and theft by location for 2006, but I do not yet have access to these materials.). Surprisingly, the number of missing works by the top three artists in all media registered on the ALR dwarfs the number of the same group reported to Interpol. Again, this raises the question of why not cross-registering one’s missing art?

Even assuming that some works of art may be cross-registered on both databases, how do the percentages of each of the ALR’s top three artists in all media relative to their database of 200,839 stolen objects compare to the percentages of each of the same artists in all media relative to Interpol’s database of 34,000 objects?

Stolen works of art by Picasso make up an estimated .38% of Interpol’s database compared to an estimated .34% of the ALR’s database.

Stolen works of art by Dali make up an estimated .2% of both databases

Stolen works of art by Miro make up an estimated .06% of Interpol’s database compared to an estimated .19% of the ALR’s database

The similarities in percentages of each respective database raises the question of whether or not one can make any inferences about what percentage the stolen works of art by these artists reported/registered to a database represent out of all stolen art reported. Also, do the reported stolen works by artist represent a large enough sample space to make a generalization about all stolen works of art by these artists? If this is the case, then one may be able to begin discussing and delving into whose artwork is most at risk of theft. Obviously, Picasso, Dali, and Miro were prolific artists whose art is in high demand. Therefore, their works are the most forged and stolen. A careful statistical analysis of these databases may help fine art insurers to quantify the risk associated with an artist’s popularity; the desirability for their art; and the value of their artwork. Accordingly, coordination between databases is critical to creating numbers that would support an insurer’s increasing premiums for certain artists most “at risk.”

Source: Art Theft Central