Earlier this week I wrote a little post about the kinds of books Evanston readers do and do not like. Naturally I didn’t include every kind of book out there. There are a couple subject areas that are a bit on the odd side that I failed to mention. For example, the books that strike me as lots of fun and so strange when they don’t circulate are books on art forgeries, art mysteries, and art thieves. We’ve a bunch of really fun books and titles out there on these topics, and yet their circulation just dips and dips and dips. With that in mind, here are books on shady dealings in the art world, both old and new, that you might want to check out if you get a chance.
Recently there was quite a to do in the news. In the little Polish city of Mamerki, a long undiscovered Nazi bunker was unearthed. Hopes ran high. Could this, at long last, be the resting place of the long-missing Amber Room of Peter the Great? If you’re unfamiliar with the story, back in the 18th century the Room, a chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, was built for the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg. During WWII the Nazis plundered the room and squirreled it away somewhere. Its location has yet to be uncovered.
Sadly, as of July 13th the bunker yielded no Amber Room (aww). In lieu of that, you can read up on the mystery in the book The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure by Cathy Scott-Clark.
This coming September, New American Library will be publishing
Chasing Portraits: A Great-granddaughter’s Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy by Elizabeth Rynecki. In it the author chronicles the lost art of her grandfather Moshe Rynecki. A great artist, before Moshe was deported to the ghetto he entrusted his work to friends who would keep it safe. After he was killed in the Majdanek concentration camp, the art was disbursed all over the world. With the help of historians, curators, and admirers of Moshe’s work, Elizabeth began the incredible and difficult task of rebuilding his collection.
Of course, you can’t really talk about lost WWII treasures without mentioning The Monuments Men : Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel. Better known as the movie starring (amongst others) Matt Damon, George Clooney, and Billy Murray, the true story really was a gripping race against time by these fellows to save art and culture from Nazi destruction.
The Nazis were sort of keen on blowing in and taking what they wanted without so much as a how-do-you-do. Art thievery has had to be a lot cleverer since that time. One of the greatest heists, of paintings that remain lost to this very day, was recorded in Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist. Written by Stephen Kurkjian, the story chronicles what happened with a master thief joined forces with a career criminal. The year was 1981. The theft? 13 works of art valued at up to $500 million–including Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” A great mystery.
Losing treasures is easy. Finding treasures? More than a little difficult. So when art historian Fred Kline was was routinely combing through a Christie’s catalog it’s sort of kismet that he saw a beautiful little drawing attributed to Carracci. It didn’t cost much (relatively speaking – I mean, this is art collecting, after all) and Kline became convinced that it wasn’t a Carracci at all but a lost Leonardo. Leonardo’ s Holy Child: The Discovering of a Leonardo da Vinci Masterpiece: A Connoisseur’s Search for Lost Art in America is part detective story, part art history lesson, and all fun. It’s sort of a real world version of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, don’t you think?
Mind you, for every newly discovered Leonardo there are hundreds of art fakes swirling around there. So while I doubt he’s ever going to get his own television series, Philip Mould’s The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasure is quite a bit of fun. It includes tales of a fake Rockwell, a hidden Rembrandt, and a lost Gainsborough amongst many others.