Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Art Thieves, Fakers & Fraudsters - the New Zealand story

Art Thieves, Fakers & Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story
By Penelope Jackson
Published by Awa Press - RRP: $40.00

Do you happen to know the whereabouts of Psyche, the painting that graces the cover of new Awa Press book Art Thieves, Fakers & Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story? We ask, because it went missing 74 years ago from Robert McDougall Art Gallery in Christchurch, and has never been seen again.

Psyche was a massive turn-of-the-century work depicting the Goddess of Love, painted by British artist Solomon J. Solomon. It had been torn from its gilt frame. An inspection of the building found wax matches on the floor. Some window catches had been tampered with and a glass pane broken. Yet there seemed no possible way thieves could have got the painting out of the gallery and through the locked gates of the surrounding Botanic Gardens.

Was it an inside job? A wartime prank by visiting US servicemen? A phantom operating through a locked skylight?

The Psyche mystery is just one of the intriguing stories in Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story. Author Penelope Jackson is an art historian, former director of Tauranga Art Gallery, and founding member of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, set up in 2015.

Lest we think that art theft, faking and forgery are things that happen only in other countries, Jackson unveils a catalogue of home-grown skulduggery. Some crimes, such as the heist of the $2 million Colin McCahon Urewera Mural from the visitor centre at Waikaremoana, have made headlines, but others have been covered up by galleries anxious not to deter potential donors by exposing lax security, or an inability to spot a fake when they see one.

With many valuable art collections hanging in private homes, Jackson also includes timely suggestions on how to ensure artworks don’t disappear out the door, like five much–loved paintings that took flight from an Auckland home twenty-five years ago. They, too, have never been found. And if you’re advertising your house for sale on Trade Me, read this book first.

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