What does the €100m Picasso theft mean for the art markets?


In Andre Viller's photograph of Pablo Picasso dressed as Popeye - sold yesterday (May 20) at Bonhams for £12,600 - the artist appears in good spirits.

But the French painter would be less happy to discover that yet another of his works has been stolen by thieves, this time from the Musee d'Art Moderne in Paris.

Pablo Picasso dressed as Popeye in
Andre Viller's photograph

In a theft reminiscent of The Thomas Crown Affair, Picasso's work is among five stolen paintings valued at €100m ($123m) which also include a rare Henri Mattisse.

Investigators have so far discovered that the museum's alarm failed to work properly at the time of the theft, according to a statement by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe.

Picasso is notoriously popular among art thieves, with more than_300_of his works stolen over the last 100 years.

Most recently, and also in Paris, a sketchbook by the artist was stolen from the Picasso Museum in June 2009.

The latest theft comes less than a month after the $106.5m World Record sale of Picasso's Picasso, Nude Green Leaves, and Bust. It was auctioned by Christie's to a telephone bidder.

According to reports, Anthony Amore, director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, has phoned the Musee d'Art Moderne to offer advice.

The Boston museum is still trying to recover $500m of artworks that were stolen from its premises in 1990.

Picasso's The Pigeon With Green Peas is among the stolen artworks

For now, every moment counts as officials investigate the latest Paris art burglary. A broken window, a sawn-off padlock and CCTV footage of a man entering the premises are among their clues.

What will the thieves do with the paintings?

With the theft of such high-profile and identifiable artworks comes the question: what exactly do the thieves plan to do with their stolen haul?

Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the London-based Fine Art Fund, speculates that the paintings have either been stolen to order or will be used in an insurance claim.

In the latter instance, the thieves would approach the insurer with an alternative: 'either make a €100m million loss or pay us a much lower figure (say €4m) for the paintings' safe return.'

Many of the previous stolen Picasso works were uncovered after rewards were offered to insurers.

However, officials and experts speculate that it could take years to recover the stolen works, and negotiations with the thieves may be necessary. 

Further fears concern the possibility of damage to the artwork, which could halve their pre-theft value. Even rolling the paintings up will impact their worth.

Thieves also made off with Henri Matisse's Pastorale

Meanwhile, the incident may also prompt high-profile museums to review their security practices, and question how such a theft was able to happen in the first place.

Why were the paintings stolen now?

While the economy wobbles with recession and gloom, and currencies continue to freefall, art has consistently sold for World Record prices in recent months.

According to Philip Hoffman, paintings this year are selling for double the amounts predicted by the Fine Art Fund.

At the same time, emerging markets and high-net worth individuals in places like the Far East are broadening the scope and potential the art markets.

"The shift in the art markets is huge - and nobody can fathom why the market is reaching these new highs," he told Bloomberg.

"With such [economic] uncertainty, people are looking for real assets right now."

The stolen paintings include Picasso's 1911 work, The Pigeon With Green Peas, Mattisse's Pastorale, Georges Braque's The Olive Tree Near l'Estaque, Fernand Leger's Still Life with Candlesticks, and Amedeo Modigliani's Woman With a Fan, 1919.

In today's global market, there are thought to be fewer than 2,000 works valued at over $1m, while an estimated $6bn worth is stolen each year.

(You can see the whole of Philip Hoffman's interview with Bloomberg in the above video clip.)


  • More news on Art
  • Enjoy the read? Don't forget to sign up for your free newsletter with exclusive content

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock