Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Tissot Identity

You can imagine our surprise when searching around the FBI art theft site (if only they had RSS) to discover the Auckland Art Gallery featured in the recovery section. There, in the bowels of the FBI, is the story of the theft of James Tissot’s Still on top in 1998. Described by the FBI as a “dramatic heist” they go on to detail the event with Ludlam-like breathlessness. “Armed with a SAWED-OFF-SHOTGUN and a crowbar! a career criminal BURST through the main doors of the gallery. He KNOCKED a security guard to the floor, tore the painting from its frame, and ran!!!! to a waiting motorcycle with the SIX-MILLION!! dollar painting UNDER HIS ARM.” (italics, exclamation marks and capitalisation are ours).

For those wanting the happy ending, the FBI continues, “A ransom demand was made from the thief for the return of the painting, but it was recovered eight days later in Waikaretu, New Zealand. The painting was badly damaged during the theft and a two-year restoration project was needed to repair the damage.” Given the image of the Tissot on the FBI page it was a miracle anyone found it at all. You can see an unscrambled version of the work here.
Image: Tissot’s Still on top as featured on FBI Art Theft.