Anja Shortland, the author of this book, is a professor in political economy at King’s College London and a specialist in the economics of crime. So she seems the ideal person to turn a forensic eye on the manifold questions raised by tracking lost and stolen art and (hopefully) restoring it to its rightful owners.
Restoring stolen art might sound easy, but in reality the problems encountered in many cases – when heirs have died or moved, when bona fide purchasers do not want to relinquish rights, when proving a piece of furniture stolen decades before is indeed the same as a glitteringly restored piece in an antiques fair – are anything but simple to resolve. To write this book, Shortland worked through fifty boxes of records belonging to the Art Loss Register (ALR), which maintains a database of lost and stolen art. The organisation is run by the formidable and controversial Julian Radcliffe, who created the ALR in 1990 and says he has sometimes had to support it himself during lean years. Shortland takes us through ten case studies, each illustrating a different aspect of the complex problems encountered, the costs involved and the uncertainty of the outcomes.
One of the best known is the opener, the Bakwin case, a ‘moral maze’ that was also one of the ALR’s longest-running sagas. Thirty-two years elapsed between the theft in 1978 of seven pictures from the home of Michael Bakwin, including a still life by Cézanne, and the