Sunday, September 2, 2012

Art Theft and the Same Old Song

Sigh. It's happened again. Last week more art was stolen from a Hogtown gallery. This time the thieves made off with two paintings from the Group of Seven's Frank Johnston and Arther Lismer, and a painting by renowned Montreal-born artist the late Sylvia Lefkovitz. The haul is worth an estimated $50,000.

I've blogged before, and I expect - unfortunately - to have to sound off again, that art thieves are no different from bank robbers and should be treated as such. They're sordid and nasty, not suave Cary Grant types stealing for kicks and the money to impress impossibly statuesque blondes. They are bandits only interested in a quick buck, and who couldn't care less about the damage inflicted on a country's art heritage, or the financial loss to a collector, a gallery or a museum (or the taxpayer, if you prefer). Of course, buyers of stolen art are every bit as bad as the thieves.

According to a Toronto Star article, the gallery's owner doesn't expect the stolen art to reappear any time soon, and David Silcox, president of Sotheby's Canada, has the same opinion, saying the works will likely end up in a private Canadian collection. That's because, says Silcox, the stolen paintings are too well known to be sold on the open market and because there is virtually no interest (the italics are mine) in Group of Seven works on the international art market.

That's a dismaying and a confusing state of affairs. Last fall Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven was a critical and popular success at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. Critic Brian Sewell, writing in the (London) Evening Standard, said, "...these are painters who knew how to handle paint and colour, and to turn a small sketch executed on the spot into a high-pitched studio masterpiece." Elsewhere in his report, Sewell writes of painterly echoes of, among others, Van Gogh and Monet, illustrious company indeed, even if it's tenuous.

Or, are the critics wrong and the Globe and Mail's resident contrarian Margaret Wente right when she says Thomson and the Group of Seven are of domestic or regional interest only? I'll side with the critics. Like many of this country's cultural endevours, it's not the work, per se, that's lacking, but the confidence, the chutzpah, to promote it. And we've all heard that tune before.

1 comment:

Bill said...

That's what Wente said, did she? I wonder whence she plagiarized that.