The Rescue Artist
A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for A Missing MasterpieceBook - 2006
In the predawn hours of a gloomy February day in 1994, two thieves entered the National Gallery in Oslo and made off with one of the world's most famous paintings, Edvard Munch's Scream. It was a brazen crime committed while the whole world was watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Baffled and humiliated, the Norwegian police turned to the one man they believed could help: a half English, half American undercover cop named Charley Hill, the world's greatest art detective.
The Rescue Artist is a rollicking narrative that carries readers deep inside the art underworld -- and introduces them to a large and colorful cast of titled aristocrats, intrepid investigators, and thick-necked thugs. But most compelling of all is Charley Hill himself, a complicated mix of brilliance, foolhardiness, and charm whose hunt for a purloined treasure would either cap an illustrious career or be the fiasco that would haunt him forever.
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“There should be no more paintings of interiors and people reading and women knitting,” Munch declared. “There should be images of living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love—I shall paint a number of such pictures—people will understand the holiness of it, and they will take off their hats as if they were in a church.”
The novelist and ex-prosecutor Scott Turow could have been thinking of Hill when he called cops “our paid paranoids.” “A copper sees a conspiracy in a cloudy day,” Turow wrote. “He suspects treachery when you say good morning.”
“lies are valuable—you don’t want to go around squandering them. You want to concentrate them, and you have to be effective with them.”
From a criminal’s point of view, a world-renowned painting is a multimillion-dollar bill framed and mounted on a poorly guarded wall.
Italy, for example, if a person buys a painting in good faith from a legitimate dealer, the new owner immediately becomes the rightful owner whether or not the painting was stolen. Japan is nearly as permissive: after two years, all sales are final. Steal a painting, hide it for two years, sell it in Japan, and the buyer can freely hang it for the world to see. In the United States, in contrast, the rule is that “no one can sell what he does not own,” and the corollary is “buyer beware.” If an American buys stolen art, even unknowingly, the original owner is entitled to reclaim it.
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