Art Loss Register
Art Loss Register (ALR) is an evolving, computerized international database which captures information about lost and stolen art, antiques and collectables. It is operated by a commercial company based in London. The range of functions served by ALR has grown as the number of its listed items increased. The database has become potentially useful for collectors, the art trade, insurers and worldwide law enforcement agencies. The ALR is a London-based, independent corporate off-spring of the New York-based, non-profit International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR).
In 1992, the database comprised only 20,000 items, but it grew in size nearly tenfold during its first decade. Organizations like ALR are important in the process of raising global awareness of art theft and the effort to thwart the thieves.
The first steps towards ALR began with the establishment of IFAR in New York in 1969.
Among other explicit goals, IFAR was created to compile information about stolen art. In response to the growth of international art thefts, IFAR began publishing the “Stolen Art Alert” in 1976.
By 1990, IFAR was updating its catalogue of stolen art 10 times a year. The magnitude of the problem overwhelmed what had grown to be over 20,000 manual records. While IFAR had been very successful in recording the details of losses, that was only a good first step.
In 1991, the ALR was established in London as a commercial company, earning fees from insurers and theft victims. Its founding shareholders included insurance and auction houses, which some think is a conflict of interest Christie's#cite note-72. The majority of shares are owned by its founder, Julian Radcliffe. Significant capital investment was needed so that IFAR could be computerised and so that the database made available to worldwide law enforcement agencies and others.
In response to the growth and development of IFAR, museum officials revised some policies based on an assumption that discussing theft would scare away potential donors. The AFR initially formed a partnership with the ALR, but, they later split after disagreements over strategy and issues of control. The change from policies of secrecy to ones which emphasize openness was gradual, mirroring an expectation that publicizing theft is likely to promote recovery. The ALR was able to grow as a result of this small shift in perceived conventional wisdom.
- Selected timeline
- 1990: Artworks stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston includes Vermeer's Concert, three Rembrandts and five works by Degas.
- 1989: IFAR received reports of about 5,000 thefts.
- 2003: ALR obtains information about a Sisley stolen from the Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans in Orleans. The museum was unable to afford the fee and the Sisley has not been recovered.
Criticism of methods
The approach adopted by the ALR has been criticised. The Register has contacted owners of stolen art saying it had information, but not revealing it until a fee was paid. In another instance the ALR lied to Sotheby’s saying that paintings were not stolen. The paintings were then shipped to London, where they were seized. The ALR has likened this approach to the police misleading a suspect during an investigation.
- Art Loss Register: History
- International Foundation for Art Research: About IFAR, Art Theft Database
- Houpt, Simon. (2006). Museum of the Missing, p. 8.
- Haupt, p. 9.
- Glueck, Grace. "Art Group Is Set Up To Judge Attribution," New York Times. May 8, 1970.
- Yarrow, Andrew L. "A Lucrative Crime Grows Into a Costly Epidemic," New York Times. March 20, 1990.
- Tracking Stolen Art, for Profit, and Blurring a Few Lines, New York Times, September 20, 2013
- Feliciano, Hector. (1997). The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art. New York: Basic Books. 10-ISBN 0-465-04194-9, 13-ISBN 978-0-465-04194-7; 10-ISBN 0-465-04191-4, 13-ISBN 978-0-465-04191-6; OCLC 36446851
- Houpt, Simon and Julian Radcliffe. (2006). Museum of the Missing: a History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling Publishing. 10-ISBN 1-4027-2829-8, 13-ISBN 978-1-4027-2829-7; OCLC 67375076
- Nicholas, Lynn H. (1994). The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York City: Vintage Books. 13-ISBN 978-0-679-40069-1; OCLC 32531154