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216 × 138 mm
280 pages
19 illustrations
01 Aug 2011

Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners Sandy Nairne

The theft of high-profile works of art is not new and recurs on a fairly regular basis. In 1994 two important paintings by J.M.W. Turner (then valued at £24 million) were stolen from a public gallery in Frankfurt while on loan from the Tate in London. Sandy Nairne, who was then Director of Programmes at the Tate, became centrally involved in the pursuit of the pictures and in the negotiation for their return. In Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners he relates for the first time this complex, cloak-and-dagger story of the theft, the many efforts to regain the paintings and the final return of the pictures in 2002 to public display at the Tate.

In addition to this story, Nairne examines other high-value art thefts, trying to resolve the puzzle of why thieves steal well-known works of art that cannot be sold, even on the black market. Nairne also discusses the theft and recovery of works of art, acknowledging that they form part of a much broader field of theft, looting and illicit dealings with art and antiquities around the world. He debates how different concepts of value can be understood by examining episodes of art theft, questions of motivation and surrounding ethical issues. How art theft is depicted in fiction is also considered, including the construction of the image of the art thief, the specialist detective and the mysterious figure of the hidden, criminal collector.

Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners is the culmination of eight and a half years of pursing the missing paintings, and a further period of research and interviews with key players in the drama. It is a vivid and personal account of a hidden art world and a compelling real-life detective story that will keep both art and mystery lovers eagerly turning pages.

‘I was gripped by Sandy Nairne’s matter-of-fact but hair-raising account of the efforts to reclaim the two Turners’ – Philip Hensher, ‘Books of the Year’, The Spectator

‘In Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners, Sandy Nairne describes going underground to help recover the booty of a daring heist. Superheroes all.’ – Elaine Showalter, 'Books of the Year', TLS

‘a riveting, edge-of-seat chronicle of the eight years of subtle sleuthing and wrangling that led to the paintings’ recovery. As [Nairne] engages with undercover policemen, top financiers and Serbian crime lords (via seedy lawyers), this is a fabulously involving tale.’ – The Independent

‘a fascinating read, delving into some of the important moral issues associated with the paying of recovery fees.’ – Alexander McCall Smith, ‘Books of the Year’, The Scotsman

‘a thoughtful (and personal) entrée into the business of art theft’ – Sunday Times

‘Sandy Nairne takes us into an art-and-underworld maze that matches Raymond Chandler at his most labyrinthine . . . raise[s] interesting questions about why thieves steal art and why art theft should matter to us.’ – RA Magazine

‘an engrossing volume with behind-the-scenes stories of an incredibly complicated recovery’ – Art News

‘a gripping account of the complex and delicate negotiations for the recovery of the Turners.’ – Country Life

‘[a] vivid account of the workings of a hidden art world – the culmination of over eight years of research – has at its heart an exploration of different concepts of value.’ – Apollo

‘A stupefying amount of Nairne’s life, as his riveting book reveals, was devoted to nerve-racking negotiations with mysterious middlemen, sudden and futile expeditions to Germany, tense meetings with loss adjusters, Tate trustees and detectives.’ –The Observer

‘Nairne’s book is fascinating in its account of the astonishingly British way in which extraordinary legal precedents were set, and special permissions were sought, to legitimise the return of the Turners’ – The Spectator

‘Nairne’s insider’s chronicle of the investigation and subsequent recovery of the paintings via negotiation often reads like a fine arts version of “The Thomas Crown Affair.” And that romanticized perception – a crime of derring-do by suave gentlemen or plucky outsiders – is part of the problem.’ – Washington Post

‘Rarely does an institution victimized by an art theft recover its stolen works of art . . . It is also rare that someone associated with the victimized institution writes an intriguing, in-depth account of the recovery effort. Sandy Nairne has just such a captivating account in Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners . . . a dramatic narrative of the case that dispels many of the myths and misconceptions that have surrounded the circumstances of the works’ extraordinary recovery . . . I would recommend Nairne’s new book to anyone interested in the intricacies of stolen art recovery.’ – Art Theft Central

‘A sensational, frank book’ – Welt am Sonntag

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Sandy Nairne is Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London. He was previously Director of Programmes at Tate, Director of Visual Arts for the Arts Council of Great Britain and Director of Exhibitions at the ICA, London. He has worked as a curator and writer.


Part One

1. Loss

2. Pursuit

3. Recovery

4. Return

Part Two

5. Ethics

6. Value

7. History

8. Fiction

9. Future


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Photo Acknowledgements