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Destruction of Art as Crime Against Humanity?

Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, London (1901)

“Crimes against humanity,” decided by the International Criminal Court, include ‘odious offenses’ against human beings but not inanimate objects. The International Court of Justice may only hear disputes between states as parties to the dispute and usually those stemming from an international treaty or convention. There is no international forum to decide crimes against art and there are no laws declaring art destruction a crime against humanity. The apparent fate of the paintings stolen from the Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum in the Netherlands on October 16, 2012, is calling for retribution and international efforts to protect great works of art from successful but thoughtless thieves.

The seven paintings stolen from Kunsthal’s exhibition last fall, included Picasso’s Harlequin Head (1971), two late Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, London (1901) and Charing Cross Bridge, London (1901), Matisse’s Reading Girl in White and Yellow (1919), Paul Gauguin’s Girl in Front of Open Window (1898), Meyer de Haan’s Self-Portrait, (ca. 1890) and a Lucian Freud painting Woman with Eyes Closed (2002).* They were on loan from a private foundation and made up a part of the “Avante-Gardes” exhibition from the collection of Willem Cordia.

A parent of one of the suspected thieves said she burned the paintings after her son, Radu Dogaru, a suspects in the art heist, was arrested in January 2013. Now experts from the Romania’s National History Museum are examining ashes found in the Dogaru stove in the village of Caracliu to make a positive identification. The ashes are reported to contain remnants of 19th century paint, old canvasses and brass canvas nails suggesting the worst, the paintings valued at over $200 million were indeed destroyed. The estimated value cannot compare to the cultural importance and aesthetic value of these works. according to the spokesman for the Rotterdam museum, Mariette Maaskant, allegation of the destruction “underscores the pointlessness of the theft.”

If this terrible news is true, then the last trace of hope that the art works would return is definitively gone… It would be a loss that touches every art lover.

~Rotterdam Museum Spokesperson.

In the end, there is not such commandment as “Thou shalt not covet museum art.” and prosecution of art thieves is typically limited by a statute limitation. For lack of a better solution, isn’t now the time to reevaluate what happens to art works stolen and held hostage because they cannot be offloaded on the open market for fear of recognition? While most nations claim that they do not negotiate with terrorists, there is frequently an amnesty given to criminals who take hostages. Indeed, the promise of amnesty to Dogaru may have been enough to save the Cordia paintings from the fire.

*All seven paintings can be seen here.

Sources: Art in America; FoxNews; Rome Statute; Time World.