Coin Geek looks at art

This work by Monet, one of seven stolen, is now likley reduced to ashes.

(A mother’s act of love in defending the crime of her child? Or an even worse crime than the one she was trying to cover? Those are the questions that hit me, our blogger today – John Dale – and likely millions of others, when news of this crime in Romania broke. What a gut punch on a Friday morning. These are only a handful of paintings out of thousands on the planet, but it is what the destruction represents, and the manner in which is was done, that makes this so tough to take, in my opinion. -Noah)

By John Dale Beety

Almost any collector’s greatest fear is loss and destruction: a coin ruined by cleaning, a comic book thrown away.

When I read this New York Times article on the apparent burning of seven masterpieces in Romania by the mother of an alleged thief, my heart hurt.

Works by Monet, Gaugain, Picasso, Matisse… incinerated. All because the mother, as she said to police, thought that if the paintings and drawings no longer existed, there wouldn’t be a case against her son. The ashes left behind – colors and materials that point to the stolen works – instead seem evidence of a far greater crime.

In both cultural and monetary terms, the loss, if proven true, is staggering.

The Times article quotes the director of Romania’s National History Museum as calling such an act “a barbarian crime against humanity.”

Some comments have mocked that phrase, pointing out that nobody died. The small truth, though, obscures a larger one: to the extent that there is a global heritage of arts, burning the works would be a “crime against culture,” as then-UNESCO Director Koichiro Matsuura called the dynamiting of the Buddha statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban. If a soldier burned the paintings of another land, it would be a violation of the Geneva Convention.

There is still a shred of hope that this is another feint, the forgery of a crime against art instead of a true crime against art. The balance of probabilities, though, suggests that seven masterpieces are burned and gone, victims of an act that may have seemed selfless in the moment but damaged the cultural heritage of the world at large.

I look at a coin on my desk, snugly encased in plastic, protected from dropping and other random accidents, and I think to myself: if someone wants to destroy this beautiful and precious thing, for whatever reason, it can happen.

If I were an artist, I would take the ashes from that Romanian stove, the tacks and the rest, and I would put them in plastic, a small clear cube. I would call it Seven Masterpieces by… and give the names.

It would be my warning to the world that without constant vigilance, no collectible and no piece of cultural property is safe.

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