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Art Theft on the Rise

By YOLANDE DU PREEZ


IOL news nov 12  PN Pretoria Art Museum

Four of five paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum and were found on a bench in a cemetery in Port Elizabeth, police said. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Pretoria – Art theft in South Africa is not a common crime, but with more individuals realising the value of South African art, its incidence is on the increase, the founder of ArtVault, Dale Sargent, has said.

On Tuesday, Lohine Horne, 59, appeared briefly in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on a charge of theft. The case was postponed to January.

She was earlier found guilty of stealing her stepbrother Koos Jordaan’s Pierneef painting, titled Karoo naby Middelburg CP.

The 1954 artwork is worth about R2 million and was sold by Horne for R850 000 through an auctioneer.

Jordaan inherited the painting from his father after he died in 1995. Jordaan left the painting with his mother. His mother died in 2008, and it emerged that Horne had removed the painting in November 2007.

Sargent said it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to resell valuable artwork once stolen. “Any reputable dealer or auction house will research the work.

The market for valuable artwork in South Africa is small. It can easily be determined if an art piece has been stolen.”

Recent artworks stolen include five paintings taken from the Pretoria Art Museum last month.

Three men entered the museum, tied employees up and produced a “shopping list” of artworks they wanted while holding an employee at gunpoint. The paintings included Pierneef’s Eland and Bird (1961), Irma Stern’s Fishing Boats (1931) and Gerard Sekoto’s Street Scene (1939).

Four of the paintings were later found at a church in Port Elizabeth. Sekoto’s Street Scene, valued at R7 million, is still missing.

Two weeks before, a Pierneef painting was stolen from the Potchefstroom art gallery.

Sargent’s company, ArtVault, documents and catalogues many of the country’s corporate and private collections, including works at the Constitutional Court. He said private collectors could now keep their art safe by using security tags. “It is effective but expensive.”

Radio frequency identity tags would soon be available. These clip on to the back of a painting. When the frequency is interrupted an alarm goes off. Another method is a battery-operated device on which the painting is hung. If movement is detected, an alarm goes off.

Artinsure.co.za also said art and cultural property theft was a rapidly growing criminal enterprise.

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Armed Museum Robbery in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Thieves posing as eager art students with their teacher stole more than $2 million worth of paintings from a museum in South Africa’s capital in a daring armed robbery, authorities said Monday.

The theft Sunday at the Pretoria Art Museum saw robbers calmly pay $2.25 apiece for tickets and ask a curator to show them specific paintings at the gallery before they pulled out pistols and forced all others to the ground, officials said. They tied up the curator and others before collecting the paintings they previously asked about, official said.

The robbers favored oil paintings in their theft, grabbing a 1931 painting by famous South African artist Irma Stern of brightly colored sailboats waiting against a pier, city spokesman Pieter de Necker said. Other works stolen included a gouache drawing of an eland and bird by South African landscape artist J.H. Pierneef, a pastel-toned street scene by Gerard Sekoto, a thick-stroked oil painting of a chief by Hugo Naude and a picture of a cat near a vase full of petunias by Maggie Laubser.

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