Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Still Life with Apples and Teapot

Next time you're admiring Cézanne's Nature Morte avec Pommes et Théière (Still Life with Apples and Teapot) at the National Museum, Cardiff, consider its colourful history.

By this I don't mean Cézanne's artistic struggle with the work or even its bequeathment to the museum by Gwendoline Davies of Gregynog in 1952 - I'm referring of course to its getting nicked.

In 1961 the painting was loaned out to the Vendôme Museum at Aix-en-Provence (Cézanne's hometown) for an exhibition. However, in the dead of night a gang of daring art thieves slipped past two gun-toting police guards and pinched it, along with seven other Cézanne masterpieces. It was like something out of the Thomas Crown Affair.

The crime was the latest in an unprecedented wave of art thefts on the French Riviera carried out by a mysterious gang. It was assumed the canvasses were being stolen to order for a private collector.

Back in Cardiff staff at the museum were mortified. Although a Viennese insurance company immediately forked out £60k it was no consolation - the painting was considered irreplaceable.

Several months later police were checking out a suspicious vehicle abandoned in the middle of Marseille. A fake number plate revealed the car to have been stolen. When the French cops searched inside they discovered eight Cézanne paintings including Still Life with Apples and Teapot.

Mercifully all the artworks were undamaged, only their frames were missing. After being authenticated by experts the paintings were returned to their galleries and Still Life with Apples and Teapot came safely back home to Cardiff.

I do like a glamorous art theft story with a happy ending.