Major Cuban Art Theft Nets Arrest in Greece

The Cuban National Fine Arts Museum. Photo: cubadebate.cu
The Cuban National Fine Arts Museum. Photo: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES —  The latest major art theft from the Cuban National Fine Arts Museum now has a suspect, arrested in Greece, reported the official Havana press on Wednesday.

According to the Athens police, the 36-year old Cuban man was arrested in connection with the heist of dozens of modern art works, first made public in February 2014. The suspect’s name was not released.

Most of the stolen works are from Cuban artists including several by the famous painter Leopoldo Romañach (1862-1951).

The Athens Police said the man will appear before a prosecutor on Thursday in the Greek capital.

See below the report when the initial story of the theft broke:

Big Time Theft at Cuba Fine Arts Museum

February 27, 2014

By Ivette Leyva Martinez  (Cafe Fuerte)

HAVANA TIMES — Nearly a hundred paintings have been stolen from Havana’s National Fine Arts Museum in what could well be the most serious misappropriation of Cuba’s artistic heritage of recent decades.

“Dozens of works are missing from storage,” a source employed by the museum told Cafe Fuerte. “Most are vanguard pieces.”

The paintings were kept at the warehouse of the former headquarters of Cuba’s Technical Investigations Department (DTI), which has belonged to the museum following its remodeling in 2001. Police officers were in charge of the local’s security.

The thefts were detected last week, when a number of the missing pieces began to be offered to art dealers in Miami.

An investigation by Ministry of the Interior and art heritage experts is underway.

Cuban Painting Masters

According to the information secured by Cafe Fuerte, the pieces are works by Cuban painting masters. Apparently, news of the theft came from US art dealers.

“Someone noticed that the works they were being shown belonged to Cuba’s collection and notified the Fine Arts Museum of what was happening,” the source, who chose to remain anonymous, declared.

At least two art dealers in Miami reported seeing works by Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach (1862-1951), pieces which began to circulate in the South Florida market recently.

Though the exact number of works stolen is unknown, reports suggest that it could be close to a hundred. It is believed most of the pieces belong to the avant-garde movement of the 1920s and 30s.

Cuban authorities and the country’s media do not generally report on the theft of artworks, and many haven’t even been registered by Interpol.

Assuming Responsibility

Art heritage dealers and experts around the world believe the museum should assume the responsibility of immediately reporting the stolen pieces, so that the Cuban art market can protect itself and prevent the works and objects stolen from being sold and turning their potential buyers into the direct victims of the perpetrators.

This is not the first time the museum’s collection suffers a massive theft of this nature.

In 1995, Cuban authorities dismantled a network of art smugglers headed by Arquimides Matienzo, a former museum administrator, and detained an additional five culprits, including an Italian citizen. The group had stolen 40 paintings from the museum.

Founded in 1913, the National Fine Arts Museum is the institution tasked with storing and conserving works belonging to Cuba’s visual arts heritage.

The facility holds the largest collection of Cuban art produced between the 16th century and the present day. Its current director is Moraima Clavijo Colom.

Also read: Major Cuba Art Theft Confirmed

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