Fakes & frauds

AMHERST – If you see Anthony Amore and 40 FBI agents digging up a backyard, you don’t have to wonder what they’re looking for.

Amore is director of security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and he has his work cut out for him: finding the 13 artworks stolen from the Gardner in 1990 when thieves disguised as police entered the Boston museum.

There is now a $5.1 million reward for information leading to their recovery.

The early morning heist is considered the greatest property theft in history, but Amore was in the Amherst Town Library last week to talk about lesser-known art thefts and forgeries that are detailed in his new book, "The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World."

He couldn’t escape without talking a bit about the Gardner heist, though. Amore said he works seven days a week, on the phone with criminals and FBI agents.

The thieves "had a 10-year head start," he told the packed audience, but "we will never, ever rest" until those artworks are found.

During his slide presentation, Amore said he is fascinated by the chemistry created when "a guy with guts" meets a person who wants very badly to own "newly discovered" great art.

Nazi Hermann Goring was one of the latter. He bought what was offered to him as a Vermeer, and he was never able to accept the idea that the poorly done forgery he owned was a fake.

The forger, Han Van Meegeren, had tremendous moxie to try to fool Goring, said Amore, pointing to an image of the Nazi’s face.

And forget about glamour. The typical art thief is no Pierce Bronson, star of "The Thomas Crown Affair"; Amore showed a photo of Ely Sakhai, a pot-bellied dealer in forgeries.

Art theft is a $6 million to $8 million business, third in line after guns and drugs, yet it isn’t lucrative for the thieves of the greatest works, including the Gardner’s Rembrandts and Vermeer, because they’re too hot to sell. Most thieves are clueless thugs who see museums as easy targets, Amore said.

There is a market for good art, as long as they aren’t so well known, Amore said, such as paintings by Thomas Cole and others of the Hudson River School, for example, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

And antiquities from Europe and the Middle East are a big part of the stolen art trade, he said.

"Isis – when they’re not destroying art, they’re stealing it," he said.

But most art thievery is in fakes, and people – even people who should know better – are sometimes taken in.

In the 1970s, Helene and Wolfgang Beltracchi developed an elaborate scheme that netted them $66 million from forged art from victims who included actor Steve Martin.

The way the Beltracchis were caught is a fascinating story, "but if I told you, no one would buy my book," Amore said.

While the Beltracchi story was front-page news around the world, he said, Glafira Rosales was selling fraudulent "Rokthko," "Pollack" and "Motherwell" paintings to one of the oldest, most prestigious art galleries in America, bringing down Knoedler & Co. in Manhattan, along with its director.

"Art fraud is as old as art," said Amore, who told the story of Gilbert Stuart’s famous unfinished painting of George Washington, known as "the Athenaeum Portrait," that was taken to China and copied, the first art fraud in American history.

In answer to a question from the audience, Amore said crime boss Whitey Bulger couldn’t have been involved in the Gardner heist. All of his men turned on him, and one of them surely would have given up that information by now, he said.

"Yeah, I killed that girl," Amore imagines one of Bulger’s cohorts saying, "but don’t ask me about that" stolen painting.

And why can’t a forged painting be considered great art, someone asked.

In response, Amore told about his trip to see Rembrandt’s "Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak," which had been stolen and then returned to the Museum of Fine Arts in the 1970s.

"It buckled my knees. … You know it when you see it," Amore said.

The Feb. 4 talk was the second in the Amherst Town Library’s evening adult series called "True Crime and Not So True Crime."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

Fakes & frauds

AMHERST – If you see Anthony Amore and 40 FBI agents digging up a backyard, you don’t have to wonder what they’re looking for.

Amore is director of security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and he has his work cut out for him: finding the 13 artworks stolen from the Gardner in 1990 when thieves disguised as police entered the Boston museum.

There is now a $5.1 million reward for information leading to their recovery.

The early morning heist is considered the greatest property theft in history, but Amore was in the Amherst Town Library last week to talk about lesser-known art thefts and forgeries that are detailed in his new book, "The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World."

He couldn’t escape without talking a bit about the Gardner heist, though. Amore said he works seven days a week, on the phone with criminals and FBI agents.

The thieves "had a 10-year head start," he told the packed audience, but "we will never, ever rest" until those artworks are found.

During his slide presentation, Amore said he is fascinated by the chemistry created when "a guy with guts" meets a person who wants very badly to own "newly discovered" great art.

Nazi Hermann Goring was one of the latter. He bought what was offered to him as a Vermeer, and he was never able to accept the idea that the poorly done forgery he owned was a fake.

The forger, Han Van Meegeren, had tremendous moxie to try to fool Goring, said Amore, pointing to an image of the Nazi’s face.

And forget about glamour. The typical art thief is no Pierce Bronson, star of "The Thomas Crown Affair"; Amore showed a photo of Ely Sakhai, a pot-bellied dealer in forgeries.

Art theft is a $6 million to $8 million business, third in line after guns and drugs, yet it isn’t lucrative for the thieves of the greatest works, including the Gardner’s Rembrandts and Vermeer, because they’re too hot to sell. Most thieves are clueless thugs who see museums as easy targets, Amore said.

There is a market for good art, as long as they aren’t so well known, Amore said, such as paintings by Thomas Cole and others of the Hudson River School, for example, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

And antiquities from Europe and the Middle East are a big part of the stolen art trade, he said.

"Isis – when they’re not destroying art, they’re stealing it," he said.

But most art thievery is in fakes, and people – even people who should know better – are sometimes taken in.

In the 1970s, Helene and Wolfgang Beltracchi developed an elaborate scheme that netted them $66 million from forged art from victims who included actor Steve Martin.

The way the Beltracchis were caught is a fascinating story, "but if I told you, no one would buy my book," Amore said.

While the Beltracchi story was front-page news around the world, he said, Glafira Rosales was selling fraudulent "Rokthko," "Pollack" and "Motherwell" paintings to one of the oldest, most prestigious art galleries in America, bringing down Knoedler & Co. in Manhattan, along with its director.

"Art fraud is as old as art," said Amore, who told the story of Gilbert Stuart’s famous unfinished painting of George Washington, known as "the Athenaeum Portrait," that was taken to China and copied, the first art fraud in American history.

In answer to a question from the audience, Amore said crime boss Whitey Bulger couldn’t have been involved in the Gardner heist. All of his men turned on him, and one of them surely would have given up that information by now, he said.

"Yeah, I killed that girl," Amore imagines one of Bulger’s cohorts saying, "but don’t ask me about that" stolen painting.

And why can’t a forged painting be considered great art, someone asked.

In response, Amore told about his trip to see Rembrandt’s "Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak," which had been stolen and then returned to the Museum of Fine Arts in the 1970s.

"It buckled my knees. … You know it when you see it," Amore said.

The Feb. 4 talk was the second in the Amherst Town Library’s evening adult series called "True Crime and Not So True Crime."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

Fakes & frauds

AMHERST – If you see Anthony Amore and 40 FBI agents digging up a backyard, you don’t have to wonder what they’re looking for.

Amore is director of security for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and he has his work cut out for him: finding the 13 artworks stolen from the Gardner in 1990 when thieves disguised as police entered the Boston museum.

There is now a $5.1 million reward for information leading to their recovery.

The early morning heist is considered the greatest property theft in history, but Amore was in the Amherst Town Library last week to talk about lesser-known art thefts and forgeries that are detailed in his new book, "The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds and Forgeries in the Art World."

He couldn’t escape without talking a bit about the Gardner heist, though. Amore said he works seven days a week, on the phone with criminals and FBI agents.

The thieves "had a 10-year head start," he told the packed audience, but "we will never, ever rest" until those artworks are found.

During his slide presentation, Amore said he is fascinated by the chemistry created when "a guy with guts" meets a person who wants very badly to own "newly discovered" great art.

Nazi Hermann Goring was one of the latter. He bought what was offered to him as a Vermeer, and he was never able to accept the idea that the poorly done forgery he owned was a fake.

The forger, Han Van Meegeren, had tremendous moxie to try to fool Goring, said Amore, pointing to an image of the Nazi’s face.

And forget about glamour. The typical art thief is no Pierce Bronson, star of "The Thomas Crown Affair"; Amore showed a photo of Ely Sakhai, a pot-bellied dealer in forgeries.

Art theft is a $6 million to $8 million business, third in line after guns and drugs, yet it isn’t lucrative for the thieves of the greatest works, including the Gardner’s Rembrandts and Vermeer, because they’re too hot to sell. Most thieves are clueless thugs who see museums as easy targets, Amore said.

There is a market for good art, as long as they aren’t so well known, Amore said, such as paintings by Thomas Cole and others of the Hudson River School, for example, which can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

And antiquities from Europe and the Middle East are a big part of the stolen art trade, he said.

"Isis – when they’re not destroying art, they’re stealing it," he said.

But most art thievery is in fakes, and people – even people who should know better – are sometimes taken in.

In the 1970s, Helene and Wolfgang Beltracchi developed an elaborate scheme that netted them $66 million from forged art from victims who included actor Steve Martin.

The way the Beltracchis were caught is a fascinating story, "but if I told you, no one would buy my book," Amore said.

While the Beltracchi story was front-page news around the world, he said, Glafira Rosales was selling fraudulent "Rokthko," "Pollack" and "Motherwell" paintings to one of the oldest, most prestigious art galleries in America, bringing down Knoedler & Co. in Manhattan, along with its director.

"Art fraud is as old as art," said Amore, who told the story of Gilbert Stuart’s famous unfinished painting of George Washington, known as "the Athenaeum Portrait," that was taken to China and copied, the first art fraud in American history.

In answer to a question from the audience, Amore said crime boss Whitey Bulger couldn’t have been involved in the Gardner heist. All of his men turned on him, and one of them surely would have given up that information by now, he said.

"Yeah, I killed that girl," Amore imagines one of Bulger’s cohorts saying, "but don’t ask me about that" stolen painting.

And why can’t a forged painting be considered great art, someone asked.

In response, Amore told about his trip to see Rembrandt’s "Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak," which had been stolen and then returned to the Museum of Fine Arts in the 1970s.

"It buckled my knees. … You know it when you see it," Amore said.

The Feb. 4 talk was the second in the Amherst Town Library’s evening adult series called "True Crime and Not So True Crime."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.