Art thieves cutting paintings out of frames

Every once in awhile I see one of those police shows about some great art heist and they describe how the professional art thieves used a razor blade to cut the artwork out of the frame. In the dramatization, they always show the guys simply slitting the canvas from the front side of the frame, and then rolling up the liberated canvas in a tube.

Is this really how it’s done?

I see two problems here:

  1. Wouldn’t the paint chip and flake when the painting is rolled up?
  2. Don’t potential buyers care that they are losing a quarter inch around the border each time a painting undergoes this process

(No, I am not planning anything. Just curious.)

Apprently this is how it’s done, and it doesn’t cause too much trouble to the painting. I’m sure it’s not great for it, but the damage is minimal if the artist used good quality paint.

And you’d think that the buyers would care, but hey, you get a priceless famous peice of art on the cheap and maybe you don’t care.

You can simply slash the canvas

I guess that if you’re the kind of guy who buys stolen art, then you’re probably not too worried about details like a jagged border.

If the canvas is re-stretched, you’re losing at least a couple inches on each side. Not that the thieves (or the people who hire or buy from them) care much about this.

**Now **I know what was wrong with the Mona Lisa I just bought.

As an artist, I have rolled many finished, ‘dryed’ paintings. No chipping, etc.

Many paintings are no where near there original dimensions due to theft, fire, water damage and the like.

Just a hint: if you bought the Mona Lisa on a canvas it’s a fake as the original is on a slab of wood. Of course the first clus should have benn that it looked like this

If your Mona Lisa was on canvas in the first place, you’ve got more wrong than a few missing inches around the edges. The Mona Lisa was painted on wood.

Damn you DanBlather and your devilishy fast typing fingers!

Fast, but not accurate.

So that explains the smile!

CMC fnord!

The full name is Monastery of The Brothers of Pablisa

Someone trained like a reputable conservator can attach a hollow rectangle of linen or canvas to the border of the cut out canvas, and restretch that canvas with the new material so that the stolen painting has virtually the same dimensions as the original.

Then, reframe: the rabbet (little shelf that hangs over the face of the painting) will cover the razor wounds.

The word “reputable” could be nixed from the above. Unless, of course it’s for a recovered stolen painting.

I know dried canvasses can be rolled up, but there is dry and then there’s dry.

Paintings continue to dry long after they feel dry to the touch. I don’t know how brittle they get after hundreds of years and I’m fresh out of 18th century paintings at home to try this with.

Another factor is that not all paintings are oils. Tempera paint made from eggs used to be the dominant paint. I’m not sure how fragile those surfaces would get.

Lastly by slashing out the painting you are losing more than the edge. You lose the stretcher and all the marks, labels and whatnot that are attached to it. It could make it rather hard to prove you own the real deal rather than some copy. You know the kind of jackasses who order these thefts are going to want to show off their swag to their low life buddies.

Can they “fix” the painting if they recover it and still have the cut-off edges?

Someone trained “like” a reputable conservator could do the same basic things that a “real” reputable conservator might do. For example, fix up a painting for display that he knows is stolen. A recovered stolen painting, every attempt will be made to re-attach that canvas to its original, slashed away material (it’s precisely the right shape, for starters.)

Clearly this is true, though many desirable works of art are too large to steal in one piece, or the frame may be “locked” to the wall in any number of ways, etc. Hence the old slash-and-roll.

As far as lost provenance goes, the people who know it’s real, know it’s real. I find it much more reasonable that great stolen artwork vanishes into some private collection to be enjoyed in private, rather than shown off to some underworld riffraff (who in a pinch, could squeal; just to save their own worthless hide).

Definitely yes. One oil painting, I can’t remember which at the moment, was destroyed beyond repair when the canvas was rolled up.

Like Smakfu, I would like more detail on this. How would they do this? Is there some super fancy conservator kind of way of joining the painting to its slashed opening that takes a year to accomplish and is impossible to detect? Are they using that iron-on cloth tape on the back side and a touch of some conceiler “makeup” on the front to hide the crack?

I guess that if I were the thief, I would be trying to angle the blade outward so as to cut the hidden part. I suppose in the heat of the moment all they really care about is not clipping the artist’s signature off.

Has anyone ever done the unthinkable and cut a painting into multiple pieces to sell individually? Parting it out like a stolen car?

You certainly have the general concept here, except that the iron-on cloth tape is sewn or glued-on canvas (or linen), to match the original, and the “makeup” is paint, to match the original.

It used to be quite common back in the day. See an example here. These two portions were only remarried in the last few years. The photo is a little muddy, but a third of the way down from the top, you can see a horizontal framing element that indicates where the picture was divided.