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Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft Hardcover – October 28, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

There's nothing as tempting to a thief as a work of art, it would seem, but it wasn't always so. Although Houpt shows how stealing art has been a sport of rulers (notably Napoleon and Hitler) for centuries, he traces the current epidemic of art theft to the inflation of auction prices that began in 1958 and continues to this day. When houses like Sotheby's trumpet their sales records--$104 million for a Picasso!--what's a self-respecting art thief to do? In this brief and lively book, Houpt laments the transformation of art into an international commodity and sketches a series of quick portraits of famous latter-day art thieves and the intrepid detectives who try to catch them. In a few cases, Houpt has already been outpaced by events. Munch's The Scream, stolen from a Norwegian museum in 2004, was recently recovered, and the Picasso sales record was eclipsed this year by the sale of a Klimt (once looted by the Nazis) for a reported $135 million. Kevin Nance
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Museum of the Missing makes for fascinating if depressing reading . . . Art theft, Houpt reports, is big business."  —Houston Chronicle


"In this breezily readable volume, [Houpt] introduces us to famous art thieves and their exploits, along with concise portraits of the detectives who try to catch them."  —Chicago Sun-Times


"This fabulous book is a must-read for any art lover."  —Hello! magazine 
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Sterling; 1St Edition edition (October 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1895892791
  • ISBN-13: 978-1895892796
  • ASIN: 1402728298
  • Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 8.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Lacy on March 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I work for a global insurance broker with an international art practice that insures many of the world's great museums. I am also an avid art collector. Unlike Christian and Doomjesse, I found this book very useful for the opposite reasons. Personally, I found the "breezy" style of writing a pleasant change from the scholarly style of most art books I read. This is a great overview that anyone can understand. The illustrations are wonderful. We need more books on art that entertain and perhaps, for the novice, stimulate further interest in a subject. While it is a valid criticism to say that this book is not a comprehensive history, I came away wanting to know more and I can talk to my associates in the art practice in a more educated manner.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a nice beginner. It doesn't give an in-depth story of most crimes except the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum theft. The author seems mostly interested in paintings (though a quick mention of a few sculpture thefts is included). It barely covers any thefts in Africa, Asia (excluding Russia), or Latin America. So basically you're left with a beginners text on American and European museum thefts.

On the plus side it is well laid out with lots of pictures including some full page pictures of missing art. Overall, it's a pretty coffee table book that most people can easily read. I just wanted a little more depth.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Museum of the Missing is a fast, solid introduction to and survey of art theft over the past century.

Houpt - a Canadian arts columnist for The Globe and Mail - writes as if the reader knows a painting from a statue and has at least heard of the big names in art, but has no specialized knowledge of either art or the art market. By and large this works well; he doesn't bother explaining who Rembrandt or Picasso are, but will spend a line identifying some of the less-famous names he mentions.

Likewise, he assumes all you know about art theft is The Thomas Crown Affair, which he name-checks several times. (It appears he has a thing for Rene Russo; I totally understand.) So you meet the top good guys (Robert Wittman, Charley Hill) and the top bad guys (Martin Cahill, Stephane Breitwieser) and get stories about how they did the things they did.

And there are pictures. I can't discount this; a book about art has to have pictures. It's one thing to read about a painting called "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," quite another to see the power and drama of Rembrandt's masterpiece with your own eyes. This is a very handsomely produced book, with page after thick, glossy page of full-color artwork. The appendix is a gallery of major paintings still missing after having been stolen. This volume could be a coffee-table book if it was bigger.

Despite a couple pages devoted to Napoleon's looting rampage across Europe and Africa (the Louvre is stuffed with the spoils of Napoleon's many campaigns), Houpt's focus is squarely on modern-day art crime starting, for all intents and purposes, in the early 1930s. He mentions antiquities looting and smuggling only in passing, even though by all rights it's a much larger segment of the overall art-crime enterprise.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this book cover to cover in two days, as part of the research for a lecture series I am hosting. I found it interesting and generally informative, but rather broad.

While there is quite a lot of detail on specific cases, including the stories of art that was stolen and what happened to it, the information is relayed rather anecdotally, making referencing or research quite difficult. In my case, I found it helpful to take notes about these specific cases and record page numbers so I could find the information later. Specific cases weren't indexed or organized easily enough to find later).

Furthermore, while the book was a very interesting read, and covered a variety of topics, it was very introductory. Excepting the fact that there were plentiful details on the individual cases, the topics discussed were barely introduced before moving on to the next section.

I'd happily recommend this book to someone with passive interest in the topic or for someone seeking to gain a broad understanding, not for anyone with specific research interests!
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Format: Paperback
The large color photos are nice, especially one before-after set showing how badly theft damaged Rubens "Tarquinius and Lucretia" (1610).

However, I'm reading "Rape of Europa" by Lynn Nicholas, pretty much at the same time, and the similarity of phrases is disappointing. For example, compare

page 56 of MoM (published in 2006)
"Hitler had ordered the destruction of all infrastructure in the occupied countries as German troops retreated so that the Allies would find only a devastated wasteland."

with

page 316 of RoE (published in 1995)

"...in August 1944 Hitler had ordered all military installations, utilities, communications, archives, monuments, food stores, and transportation facilities destroyed as the German armies retreated, so that only a wasteland would await the Allies."

Ignoring the redundancy of "devastated wasteland," the two phrasings seem quite similar to me and therefore "Museum of the Missing" seems a bit of a re-hash. Yet the "Rape of Europa" is not included in the Selected Bibliography of "Museum of the Missing".

I agree with other reviewers of "Rape of Europa" that photos would have filled a need to see the works Nicholas describes so intriguingly. However, I also see why -- her book was quite a feat, and adding photos would have likely doubled the timeline for publication.

While "Museum of the Missing" has nice photos and some charming anecdotes, I get the uneasy feeling that they've been told elsewhere, better.

Sorry to be unfriendly!
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