Big Time Theft at Cuba Fine Arts Museum

Ivette Leyva Martinez  (Cafe Fuerte)

The Cuban National Fine Arts Museum.

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

5 thoughts on “Big Time Theft at Cuba Fine Arts Museum

  • Of course art dealers, even in Miami, are going to inform INTERPOL and Cuba’s National Fine Arts Museum. If they didn’t, and the theft of even one of the hundred purloined paintings was discovered and recovered, the dealer would be in big trouble. I’m amazed that any of these paintings were put on the open market. None of the long list of major paintings and other works of art stolen in 1990 from the Elizabeth Gardner Museum in Boston have ever been recovered, probably because they were stolen on order from a private–a very private–collector.

  • Of greater wonder is that Cuban officials remain silent. Is the fear and uncertainty that great?

  • I’m no expert in these things, but I’ve seen enough “heist” movies to know the inside job requires people on the outside too. And isn’t there always a double cross? Yes, somewhere there has to be somebody to put up the cash to fund the operation with the expectation of a big payoff. Certainly an interesting story.

    Of course, this is not the first time Cuban artwork has found it a way onto the international market. Quite a lot flooded the market when the revolutionbgained power and the wealthy split Havana. A few months later, more art hit the scene as the revolution siezed and sorted through what was left behind. Several time after that, whenever cash became scarce on the island more art would ooze out of the woodwork. Squeeze, squeeze to the last drop.

  • Inside job…yes. But not so much somebody in a position of power. More likely, somebody in the possession of money to grease a few palms to insure safe passage of the booty to Miami. The bigger question is…where did the hush-money originate from?

  • Wow! How do thieves manage to steal almost 100 paintings from a major art gallery? Even more incredible, how did they manage to get these paintings out of the country? It seems to me me this has to be some kind of “inside job” involving somebody in a position of power to enable them to pull off a heist like this.

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