Art World Roundup: thieves steal Frans Hals painting for the third time, a UK study highlights lack of women represented in public works, and more

Art World Roundup: thieves steal Frans Hals painting for the third time, a UK study highlights lack of women represented in public works, and more
A decorated page in Das Großes Stammbuch. Photograph: Scriptura Limited/The Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (HAB)

In this week’s Art World Roundup, we cover a library acquisition nearly 400 years in the making, a UK study showing the disparity amongst women and men in publicly-owned statues, a Frans Hals work stolen for the third time, the sentencing of a man who tore through a Picasso, and Banksy’s endeavor to help refugees. 


Better late than never for this German library

In 1647, Augustus the Younger, a member of the House of Welf, unsuccessfully tried to acquire Das Große Stammbuch, a significant “friendship book,” for a library for which he was collecting. That library became the Herzog August Bibliothek, named after Duke Augustus, and is considered to be one of the oldest libraries in the world. Now, after nearly 400 years, the book Augustus tried to acquire is finally part of the library’s collection. The unique book, which was curated, in a sense, by the German diplomat and merchant Philipp Hainhofer, holds the signatures of around 100 major European figures, including Cosimo De’ Medici, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and Christian IV, the king of Denmark and Norway. Over the course of 50 years, Hainhofer brought the book to the courts he visited, where the signees would commission a small painting focusing on their signature for the friendship book, or album amicorum. After Hainhofer’s death in 1647, Augustus tried to buy Das Große Stammbuch for his library to no avail and it was eventually sold to a private collector. Over the coming decades, the book fell into obscurity, many believing it was lost but it resurfaced in London in 1931. Then, this year, it came to Sotheby’s for private sale. When researchers discovered its connection to the Herzog August Bibliothek, a private sale of about €2.8 million (£2.5 million) was arranged with the library. Today, there are around 25,000 known historic stammbuch, another name for friendship books, but Das Große Stammbuch is certainly among the most impressive.


UK public statues still a “man’s world” according to new study

Recently, public sculptures and statues in the UK and around the world have been under scrutiny as we come to terms with how we have memorialised the past. Some such sculptures were of problematic figures held in a position of glory, as was the case with Bristol’s statue of Edward Colston. Others, like Thomas J Price’s recently unveiled Reaching Out, offer an example of what public artworks might look like as we move forward, to uplift and memorialise those left out of the canon public artworks. Another issue at the forefront of these discussions is what artists, male or female, get to make public sculptures, and who, men or women, are depicted. A new study of UK publicly-owned sculptures by PACK & SEND, a UK-based art shipping company, found some answers to those questions and for women, their findings might not be surprising but they definitely aren’t great. According to the PACK & SEND study, of 1,470 publicly-owned sculptures depicting a gendered individual, just 351 of them were of women. Further to the point, of those 1,470 figures, 892 sculptures depict specific people. With these parameters, only 128, or 14 percent, UK sculptures show a named woman compared to the 764 of named men. In fact, there are only about 40 more sculptures of named women than there are of men named John, alone.  The odds aren’t better for women artists, either. According to the study, of a total of 4,912 sculptures in the UK, which includes non-figurative works, 1,914 were created by identifiable artists and of them, 1,452 were male. Dorset was found to be the best place – by a longshot – in representation with 69 percent of their public sculptures being by women. Redcar and Cleveland, Tyne and Wear, and Fife, on the other hand, were found to have no publicly-owned sculptures by women artists. PACK & SEND created their study using the 4,912 artworks listed on Art UK’s online databases. You can read more on the study here.


Dutch old master painting stolen for the third time

Thieves targeted the Hofje van Aerden museum in Leerdam, a town near Utrecht, in the early hours of August 26th, stealing a beloved painting by old master Frans Hals. The 1620s painting, Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer, is estimated to be worth around €15 million (£13.4 million) and it isn’t the first time it’s been stolen according to Dutch police. In 1988, the Hals painting was part of a heist that included the theft of Forest View with Flowering Elderberry, a painting by Jacob van Ruisdael. Three years later, the paintings were both recovered but in 2011, the Hals fell victim to robbers once more. Fortunately, the jolly pair of boys were found just six months later and the museum heightened security in the hopes of keeping the painting safe and sound, once and for all. However, around 3:30am on Wednesday morning, police responded to an alarm that was triggered at the museum, but by the time police arrived, the thieves were gone and so was the painting. According to the police, the perpetrators forced the back door of the Hofje van Aerden open and made their getaway shortly after. Police are consulting various authorities on the matter and reviewing CCTV but have also made a plea to the public to come forward with any information.


Man sentenced to 18 months in prison for vandalising a Picasso painting

Shakeel Massey, the 20-year old man who punched through a Picasso painting at Tate Modern last year, has been sentenced to 18 months in jail. After punching through a protective glass barrier on December 28th, Massey proceeded to repeatedly tear Bust of a Woman (1944) before ripping it off the wall in what the architecture student called a “performance.” The painting is thought to be worth around £20 million and experts have estimated that repairs will cost approximately £350,000 and take more than a year to complete. “He did what he did foolishly for five minutes of fame,” Massey’s lawyer told the London Inner City Crown court. “He was an immature artist making a point of who knows what. It’s really unjustifiable.” Judge Donne RD QC agreed with the sentiment stating that this was nothing more than Massey “[seeking] notoriety and five minutes of fame.”


Banksy boat rescues 89

A 31-metre yacht called the Louise Michel, after a French feminist anarchist, painted bright pink bearing a Banksy artwork of girl holding a pink life raft rescued 89 people on Thursday. The boat, which was financed by Bristol’s most mysterious artist, left a Spanish port earlier this month and encountered the refugees in the Mediterranean as they were trying to reach Europe after leaving north Africa. Those rescued will be delivered to mainland Europe. While the boat was financed by Banksy and adorned with the artist’s works, the vessel is manned by a 10-person crew, all of which are activists. Pia Klemp, who has captained several NGO vessels helping rescue thousands in recent years, captains the Louise Michel and received an email from Banksy in 2019, which she first thought was a joke. “Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” Banksy wrote, according to The Guardian. “I am an artist from the UK and I’ve made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can’t keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat or something? Please let me know. Well done. Banksy.” Klemp feels she was contacted by the artist for her political stance and clarified that Banksy has nothing to do with running the ship, he’s simply bank-rolled their efforts. The launch of the Louise Michel was initially kept under wraps to keep media attention from foiling their mission. Banksy is no stranger to speaking out about political issues the crises faced by immigrants and refugees. The topic has been front and centre in a number of the artist’s works including a tryptic sold last month through Sotheby’s for £2.23 million that benefitted a Bethlehem hospital.


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British street artist @Banksy has financed a boat to rescue refugees attempting to reach Europe from north Africa. The vessel, named Louise Michel after a French feminist anarchist, set off in secrecy on 18 August and is now in the central Mediterranean where on Thursday it rescued 89 people in distress, including 14 women and four children. Banksy’s involvement in the rescue mission goes back to September 2019 when he sent an email to Pia Klemp, the former captain of several NGO boats that have rescued thousands of people over recent years. Klemp, who initially thought it was a joke, believes she was chosen by Banksy due to her political stance. “I don’t see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight,” she told us. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 7,600 people have been returned to Libya, a war-torn country where different political factions continue to struggle for power. Often confined to informal camps, the situation for refugees and migrants in Libya is desperate, with acts of systematic torture and rape long documented by human rights organisations. Photos: Ruben Neugebauer + Lisa Hoffmann

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