A Large Target

May 28, 2020

Allison McNearney at The Daily Beast recently wrote a smart synopsis of the art thefts perpetrated against the Russborough House in County Wicklow, Ireland. The estate of the Beit family can make two particular claims to fame: it is the longest house in all of Ireland, and it is the site of four art heists. The ways that each took place provide interesting insights into major art theft, as they range from the bold to the brutish.

 

McNearney starts the story off perfectly: "Some might attribute Russborough House’s history to bad luck, and maybe that’s how it started," she writes. "But the real problem was one of exposure." 

 

It's an excellent point. After Rose Dugdale headed a huge heist in 1974, Martin "The General" Cahill used her exploits as his inspiration to nick many of the same paintings, including Johnanes Vermeer's Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid.  That painting alone made the two heists among the biggest in history. Later, in the 2000s, two more heists were committed at Russborough House, both involving brute force as opposed to the clever methods employed by Dugdale and Cahill described by McNearney.

 

Google Arts & Culture has a beautiful exploration of the Vermeer targeted in those two heists. And the incomparable Essential Vermeer site has a critical assessment of the painting here.

 

McNearney has written often about cultural property theft often, and you can follow her Twitter feed @allisonmcn.

 

 

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