Stolen Banksy Work Found

There must be something about Banksy's philanthropy that attracts art thieves.

Recently, I wrote about a Banksy piece which a thief wearing a hazmat suit attempted to steal from Southampton General Hospital in Britain. The artist created and donated the work to the NHS hospital as a thank you for the efforts of front-line medical workers.

This week, Italian law enforcement officials announced that they had recovered a piece created by Banksy to honor the victims of the massacre at the Bataclan in Paris in 2015, during which Islamic extremists killed 90 as part of an attack that left a total of 130 people murdered and more than 400 injured. Banksy painted a deeply moving depiction of a mourner on an emergency exit door at the Bataclan as a commemoration.

Though painted in an unorthodox location--like so many of Banksy's works--it was a major loss. The savagery at the Bataclan still resonates in France, and the emotional work is considered a unique treasure in a nation overflowing with artwork of staggering beauty. A French embassy liaison officer said, “It belongs to the Bataclan, it belongs to all of France in a sense,” he said.

Last year, French police announced that the work had been stolen. Working together with the Italian police, the painting was recovered last week well-hidden in the attic of a home in Tortorento in the Abruzzo region. Police found the home occupied by Chinese nationals whom investigators believe were unaware of the painting's presence at the location.

Police and prosecutors suspect the work was stolen in order to monetize it, reported Andrea Rosa for the Associated Press. Of course, that plan seems to have fallen apart.

While it remains unclear how the painting made its way from France to Italy, one thing is clear: what we know of the crime fits the mold of garden variety art theft.

First, the motive: it was stolen to be turned into money. The Banksy wasn't taken for a collector, it was taken out of financial greed. Second, its secret hiding place. Paintings are very easy to store, and an attic or crawl space provides a natural, and common, hiding place for a work of art. And third, while paintings stolen in the United States typically remain there, art stolen in Europe is far more likely to cross borders, as did this work.

No one has been arrested for the theft of the Bataclan painting. One would suspect it was taken by common criminals who saw an opportunity and, lacking any sense of decency, attempted to exploit it. It's likely that the joint French-Italian operation will ultimately elicit the perpetrators, as the craven nature of the theft begs for follow-up.

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