It’s a strange feeling when the story line in a book you’re reading matches front page news. I just finished reading The Hare With Amber Eyes, Edmund De Waal’s exploration of his family’s history through its art collection, in particular a set of Japanese netsuke, miniature sculptures, that were passed down through his family from the late 1800s onward. His fabulously wealthy Jewish family lived in a “palais” in Vienna packed with art. But when the Nazis moved into Austria, they confiscated the family’s possessions, their home, and in some cases took their lives, too. I finished the book just as the news hit that a huge amount of Nazi-confiscated art had been found in a Berlin apartment, about 1,500 works estimated to be worth $1.4 billion. If you’re not familiar with the unfolding story, you can read about it in this New York Times article. You have to wonder if any of De Waal’s family art collection will be discovered in this trove of paintings.
On a similar topic, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves And The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History by Robert M. Edsel has been made into a movie with George Clooney and Matt Damon. Though the trailer for The Monuments Men says it will be out in December, the release is now scheduled for February.
It’s no wonder that stolen art is such a hot topic in literature lately. The real-life stories have a plot line worthy of Robert Ludlum. My book club recently read B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, which weaves the fictional story of a young woman who forges a work by Degas with the story of the heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, the largest unsolved art theft in history. See Shapiro’s excellent book trailer to understand how she used it as the foundation of her story. And, if you’re thinking of a trip to Boston, read The Art Forger and go visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’ll bring alive both your reading and your travel.
In addition, the Los Angeles/Santa Monica chapter of my book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways, offers a weekend itinerary that includes a visit to the fabulous Getty Museum in Los Angeles. And on the reading list for that chapter is Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt to Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum. It’s an investigation of the museum’s dealing in illegal antiquities from Los Angeles Times reporters, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino.
Looking for more on art heists? Here’s a Goodreads list that will keep you reading, and on the edge of your seat, well into the new year.