Should museums tell the public about missing art?
Two pieces of gold and silver-encrusted Italian Renaissance armor, which had been stolen from the Louvre in 1983 and found this year in a family’s private collection in France, were discovered the way stolen art often is: An expert crosschecked the items against an online database of lost and stolen art.
But museums have at times withheld information about thefts, fearing that revealing security weaknesses could make other institutions less likely to loan them art or that it could encourage other thefts, according to current and former museum officials. Art security experts say the failure to report thefts, particularly involving items stolen from storage, has prevented museums from recovering items.
Philippe Malgouyres, the curator of heritage art at the Louvre, said that when he started working in museums decades ago, he heard stories of thefts and disappearances that had not been reported.
“Our purpose is to preserve objects for the future and for the public,” Mr. Malgouyres said. “When we fail to do that somehow, when something is stolen, it’s a very painful experience, which led some museums in the past, especially, not even to go to the police sometimes, because they were feeling so embarrassed about it.”
that recovered two J.M.W. Turner paintings in 2002, eight years after they had been stolen while on loan to a museum in Germany.
On Sunday, the newspaper El País reported that the National Library of Spain had discovered in 2014 that one of its holdings, a 17th-century book by Galileo, had been replaced by a copy but did not report it to the police until four years later, when researchers had requested the work.
stole 27 pieces from the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome, the police kept quiet about the theft and, as a result, recovered most of the pieces, she said.
“Sometimes they’re very quiet, not so talkative or splashy,” Ms. Albertson said of the division of Italian police that focuses on art crime. “That discretion has been quite helpful.”