Stolen paintings from Havana turn up in Miami
Official confirms theft at the National Museum of Fine Arts and says Cuba is willing to work with Interpol to track down missing works
By David D’Arcy. Web only
Published online: 02 March 2014
Around 95 paintings have been stolen from the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, all 20th-century works by a group of Modernist painters known as the Vanguardia. The director of Cuba’s National Registry of Cultural Assets, José Antonio Menéndez, confirmed the theft and says the organisation is taking measures to tighten security at the museum “including internal control measures”.
“We are working on an inventory to know how many works are missing,” says Menéndez, although this document is not yet ready to be published. He says that Cuban officials are willing to work with Interpol to help track down all the stolen works. “We are in the early stages of the investigation, but we will coordinate with all the institutions that we need to in order recover what has left the country.”
News about the theft first came out in Miami, where the dealer Ramon Cernuda says he paid $15,000 for a painting on wood, Carnaval Infantil, by Eduardo Abela that he recognised as belonging to the Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. The work was offered by another dealer to his Coral Gables gallery, which sells art from Cuba mostly to Cuban-Americans. “There’s not enough money in Cuba for people to buy this sort of thing,” says Gustavo Araoz, the Cuban-born president of the International Council for Monuments and Sites (Icomos). “It would obviously be risky to steal works like these and keep them in Cuba,” he adds.
Cernuda says the same person who provided his gallery with Abela’s work showed him at least nine other pieces from the Havana museum, including paintings by Leopold Romanach. Cernuda says that museum staff told him most of the works were cut from their frames, and the frames returned to their places in storage, which made the thefts hard to detect.
Cernuda says he plans to return Carnaval Infantil to the museum, and has turned the painting over to the FBI. Works by Romanach are rare in the US, Cernuda adds, which should make the Havana pictures easy to trace.
Additional reporting by Laurie Rojas
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