Image: WBUR Image: WBUR

It all started in 1976 when The International Foundation for Art Research, a non-profit organisation in New York, established and archive for stolen art in an effort to prevent and decrease crime within the business.

From this, the Art Loss Register was born. During the 1990s the business expanded with offices opening in New York and Europe. The London head office opened up in January 2010. Today, ALR is the largest database for stolen artworks, antiquities and collector’s items. Through technology and a team of experts, the organisation is an important tool for collectors, dealers, auction houses and insurers everywhere.

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The ALR business has two main areas of focus. Firstly, users can register their art and antiquities. The database has a crime preventive purpose - so that a recently stolen item appearing on the market is easier to spot.

The other part focuses on locating the stolen item, and returning it to the rightful owners. If you are subjected to theft, the ALR database can be used to track the art work. It can also be helpful for dealers and auction houses to ensure that the items they are selling are not stolen.

Cézanne, ‘Kettle and Fruits’. Image: Artnet Cézanne, ‘Kettle and Fruits’. Image: Artnet

The Art Loss Register has through the years worked with many controversial cases, such as the Bakwin-case. In 1978, seven paintings including Cézanne’s Kettle and Fruit was stolen from a residence in Boston. And then 20 years later, a retired lawyer tried to sell the painting.

The illegal sale was reported to the ALR, who then started the negotiations to get the paintings back. Through cooperation between the FBI and the Swiss police, ALR found and returned the Cézanne, which was later sold for 29.3 million dollars. The rest of the stolen works were to be found and returned during the next decade.

Sculpture by Matisse. Image: Konstförteckningen Sculpture by Matisse. Image: Konstförteckningen

In 2017, the ALR got another high profile case. This time, the bronze Matisse sculpture, which was stolen from a Swiss museum during the 1990s. The sculpture was donated to the institution in 1978, but despite quick police involvement after the theft, the artwork was lost. It was the insurance company that later contacted the Art Loss Register in the hope that the valuable work would one day be found.

Thirty years later, a French auction house contacted the ALR when the sculpture was submitted to the house. They could confirm that this was in fact the stolen original that had been bought from a bric-a-brac store, in the same Swiss town as the museum - for only a fraction of its actual worth.

After hard negotiations, ALR could reinstate the sculpture, a touching portrait of Matisse’s daughter, to its original home.

More on the Art Loss Register here