November 30, 2020

Massachusetts: Rembrandt, Dürer Works Valued at More than $600,000 Missing from Boston Public Library

From the Boston Globe:

Police are investigating the disappearance of two works of art worth more than $600,000, including a print of a Rembrandt self-portrait, that went missing last month from the Boston Public Library’s flagship branch in Copley Square, authorities said Tuesday.

A report from the Boston Police Department’s Anti-Corruption Unit states that officers learned in April that two prints, the one by Rembrandt and an Adam and Eve etching by Albrecht Dürer, were missing.

The Dürer piece was valued at over $600,000, and the Rembrandt was worth between $20,000 and $30,000, according to police and library officials.

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In a statement, the library system’s president, Amy Ryan, said officials had “recently discovered that an engraving by Albrecht Dürer and an etching by Rembrandt are missing from the Boston Public Library’s print collection. It is our hope that these two significant pieces have simply been misfiled. The curators and department staff are currently conducting a detailed search of the collection, and we are working with the Boston Police Department to determine if there is the possibility of criminal activity,” she said.

The library is “undertaking an updated inventory of the more than 200,000 prints and drawings that make up the print collection,’’ and that it will also “conduct an independent analysis of security protocols,” she continued.

Read the Complete Article

UPDATE 3: May 21st 7:00 A.M. Eastern

Disappearance of BPL Art May Be an Inside Job (via Boston Globe)
Police question a BPL employee who has been placed on administrative leave.

UPDATE 2: May 20th 5:30 P.M. Eastern

Here’s a second statement by Boston Public Library (BPL) President Amy Ryan along with a statement by BPL Board Chairman, Jeffery Rudman. BPL has also released a timeline and additional background about the library’s art collection.

Statement from Amy Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library

“The Boston Public Library has an extensive, impressive, and diverse collection of prints totaling more than 200,000 pieces. When I was notified that the two prints were missing and the seriousness of the situation, I contacted Police Commissioner Evans to ensure the Boston Police Department was aware. We are continuing to work closely with BPD during their investigation and are conducting an independent security review, and an item by item audit of our print collection. We are eager to bring this to a successful conclusion. It is important that all of the treasures of our collection can be made available to the public now and in the future, and that must be balanced with ensuring their security.”

Statement Of Jeffrey B. Rudman Chair, Boston Public Library Board Of Trustees

I have, and I know the Trustees have, endless confidence in President Ryan. We enjoy a strong relationship with her and have enjoyed that relationship continuously since she was appointed President of the Boston Public Library in October 2008.

The Trustees are proud of the Boston Public Library’s extraordinary print collection of more than 200,000 items and, while security is always a concern for institutions with valuable collections, at the Boston Public Library, not only are we mindful of that concern, but we pride ourselves on making our valuable treasures available to the public. That is how it should be. That is how it must be.

That said, we hope to use this incident as an opportunity to learn and to improve. When the facts are clear, we will make those improvements which the facts commend. We have already begun an independent item-by-item survey of the art we currently possess, and we have commissioned an independent audit of our security protocols.

In the interim, we are very grateful for the assistance of the Boston Police Department, who have been actively involved since President Ryan notified them on April 15 when she first knew exactly what artwork was missing. The Trustees deeply appreciate the efforts of President Ryan and her staff, both in their cooperation with the police and in doing all that they can to maximize the likelihood that we will recover this art.”

Timeline

On April 8 the Chief of Collections Strategy became aware that the Dürer print was missing, and may have been missing for the last several months. At this time Print Department staff began an internal search.

On April 11, President Ryan was informed about the missing Dürer print, and notified the Board of Trustees Chair, Jeffrey Rudman.

On April 15, the Print Department became aware that the Rembrandt was missing. President Ryan contacted Mayor Walsh and Police Commissioner Evans to inform them that the two prints were missing. The internal review continued.

On April 29, a police report was filed under advisement of the Boston Police Department when the prints were not located during the initial internal search.

Security

The Boston Public Library has a contract with Andy Frain Services for security operations in and around the Central Library.

This spring the Security Department at the BPL will be working with KCMS Safety and Security Solutions, an independent security firm to assess the current security systems in the print department and associated collections. They will review security measures and procedures that are currently being used to safeguard these collections, and make recommendations for upgrades.

The collections of the Print Department are stored in areas that are alarmed in the Central Library.

Background on the Prints

The Print Department’s collections include European and American prints, drawings, and photographs. Also included are collections of 19th century chromolithographs, American political cartoons and portraits that date from the Colonial period through the mid-20th century (referred to as the Americana Collection), 19th and 20th century posters, and various related ephemera. The major holdings of the Print Department are estimated at over 1.3 million items. We don’t have an estimate for the value of the holdings because they are not assessed when the BPL receives them.

Within the last year, and prior to the report of these missing items, the Boston Public Library had been working with a an outside consultant to organize, catalogue, inventory, and recommend processes to allow better security and control over the collection. As a result of this incident, we are working more aggressively to complete the work in a thorough and expeditious way.

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Over 80,000 objects, or about 6% of the Print collection, have been digitized and are available through the Digital Commonwealth and flickr.  Eighteen entire collections have been digitized, including Photographs of the American West, Boston Pictoral Archive, and Louis Prang chromolithographs.

The collections of the Print Department are stored in secure areas at the Central Library.

The public can contact the Print Department through phone or email to arrange a time to view material.  All Print Department materials are viewed in the Rare Books Reading Room and patrons are required to have a library card or courtesy card before entering.

The specific information regarding the Dürer and Rembrandt prints is as follows:

  1. Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528).  Adam and Eve.  Engraving, 1504.
  2. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669).  Self Portrait with Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre.  Etching, 1634.

The Rembrandt was part of the Wiggin Collection gift in 1941, and the Albrecht Dürer was part of the Leo M. Friedman estate received in 1958.

The Boston Public Library has 27 Collections of Distinction, including 3 Collections of Distinction in the Print Department. These include the Boston Artists Collection, the Boston Artists Collection, the Boston Pictoral Archive, and Louis Prang.

Update 1May 20th 10:30 A.M. Eastern: Here’s the full text of the statement by BPL President Amy Ryan (via email from Boston Public Library).

We recently discovered that an engraving by Albrecht Dürer and an etching by Rembrandt are missing from the Boston Public Library’s print collection. It is our hope that these two significant pieces have simply been misfiled. The curators and department staff are currently conducting a detailed search of the collection, and we are working with the Boston Police Department to determine if there is the possibility of criminal activity. As part of the search process, BPL is undertaking an updated inventory of the more than 200,000 prints and drawings that make up the print collection, and will conduct an independent analysis of security protocols. While strict procedures for viewing items in the collection are in place, it is always a balance to fulfill our obligation to make collections open to the public to study and enjoy, while preserving them and keeping them secure.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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