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Art thieves take more than 'The Scream'

August 26, 2004|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

Norwegians, who saw armed robbers pluck "The Scream" and another Edvard Munch painting from a museum Sunday, are not the only ones howling over art theft and related perfidy.

In San Francisco, a 90-year-old bronze sculpture of the Greek god Hermes was pulled from its perch in front of an exclusive social and athletic club on Nob Hill in a nighttime heist early this week.

In Orlando, Fla., police are still investigating the Aug. 13 theft of a $25,000 bronze head of the Virgin Mary from a commercial gallery while Hurricane Charley swept through town. And Associated Press reports that police in Helsinki, Finland, confirmed this week that hundreds of pieces offered for sale at a purported exhibition of works by Salvador Dali were forgeries, as were other objects bannered as works by Joan Miro, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.

"Resting Hermes," 4 feet long and more than 300 pounds, was pried from its pedestal outside the University Club in San Francisco late Monday or early Tuesday. Deke Kastner, the club's general manager, said Wednesday that the Italian government had commissioned it for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, a world's fair in San Francisco; the club acquired it afterward.

Kastner said he couldn't place a value on the reclining Hermes. The club has offered $1,000, no questions asked, for the return of the statue, which also was stolen in 1974 but returned soon after.

The Orlando theft involves a limited-edition bronze cast of Mary's head that Vatican artisans took directly from Michelangelo's "Pieta," said Michael Hall, director of the Inspirational Living Fine Art Gallery, from which it was taken. The gallery's alarm system was triggered, Hall said, but security personnel assumed that hurricane winds had set if off, and the loss was not discovered until the next morning.

In the Finnish case, AP reports, police closed the Dali exhibition in June and now believe that 80% of the 450 supposed Dali originals they impounded were forgeries, as were 150 other works they confiscated. The investigation continues.

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