Jump to content


22 Aug 2018

Waikato Museum hosts art crime exposé

Curator and art historian Penelope Jackson compares a copy of Floral Still Life, by Adele Younghusband, with the original at Waikato Museum.

The motives, methods and mysteries of art crime will be explored by two of the country’s foremost experts during an eye-opening talk at Waikato Museum this week.

Art historian Penelope Jackson and District Court Judge Arthur Tompkins will share the fascinating stories they’ve uncovered as researchers, writers and teachers of the history of art crime.

Jackson specialises in New Zealand examples of art theft, vandalism and forgery, which are captured in her book, Art Thieves, Fakes and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story, published in 2016.

“It’s not illegal to produce a copy of a painting, but it is a crime to try to sell it as the original,” she says.

“We’ll be revealing the whodunnits of art crime, but also asking, ‘what can we do to stop it’.”

One of Jackson’s favourite cases is the theft of a Solomon J Solomon painting, Psyche, from a Christchurch gallery in 1942, leaving its elegant gold frame behind.

Research for her book, which included Jackson re-enacting the supposed trail of the offender over a wall of the gallery, led to new information about the getaway.

“There is a sense of hope the exquisite gold frame will one day be reunited with the stolen painting, although it is highly improbable now.”

Mr Tompkins’ interest is art crime during war, which he travels to Italy to teach the history of each New Zealand winter.

In 2013, he was alerted that some of his research had been referenced by fiction writer Dan Brown in his novel Inferno, a sequel of The Da Vinci Code.

“It’s a small feeling of personal satisfaction that some work you’ve done has been read by someone else and then turned up in a place that I never would have expected to see it,” he told the Sunday Star Times after the citation was discovered.

Tompkins’ own book, Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime during War, was published earlier this year.

Waikato Museum Director Cherie Meecham says Hamilton is privileged to have two of the world’s leading authorities on art crime share their knowledge.

“Penelope and Arthur have travelled extensively in their pursuit of these stories,” she says.

“But the audience will be shocked to find out that Hamilton and the Waikato have art crime skeletons of their own in the closet.”