The best books on art crime: theft, looting, and forgery

Noah Charney Author Of The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Shaped the Art World
By Noah Charney

Who am I?

Back in 2006, a New York Times Magazine feature article about me announced that I had essentially founded the field of the study of art crime, while still a postgraduate student. I’m often mentioned as the world’s leading authority on the history of art crime and I’ve been a professor teaching the subject for more than a decade (I’m not actually that old). I also founded ARCA, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, the world’s first think tank and research group on art crime. We launched the first academic journal on the subject, The Journal of Art Crime, as well as the first academic study program, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, which runs every summer in Italy. I’m also the author of more than a dozen books, many best-sellers, and one a Pulitzer finalist. I write on art crime for TED Ed videos, I host TV programs on the subject, and I recently curated a virtual exhibit of lost art called Missing Masterpieces.

I wrote...

The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Shaped the Art World

By Noah Charney,

Book cover of The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Shaped the Art World

What is my book about?

Scandal, shock, and rivalry all have negative connotations, don't they? They can be catastrophic to businesses and individual careers. A whiff of scandal can turn a politician into a smoking ruin.

The Devil in the Gallery is a guided tour of the history of art through its scandals, rivalries, and shocking acts, each of which resulted in a positive step forward for art in general and, in most cases, for the careers of the artists in question. In addition to telling dozens of stories, lavishly illustrated in full color, of such dramatic moments and arguing how they not only affected the history of art but affected it for the better, we will also examine the proactive role of the recipients of these intentionally dramatic actions: The art historians, the critics and even you, the general public.

The Books I Picked & Why

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The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped!

By Alan Hirsch,

Book cover of The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped!: The Incredible True Story of the Art Heist That Shocked a Nation

Why this book?

If you saw the recent film, The Duke, then you’ll know the story of Kempton Bunton and the crazy art heist from London’s National Gallery, when Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington was stolen. This is one of the most interesting and quirkiest of all art heists and this book is the definitive telling of it.

Context Matters

By David W. J. Gill,

Book cover of Context Matters: Collating the Past

Why this book?

David Gill is the leading authority on antiquities looting and the legitimate institutions that trade in it. This collection of essays, most published first in The Journal of Art Crime, is as good an introduction as any to the dark side of the antiquities trade.

Transnational Art Crime

By Edgar Tijhuis,

Book cover of Transnational Art Crime

Why this book?

When I first started out, there were very few books ever written about the study of art crime. Tijhuis was one of the few authorities, approaching it from a criminological perspective. This is a really strong academic survey of the phenomenon, perfect for those interested in the intersection of criminology and art.

The Secret Collector

By Leon Pogelšek, Slavko Pregl,

Book cover of The Secret Collector: The Lost Art Collection of Erich Šlomovič

Why this book?

This book reads like a novel but tells the true story (one of the authors was personally involved in the adventures) of one of the most famous lost art collections of all-time. Over 400 paintings were once owned by Erich Slomovic, a Serbian Jewish collection based in Paris, who was killed in a concentration camp during the Second World War. Most of his collection remains lost, its whereabouts unknown. This book is unusually written in that it really feels like a Dickensian novel but it’s based on the best available scholarship and research.

Art Forgery

By Thierry Lenain,

Book cover of Art Forgery: The History of a Modern Obsession

Why this book?

This book is part philosophy, part on art and forgery. Most approaches, my own included, to art forgery are art historical and criminological. This one is readable and thoughtful and fun but focuses on the big ideas behind the scenes.