The best books about stolen art

Who am I?

Shirley Jackson award-winner Kaaron Warren published her first short story in 1993 and has had fiction in print every year since. She was recently given the Peter McNamara Lifetime Achievement Award and was Guest of Honour at World Fantasy 2018, Stokercon 2019 and Geysercon 2019.  She has also been Guest of Honour at Conflux in Canberra and Genrecon in Brisbane.

She has published five multi-award winning novels (Slights, Walking the Tree, Mistification, The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone) and seven short story collections, including the multi-award winning Through Splintered Walls. Her most recent short story collection is A Primer to Kaaron Warren from Dark Moon Books. Her most recent novella, Into Bones Like Oil (Meerkat Press), was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award and the Bram Stoker Award, winning the Aurealis Award. Her stories have appeared in both Ellen Datlow’s and Paula Guran’s Year’s Best anthologies.

I wrote...

The Grief Hole

By Kaaron Warren,

Book cover of The Grief Hole

What is my book about?

When I was writing The Grief Hole, a novel about a woman who knows how you’re going to die by the ghosts who haunt you, and her battle with Sol Evictus, a charismatic singer and art collector, I visited the New Jersey State Museum with family. There were a number of artworks on show there that resonated within the novel, and with the choices Sol Evictus makes. He only collects paintings and sculptures with dark inspiration, such as The Sempstress, by Richard Redgrave, Bruegel’s Massacre of the Innocents, and the photographs of Dina Gottleibson.

There I saw Adolph Konrad’s “Summer Afternoon’, where a large, white house dominated the painting. It seemed to loom over the people sitting, stone-faced, at a table in the overgrown garden in the foreground. Around them, behind them, between them, were ghosts; pale, transparent figures. Being Sol Evictus, most of his pieces are stolen, and I loved researching art theft as I wrote.

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The books I picked & why

Museum of the Missing

By Simon Houpt,

Book cover of Museum of the Missing

Why did I love this book?

This book looks at thieves, liars, manipulators and of course the art itself. There’s a section on damaged goods, which taps into one of my obsessions about the difference in time and effort creation versus destruction takes. 

It’s full of pictures, ironic given that most of the pieces depicted are lost, never to be found. The Gallery of Missing Art is beautifully reproduced, and includes such masterpieces as Strindberg’s “Night of Jealousy”, so we can look at the works and marvel. But knowing that these pieces are…somewhere? Hidden away for a small audience, or perhaps destroyed? That’s heart-breaking.  

By Simon Houpt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Museum of the Missing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The masterpieces of art that have been stolen could fill a museum. Museum of the Missing offers readers a rare glimpse of the greatest gallery that never was. Simon Houpt brilliantly recounts the story of its valuable holdings and investigates some of the men and women involved in the thefts. Filled with beautiful illustrations and rarely seen photographs, this intriguing book is also a celebration of the ingenious few who are trying to get these treasures back.

A Small Unsigned Painting

By Stephen Scheding,

Book cover of A Small Unsigned Painting

Why did I love this book?

A fascinating Australian story about a man who is certain he has unearthed a painting by the renowned Australian painter Lloyd Rees. While this isn’t exactly about stolen art, it is about a painting that went missing, and whose provenance was lost. It depicts just how obsessed we can become with a single image. 

By Stephen Scheding,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Small Unsigned Painting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


By Michael Frayn,

Book cover of Headlong

Why did I love this book?

This is a book I buy every time I see it in order to give it away. It’s one of my favourite novels and one I re-read every couple of years. It’s about a man who thinks his rich neighbour owns a Brueghel (a missing panel from the “Seasons” series) and his plans to steal it. It captures the nature of art obsession, and of that desire in all of us to discover something new, be it a hidden masterpiece, the solution to a long-unsolved crime, or perhaps a first edition book on our shelves. It’s funny, educational, entrancing and now I have to go and read it again.

By Michael Frayn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Headlong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Headlong begins when Martin Clay, a young would-be art historian, believes he has discovered a missing masterpiece. The owner of the painting is oblivious to its potential and asks Martin to help him sell it, leaving Martin with the chance of a lifetime: if he could only separate the painter from its owner, he would be able to perform a great public service, to make his professional reputation, perhaps even rather a lot of money as well. But is the painting really what Martin believes it to be? As Martin is drawn further into…

Book cover of The Plundered Past: The Traffic in Art Treasures

Why did I love this book?

This fascinating book not only looks at art stolen by thieves, but also at the business of art museums and what constitutes moral collection. It was written in 1973, so things have changes drastically as far as how we perceive where a treasure belongs, but Meyer already argues for the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles, for example. He has a brilliant table at the end, listing major art thefts 1911-1972 and including comments, all of which deserve a story of their own. For example: 

1953, Rodin bronze, stolen by a student who wanted to “live with it”. 

1959, Daumier painting, in the pocket of a suitcase that was stolen from a train. 

1971, Titian “Holy Conversation”, recovered after dramatic car chase. Thieves also drank communion wine. 

By Karl Ernest Meyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Plundered Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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Book cover of Stolen Treasure: the Hunt for the World’s Lost Masterpieces

Why did I love this book?

I really love this book and could write an entire short story collection inspired by it. It’s the first time I heard about the Amber Room, one of those things that once you know about it, you are obsessed. The authors lead us into caves, through basements, across borders, as they track down the pathways of stolen treasures. The book tells us about the provenance of missing artworks, and what it means to have that space on the wall. 

All of these books have an element of ‘the missing wall’ about them and perhaps that’s one of the things that fascinates me the most about the subject. Sometimes what isn’t there is more meaningful than what is. 

By Konstantin Akinsha,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stolen Treasure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Just as Nazi Germany appropriated works of art - paintings, sculptures and antiques - from all over Europe in 1939 and 1940, so the Soviet army set up "trophy brigades" to transport the same works of art, and many more, to Moscow and Leningrad in 1945. This book by two Russian art historians sets out to reveal how they did this and what happened to these works of art. With the end of the Soviet Union, many of these stolen works are now likely to go on display in Russia or be returned to their rightful owners in Europe. This…

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Interested in art theft, the Soviet Union, and Russia?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about art theft, the Soviet Union, and Russia.

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