Artworks
The Lane of Poplars at Moret
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cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

If you don't see Poplars on the walls of its home in Nice, it's probably just stolen again.

For real, everyone needs to agree to a hands off policy for this painting here on out. The first theft happened while Poplars was on loan in 1978 at a museum in Marseille.  It was found a week later in the city's sewers. Rude. Theft deux was in 1998. Committed in Law and Order fashion by Jean Forneris, the museum's curator, and two nincompoop accomplices. Forneris got a five year stretch. Poplars was recovered from a boat moored in a nearby town about a week after the theft. It was a dicey home for a painting, but still better than that sewer life.

The third (and thus far final) theft was in August 2007. The robbery was a 10 minute smash and grab job by five masked gunmen who also took paintings by MonetJan Brueghel the Elder, and Hendrik van Balen the Elder. The gunmen attempted taking another Sisley, as well, but left it damaged at the museum after realizing their getaway bag was too small for it. Finding the thieves was hindered by the museum lacking any kind of surveillance equipment, but eased by the dummies knowing absolutely nothing about the first rule of art theft: Always have a buyer lined up ahead of time. (Just kidding, sortof. Don't steal art, mmmkay?) 

The thieves eventually found a buyer in the form of one Robert K. Wittman, whose hobbies include long walks on the beach, pairing Beaujolais-Nouveau with 19th century Russian novels, and being the best goddamn undercover detective on the FBI's art crime team. Wittman was tipped off by an anonymous informant that the thieves were shopping the stolen works around in Florida. So, he showed up and introduced himself as a fat cat collector from Pennsylvania with loose morals and a fatty wallet. The paintings, together, were probably worth unknowable millions, but since they were on the black market and all, Wittman talked them down to a measly $4.6 million. The personal histories of the thieves involved read like a casting call for the next Ocean's movie. A failed boxer, career criminals, a motorcycle repairman, all on an art heist that stretches cross the world from the south of France to Florida. They all went to jail, of course, after getting stung by French police forces in June 2008 at the money drop.

Sisley was all but obsessed with Moret, a rural region two hours south of Paris. Moret not only inspired the hell out of Sisley creatively, but it was way more affordable for the artist's modest salary and growing family. Thus, it was a win-win. The lion's share of his life's output was painted in and of Moret, with this particular lane of poplars receiving his trademark obsessive succession of multiple editions. Gotta capture the intricacies of light play, bruh.