The Picasso Ransom

The Picasso Ransom – and other stories about art and crime in Australia, (available in paperback and e-book) my second book is a collection of forty-five true-crime stories about the visual arts in Australia: art theft, art forgery, art censorship, art vandalism, and protest art.

There will be a book Launch: 3pm, 11th of March, The Woodlands Hotel, 84-88 Sydney Rd, Coburg. Q&A with author, book signings and book sales (see the Facebook events page if you want to).

The title comes from the famous artnapping of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria. One of the artnapper’s demands was an art prize called “the Picasso Ransom”.

While that crime is famous, others stories of crimes, from the colonial to the contemporary, are not well known but equally intriguing. Amongst them is an entire exhibition of forged Pollocks, paintings stabbed, art prosecuted as pornography, decapitated statues, and more stolen art. 

I have long been interested in art crimes and have been building up a file of clippings and photocopies since I first heard Picasso’s Weeping woman was stolen from the NGV in 1986. That year I wrote a long essay on the aesthetic issues of art forgery as part of my undergraduate studies, but don’t worry, I won’t be quoting from it in the book. It is not an academic book, it is a true-crime book, and I now think I was wrong about almost everything I wrote in that essay.

However, my interest kept growing, as did my file on art crimes: newspaper clippings and photocopies about art forgers, iconoclastic vandals and graffiti writers. I read more and attended talks and seminars on forgery and iconoclasm.My interest in Melbourne’s public sculpture, the subject of my first book, introduced me to the theft of bronze sculptures for scrap metal.

Writing a blog is a good way of making contacts and gaining experience in an area. I found myself reporting on the accusations, first against Bill Henson and then, in more detail, against Paul Yore. As well as hanging around with Professor Alison Young, “Banksy’s favourite criminologist”, and graffiti writers and street artists.

When I started writing the book about five or six years ago, I had yet to learn how long it would take or how much work would be involved. I was sitting day after day in the Supreme Court. I conducted interviews and exchanged messages with various people, including convicted forgers, graffiti writers, defence lawyers and courtroom artists (the last two are great for name-dropping infamous criminals).

At first, I thought there might be enough crimes involving art in Melbourne alone to fill a book. From the attempted destruction of Serrano’s Piss Christ, the Liberto forgeries, art stolen from Albert Tucker’s home to the arrest of the American graffiti writer Ether, there was a wide variety of crimes. However, I soon learnt of crimes in other parts of Australia that were too fascinating to leave out. There are some intriguing art thefts in South Australia, the earliest attempt of prosecution for forgery in Sydney, an entire exhibition of fake Jackson Pollock in Perth and more. Adding up to over a century of stealing, forging, vandalising and censoring art around Australia.

So, I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing and researching it. And as a thank you to my regular readers the first three people who comment will get a copy sent to them, anywhere in the world.

The Picasso Ransom and other stories about art and crime in Australia

Mark S. Holsworth

ISBN 978-0-646-87307-7 / ISBN 978-0-646-87308-4 (ebook)

314 pages 216×140 (5.5×8.50”)

About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

8 responses to “The Picasso Ransom

  • Anne-Marie Reeves

    This sounds fascinating. I’ll be looking out for this to add to my collection of books on art.

  • dave2718

    Love the cover- looking forward to diving into some arty true-crime

  • Penelope Jackson

    Hi Mark, can you please post a table of contents for your new book on your blog.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Hi Penelope,
      Here it is, but it is not as helpful as half the time; I’m trying to make a bit of mystery or a joke with my chapter titles.

      Introduction – at the intersection of art and crime
      Timeline of events
      Part 1: Thieving ratbags
      1.01 The abstraction at the Art Gallery 1.02 A swag of art thefts 1.03 La belle Holandaise 1.04 Artnapping 1.05 The Stolen exhibition 1.06 Sky Blue and Joseph Brown 1.07 Whose law? Whose culture? 1.08 Loti’s Renoir 1.09 The Picasso ransom 1.10 Stolen art and the damage done 1.11 Australia’s Most Wanted 1.12 Hot Tucker 1.13 The cleaner 1.14 Copper-belly 1.15 The Australia Day art heist 1.16 The gloaters 1.17 The worst art thief in Australia 1.18 Five-finger discounts 1.19 The stolen gods
      Part 2: Bullshit Artists
      2.1 False Representations 2.2 Pro art forgers 2.3 A dealer in ‘Drysdales’ 2.4 The fake dripper 2.5 Blundell’s innuendos 2.6 Faking Possum 2.7 The Toorak forgers 2.8 The art of investing 2.9 How to Frame a Brett Whiteley
      Part 3: Self-righteous pricks
      3.1 Norman Lindsey and the Witch of Kings Cross 3.2 The indecency of Mike Brown 3.3 Warning signs 3.4 Regional values 3.5 Trial by media 3.6 A troll in St. Kilda
      Part 4: Bloody vandals
      4.1 Stabbings in Melbourne 4.2. Dickheads 4.3 Statue wars 4.4 Holy monkey thieves! 4.5 Taggers, Renks and 70K 4.6 The ballad of Ether and Utah
      Part 5: Other animals
      5.1 The communist in a cage 5.2 Beverly’s body 5.3 Proudly unAustralian 5.4 Courtroom artists
      This is not a conclusion

      If you would like a free copy of the book, as you are the third person to comment on this blog post, email me your mail address, and I will post it.

    • Penelope Jackson

      Thanks Mark, that’s hugely helpful (and you might attract more readers with those provocative headings@).

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