“We are looking for either a master thief or a madman.” Scotland Yard incorrectly assumed. For it was a woman, Rose Dugdale, who was the mastermind behind art thefts and one attempt at an aerial bombing of a police station. The book could have been titled: “the woman who stole Vermeers” because she probably stole two.
This biography of Rose Dugdale follows a strictly chronological narrative. Consequently, it has a prolonged start with her childhood and education, including her PhD. Followed by the development of her earnest politics. And then more chapters on the background of the Irish Troubles, Bloody Sunday and other revolutionary politics of the 1960s.
There are 262 pages in the book, including the author’s note, bibliography, endnotes and acknowledgements. It is only on p. 99 that any art is stolen, and then they are unnamed paintings from Dugdale’s family home. And not until p.147 that a Vermeer is stolen.
Not that it takes the police long to arrest her and recover the stolen art. Famous stolen art might not be able to be sold, but there are often political motivations for art theft. And Dugdale was all about politics.
Despite defending Dugdale’s autonomy and leadership in his introduction, author, Anthony M. Amore fails to provide evidence that anyone ever suggested otherwise.
Amore, the Director of Security and Chief Investigator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, has written two other books about art crimes Stealing Rembrandt and The Art of the Con. However, his “investigator and security practitioner” background was a problem because his subject, Dugdale, wouldn’t talk to him for fear her interview could be used to convict former IRA members. Not that his background in security seems to give him any insights into the three art thefts. Unfortunately, this means that he can’t examine Dugdale’s intellectual life, nor does it provide any insight into Irish politics.
From my background in Melbourne, I could see how Dugdale’s attempted ransom of the Vermeer could have influenced the Australian Cultural Terrorists to ransom Picasso’s Weeping Woman and their choice of the word ‘terrorist’.
Furthermore, my own research shows that although there are less than forty authentic paintings by Vermeer, it is remarkable that at least five were stolen in the 1970s (something Amore fails to mention). Even more notable of those five, at least three were stolen for political reasons (to aid the IRA and Bengali refugees of East Pakistan). The small size of his paintings made Vermeer the perfect target for art theft.
Anthony M. Amore The Woman Who Stole Vermeer (Pegasus Crime, 2020)