The Stolen Bronzes

What have Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick got in common, other than being famous now deceased sculptors of a similar period and style? Well they have both had works of art stolen, within the same year, and probably by the same “artworks for scrap gang”.

In the grounds of  Roehampton University stands a Lynn Chadwick sculpture cast in bronze called “The Watchers” (1960). The three figurines stand around two metres high. On the 10th of January 2006 one of the figurines was cut away by its ankles from the base of the sculpture. Detectives said it would have taken at least eight people to move the heavy artwork.

The Watchers by Lynn Chadwick
The Watchers by Lynn Chadwick (1960)

This wasn’t the first theft associated with the sculpture. It came less than a year after the university “discovered” The Watchers in the grounds of Downshire House, one of its campus buildings. Information on the Wandsworth Borough Council website concerning the missing Chadwick sculpture at the time described it as “Three abstract figures, of menacing and predatory character that summed up Chadwick’s fear of Big Brother: an Orwellian theme in tune with popular politics of the time”.

Interestingly, there were three sets in the series of “The watchers”, the two others in the series are located in Denmark and California. Although the original figure which was stolen was never found, as it was probably melted down for scrap, the estate of Lynn Chadwick gave permission for an identical to be cast.

If you are ever travelling through Roehampton, keep an eye out for this sculpture behind Downshire House, which seems to have been a silent witness to its own disappearance on more than one occasion.

Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure” (1969) was stolen from the Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green, Hertfordshire on 15th December 2005, less than a month before the theft of the Chadwick sculpture.  This too was quite a feat, as the piece, which was inspired by a piece of flint, weighed in at a hefty 4500 pounds. The sculpture is viewed as an abstraction of a reclining female human figure, resting on one arm, hip and two legs, with the second arm raised and a prominence on the chest suggesting a breast. It has no evident face.

Reclining Figure by Henry Moore
Reclining Figure by Henry Moore (1969)

Moore created a maquette for it in plaster, which was then cast in an edition of small bronzes of around 15 cm long. The maquette was then used to create the full sized version in polystyrene, which was used to create the mould for the monumental sculpture. Six full size copies were cast in 1969 and early 1970 at Noack factory in Berlin and an artist’s copy was cast shortly before Moore’s death in 1986.

It was the artist’s cast that was stolen. It’s believed that it was hoisted onto the back of a stolen flat-bed Mercedes lorry using a crane, and then cut up for scrap the same night. The sculpture was estimated to be worth £3 million, but only £1500 for scrap – making it the criminal equivalent to stealing a priceless painting purely for the value of the canvas.

The thefts of the Chadwick and Moore sculptures were perhaps the most significant of around 20 sculpture thefts within the same year. At the time Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley, head of the Metropolitan police’s arts and antiques unit, said: “The people perpetrating these crimes appear to have no appreciation of, or respect for, the objects they are stealing.

The theft inspired German artist Fritz Balthaus in 2009 to cast bronze ingots of equivalent weight, arranged in a form approximating Moore’s sculpture and displayed as pure Moore at the Federal criminal police office in Berlin.

If you want to experience some of Henry Moor’s and Lynn Chadwick’s sculptures in an amazing country then do go and visit Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and NordJyllands Kunst Museum in Aalborg Denmark:


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