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Tracing stolen art

Stolen drawing by 17th century Flemish artist Adrien Brouwer.

(The Art Loss Register)

Visitors to Art Basel can this year feast their eyes on over 5,000 works of art in 271 exhibiting galleries. But among them for the first time is one stand where there's nothing to see, because it's devoted to works which have been stolen.

The Art Loss Register - ALR - is the largest private database of stolen and missing works of art. Shareholders include leading insurance companies, art trade associations and auction houses, and it is regularly consulted by law enforcement agencies.

Listed on the database - with pictures - are about 110,000 stolen objects, including 438 works by Picasso and 270 by Jean Miro. "We believe there's a one in three chance of recovery,"says ALR director, James Emson. "In the past 10 years we have helped recover stolen art worth about Sfr250 million."

ALR has daily contact with INTERPOL, Scotland Yard, the National Criminal Service and police and customs around the world. Its international presence is illustrated by the fact that over 200 items were retrieved outside the country of ownership.

"We have come to Art Basel to enable the dealers here to make checks on the database," said Emson. "But we are also here to provide a service for prospective purchasers who want confirmation of title."

by Richard Dawson

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