When a thief or thieves broke into his Toronto art gallery early Sunday morning and stole three valuable paintings, including two Group of Seven pieces, a sense of déjà vu set in for owner Phillip Gevik: Three years earlier, a similar smash-and-grab netted three paintings by Quebec abstract artist Pierre Gauvreau.
“Last time it was two bricks, I still have them,” Mr. Gevik said of the missiles hurled through the front window of Yorkville’s Gallery Gevik, which specializes in work by established Canadian artists.
“This time it was a car jack, and they left that in the gallery, too.”
Art theft is an irregular business, not least because disposing of the proceeds can be extremely difficult.
In July of last year, 11 paintings valued at close to $400,000 were lifted from the Canadian Fine Arts store on Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Road. Three months earlier, three others worth about $73,000 were lifted from the Odon Wagner Gallery, also in Yorkville.
And following the trail can be a major challenge.
Quebec is home to Canada’s only dedicated art-crime enforcement unit. Drawn from the RCMP and Quebec provincial police, the group investigates up to 90 cases a year.
Paintings are not the only targets.
Last October, a brazen theft occurred during visiting hours at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts. Stolen was a Roman Empire-era marble head dating from the 1st Century A.D., together with a sculpture from 5th century B.C. Persia, valued at several hundred thousand dollars. In Chilliwack, B.C., in February of this year, a cache of First Nations carved masks worth about $10,000 were stolen in a house burglary.
But it’s not often that lightning strikes the same place twice, as it did in Mr. Gevik’s case.
Stolen in September, 2009, the Gauvreau works were part of an exhibition, and have not been seen since. And while all the paintings on display carry insurance, Mr. Gevik is hopeful of a better outcome this time.
“I hope they stay in Canada,” he said of his latest losses, which he suspects were stolen-to-order.
But mindful that only a fraction of the art that gets stolen is ever recovered, he’s not holding his breath.
“They had a customer already, probably,” he said. “Somebody somewhere wanted them.”
The haul was priced at around $50,000, but would be worth considerably less on the black market.
The most valuable is a 12-by-15 3/4-inch oil-on-board Arthur Lismer painting, Beach Litter, which Mr. Gevik owns and which was on sale for $22,000.
The other two – the oil-on-canvas Harbour Scene by Sylvia Lefkovitz, and Frank Johnston’s oil-on-board Group of Birches – were priced at $6,300 and $19,000 respectively, owned by two individuals Mr. Gevik refused to identify.
The Lefkovitz work, measuring 32 by 24 inches, was on an easel in the front window. The other two smaller paintings were hanging on the walls, not visible from the street.
Entry was gained by hurling the steel car jack through the window, which was pierced rather than shattered, leaving a hole roughly 20 by 30 inches – just large enough to crawl through.
The Toronto detective overseeing the investigation could not be immediately reached, and Mr. Gevik was reluctant to discuss security arrangements at the gallery.
It would be unusual, however, if closed-circuit cameras were not in place, and up and down trendy Hazelton Avenue there are many others.
Mr. Gevik has been in the art business for more than three decades and has owned his gallery on Hazelton Avenue for 17 years.
Underscoring his view that the robbers knew what they were looking for, they didn’t bother with another Group of Seven painting, sitting on the floor in plain view.
“Probably they didn’t have time to take it,” he said.
“Or maybe they didn’t like the winter scene.”