Authorities confirm theft of artworks from major museum

The National Council of Cuba’s Cultural Patrimony confirmed Friday (Feb. 28) in Havana that “an important shortage of art works” had been discovered in a storage building at the National Museum of Fine Arts.

The Ministry of Culture issued an official note explaining that “access to the place had not been forced,” so the authorities could not tell the exact date when an indeterminate number of works were removed.

“Most of the stolen works correspond to Arte Cubano, the period known as the turn of the century (the period between the Academy and the Vanguard), and were works done by Leopoldo Romañach [1862-1951],” says the note, published in the Cubarte website. The Museum houses the largest collection of Cuban art on the island.

“The competent authorities, in the country and outside, have been given a total account of the works, with their technical descriptions and photos,” the note said, “so they may alert museums, galleries, auction houses and other places about this occurrence and the existence of these works, which were stolen from an official institution, and may be at the mercy of illicit trafficking on a national and international level.”

The director of the National Register of Cultural Property, José Antonio Menéndez, told the Spanish news agency EFE that officials are “working with great intensity” to finish the inventory, but they have already detected the absence of “several dozen pieces.”

“The perpetrators cut out the paintings and then replaced the frames in an orderly fashion, so [their absence] could not be detected at first glance,” the Culture Ministry’s note said.

When asked about possible suspects, Menéndez said that “the circle is not very wide. The people are in the [museum] environment.” He told EFE that he was notified by the museum about the robbery on Feb. 18. The police were informed on Feb. 20, when the investigation began, he said.

According to the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, the investigation originated after “a private collector in the United States recognized pieces from the Fine Arts Museum, removed illegally from Cuba.”

The news agency EFE identified that collector as Ramón Cernuda, owner of the Miami gallery Cernuda Arte. He told EFE that after recognizing the origin of one of the paintings he notified the museum.

The authorities welcome any useful information that may lead to the recovery of the works. Information should be conveyed to the National Registry of Cultural Property, The telephone numbers are (537) 832-0058 and (535) 285-3610.

[Photo above is of Cuban artist Leopoldo Romañach]