Art Theft at London’s National Gallery

The Secret History of Art just returned from a second business trip to London, this time to film a short piece in the National Gallery for BBC’s The One Show.

The film will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the only successful theft from the National Gallery, of Goya’s “Portrait of the Duke of Wellington” (1812), stolen in 1961 by Alfred Hitchcock look-alike Kempton Bunton.  Bunton was a retired 61-year old grandfather who weighed 17 stone (238 pounds) and stole the painting as a protest, demanding that its ransom be paid in the form of a fund to provide free television licences to retired British citizens, who otherwise had to pay an annual fee for the right to own a television.  The case is fascinating and bizarre, with numerous holes in the official story.  We will examine it further in later installments of The Secret History of Art, and will also interview a scholar writing a book on the case.  But the crime was hugely influential, infiltrating pop culture (it is referenced in the first James Bond film, Dr No) and it directly led to a change in UK law (section 11 of the 1968 Theft Act).  The short film, presented by Phil Tufnell, is set to air on 21 August of this year, the 50th anniversary of the theft and, not coincidentally, the 100th anniversary of the Mona Lisa theft.

It was a rare privilege to film in the National Gallery, and it was generous of them to host us for a film about the only successful theft from their walls.  The early morning hours in such a wonderful museum are haunting and magical.

We will resume our week-daily postings now.  I would like to particularly thank the regular readers of The Secret History of Art.  Despite the fact that this column has only been active for a matter of weeks, we had 10,000 readers in the month of March.  Thank you for reading and for the interesting comments.

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