After 27 years of working for “Pop Art master” Jasper Johns, his assistant James Meyer has been arrested for stealing at least twenty-two works from his employer and selling them through an anonymous New York art gallery. Patricia Cohen reported in The New York Times that Mr. Meyer has been charged with stealing $6.5 million worth of Jasper Johns artwork.
Mr. Meyer is an artist himself and has spoken about how lucky he felt to be mentored by an art icon of the 20th century. Prior to working for Jasper Johns, Mr. Meyer made a career of painting knockoffs of van Gogh and Matisse at $6 an hour. So how did Mr. Meyer come to pocket $3.4 million? Mr. Meyer pulled off his heist by falsely telling the dealer andbuyers that Mr. Johns had given the works to him as presents. Purchasers were under an agreement to keep the art private for at least eight years—not to exhibit it or resell it.
The nefarious underside of the art world is of indescribable interest and intrigue; this current scandal is just one of countless “heists” that have occurred throughout history. Where does this specific case fall in the ranking? According to a 2008 article posted by Forbes, the following are considered (a selection of) “The World’s Greatest Art Heists”:
The Mona Lisa: In 1911, Eduardo de Valfierno paid three men to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris. The famous da Vinci painting was discovered in Italy, and returned to the Louvre.
“Portrait of the Duke of Wellington”: This Goya painting was heading stateside after its purchase by a rich American collector in 1961 when the government managed to raise the necessary funds to keep it in London. Less than three weeks after the painting was hung in the National Gallery, it was stolen and held for ransom (purported to go to charity). The painting was returned voluntarily four years later by the thief, Kempton Bunton.