Status: 25/09/2023, 17:46 p.m.
By: Andreas Thieme, Katja Kraft
An employee of the Deutsches Museum in Munich stole paintings from the collection and auctioned them off. © Reinhard Krause Deutsches Museum
An employee of the Deutsches Museum in Munich stole paintings from the collection, replaced them with forgeries and auctioned off the originals. Now he has been convicted.
It is one of the largest science and technology museums in the world: the Deutsches Museum in Munich attracts more than one million visitors every year. But a criminal comes from within their own ranks. As the Munich District Court has now announced, an employee of the museum has replaced several paintings from a depot with forgeries and had the originals auctioned. For this, he has now been sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of one year and nine months.
The defendant confessed to his actions
The criminal trial had already taken place on September 11, 2023. In it, the defendant made a confession. From May 2016 to April 2018, he was employed as a technical assistant in the collection administration of the Deutsches Museum, where he had access to the stacks in which paintings are kept. According to the court, he used this access to, among other things, exchange the painting "Once Upon a Time" by Franz von Stuck for a forgery. The employee offered the original for auction in a Munich auction house. According to research by our newspaper, this is the auction house Ketterer Kunst. The work of the famous painter prince, which he had made in 1891, was auctioned off to a gallery in Switzerland for 70,000 euros. Fat booty for the accused: As Ketterer Kunst confirms, he received 49,127.40 euros in cash after deduction of the auction costs.
In addition, according to the court, the now 30-year-old stole the paintings "The Wine Exam" by Eduard von Grützner as well as "Two Girls Collecting Wood in the Mountains" and "Dirndl" by Franz von Defregger. Brazen: He also had one of the works auctioned, the other he sold directly to a Munich auction house, which earned him another 12,000 euros. "The defendant used the money to pay off debts and finance a luxurious lifestyle," the court said. "Among other things, he bought a new apartment, expensive wristwatches and a Rolls Royce." Which is somewhat surprising in view of the relatively small total sum of 60,617.90 euros.
How was such an art theft possible at all?
In the trial before the district court, the museum employee had shown "honest remorse and insight". "He stated that he had acted without thinking. He could no longer explain his behavior today," said court spokesman Martin Swoboda. In addition to the prison sentence, the court also ordered the confiscation of all the money that the man had earned with his illegal activities. The verdict is final.
The question remains open as to how art theft is actually possible in this form. And why no one at the auction houses was suspicious. "We have been in contact with the LKA for some time," said a spokeswoman for Ketterer Kunst on request. And emphasized: "Every work that is offered to us for auction is comprehensively checked by our experts. Also the painting in question, 'Once Upon a Time.'"
Provenance research in particular is a top priority at the Ketterer Kunst auction house. This means that the respective changes of ownership are tracked – which is particularly important in view of the many cases of looted art during the National Socialist era. "Here we were simply dealing with a very cunning fraudster."