Young Girl with Serpent (1886) by Auguste Rodin was stolen from a Beverly Hills home in 1991, in addition to over $1 million worth of property including an additional Rodin sculpture, The Eternal Spring . The case had gone unsolved for over 20 years until 2011, when the statue estimated to be worth around $100,000 was consigned to Christie’s London. An investigation was launched and the unnamed wife of the original owner was notified of the discovery. After four years of legal wrangling with the consignor, the negotiations have finally been completed and the statue has been returned. However after the long wait for answers and legal battle, the owner will now auction off Young Girl with Serpent themselves to offset the insurance costs.
This brings up two interesting questions. The first is was the legal battle worth it? If the original owners had insurance on the work then their insurance company would have paid them the value of the piece after the robbery and they would have been ineligible to claim the work in a court. Or if they wanted to claim the artwork then they would have had to reimburse the insurance company for the original value claimed at the time of the initial loss. If they did not have insurance on the work then they were free to pursue, but given the legal fees and their lack of finance to now own such a piece, was the money and time spent regaining the property just to resell it really worth all that, well they thought so.
However it also brings up the question of when is art no longer art? The battle over ownership was never about the sentimental value of the work or what it held to each owner, but rather the monetary gains. It was simply an object to sell to benefit them and their needs which is understandable as art is an investment, but the whole reason behind purchasing art is because it speaks to you. When purchasing art you should always feel a connection to it because you need to enjoy what you buy since the longer you own it, the more it will increase in value.
I guess that is what is fascinating about the art world, is that an artwork can fluctuate between many labels from commodity to priceless to rare to stunning to ugly and can fall within them throughout its lifetime. But if there is a lesson to take away from all of this, it is to always insure your art, no matter how you may think of it.