Former Worker at Deutsches Museum Sentenced to Prison for Stealing Four Paintings and Selling Three

A German museum worker was recently sentenced to prison by a court in Munich for stealing four paintings from the Deutsches Museum and selling three of them through auction houses.

The prison sentence for the 30-year-old thief, whose name cannot be released due to German privacy laws, is one year and nine months. The sentencing on September 11 also included the requirement to pay damages of more than €60,000 (more than $63,500).

The Munich district court said he had been given a lenient sentence because of his lack of prior crimes, his expressed regret, and the fact that the thefts took place several years ago. “He said he acted without reflection,” the court said. “He could no longer explain his behavior to himself.”

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The four paintings stolen from the art and science museum’s storage room were Franz von Stuck’s Das Märchen vom Froschkönig (Fairy Tale of the Frog King), Eduard von Grützner’s Die Weinprüfung (Tasting the Wine), Franz von Defregger’s Zwei Mädchen beim Holzsammeln im Gebirge (Two Girls Gathering Wood in the Mountains) and Franz Defregger’s Dirndl.

The von Stuck work was replaced by a forged copy and the original sold to a Swiss gallery for €70,000 ($74,000) through Ketterer Kunst, an auction house in Munich. Its loss was discovered after a provenance researcher noticed that the painting was “quite a clumsy copy,” despite being in the right frame, museum spokeswoman Sabine Pelgjer told the Art Newspaper. Inspection of the institution’s storage depots resulted in the discovery of the three other missing paintings. “Only the frames were left,” she said.

“Access to the depot is very tightly regulated,” said Pelgjer. “Our staff are all very reliable, but there is not much you can do if one employee harbours criminal energy. He had no previous record and there was no way of knowing he was capable of this when we hired him.”

The thief, who worked at the museum between 2016 and 2018, told Ketterer Kunst that the von Stuck painting belonged to his grandparents, according to the Telegraph. The sale of Die Weinprüfung and Zwei Mädchen beim Holzsammeln im Gebirge at auction also brought him approximately €12,000 after fees, according to Deutsche Welle. He used the proceeds of the three sales after auction fees to buy a new apartment, luxury watches, and drive a Rolls Royce.

“The accused shamelessly exploited his access to the depots in his employer’s premises and sold valuable cultural property to secure himself an exclusive standard of living and to boast about it,” the court said in a statement.

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