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How Art Thieves Play the 'Irish Game'

Cover of 'The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art.
Cover of 'The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art.

In his new book The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, British journalist Matthew Hart pulls back the curtain on the world of international fine art thieves.

Hart begins his story in England, with the 1974 multi-million-dollar theft of several masterpieces from Russborough, the country estate of Sir Alfred Beit. He also describes an audacious second burglary at Russborough in 1986, carried out by the infamous Irish gangster Martin "The General" Cahill. Among the works Cahill made off with in 1986 was Vermeer's "Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid." Also taken in the 1974 raid, the painting had been recovered and returned to the estate, where it was stolen a second time.

Through the investigation of the crime and eventual recovery of the paintings, Hart follows a seedy trail that ties into the Irish Republican Army and the global trade in illegal drugs and weapons.

Hart also provides an overview of how fine-art theft has evolved over the past 30 years -- his main example being the 1990 Dutch Masters heist at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The paintings and other artwork stolen from the Gardner are still missing.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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