Bronzes Targeted By Scrap Metal Thieves

Moore Blake Frink and Chadwick stolen

Moore, Blake, Frink and Chadwick Sculptures melted down

There have been many high profile stories in the news lately about the theft of copper cables from railway lines and church roof flashings. However, the rising price of scrap metal is now threatening the very fabric of our contemporary cultural heritage, with public works of sculpture stolen and smelted, as a result of the rising price of copper. Bronze sculptures which are fashioned out of 90% copper and 10% tin are involved in a large proportion of the works of art stolen in the UK in the last five years. A small fraction of the value of the art is ever achieved, however scrap value is still lucrative and enticing to a new breed of ruthless thieves.

The growing demand for copper by countries like China, seeking a cheaper source of this raw material, fueled by the booming electronics industries,, has created an unprecedented market for recycled copper. Prices make sculptures such as Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure” desirable as a source of scrap metal. The well known figure was stolen in 2005 by thieves who used a crane and a stolen truck to remove the sculpture from the Henry Moore Foundation grounds in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, sparking a global search for the culprits. The sculpture was worth around £3m, and police believe that the internationally known sculpture was cut up and melted down for around £1,500 in scrap metal. Initially the police thought the figure was stolen for its value on the art market. In 2009 investigators announced their belief that the sculpture was sold for scrap. Key British artists including, Lynn Chadwick’s The Watchers, stolen in 2006,  Elisabeth Frink bronze horse, stolen in 2009 and Robert Mileham who had 3 sculptures stolen in 2006 have been targeted. The sheer size of some of the stolen sculptures requires a new breed of thieves with the knowledge and the means of shifting large and heavy objects. The scope of the task to remove large artworks, in the dark is dangerous.

The latest valuable Bronze to be stolen was created by the Pop Artist, Sir Peter Blake who is best known for his innovative album jacket for The Beatles, ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. “Life as a Circus” features a variety of circus acts cast in bronze standing on top of each other, and celebrates the circus tradition of the resort.
It was commissioned by Blackpool Council as part of a series of works for the promenade. The top half was ripped from its plinth leaving the bottom half dangling from its supports. Lancashire council is now considering replacing all of its metal statues with fiberglass replicas after thieves stole parts of the seafront artwork. It is the latest in a series of attacks on tourist attractions in Blackpool thought to be by thieves gathering scrap metal. The Police have been cracking down on scrap metal thefts in the area and have visited 10 people who have been previously arrested over the offense. “We have contacted them to let them know that we will not tolerate people stealing scrap metal and that if we suspect they are reoffending then they will be targeted by us.”

Other recent thefts include a statue stolen from Victoria Pier in Hull. ‘Voyage’, a 6ft (180 cm) statue which weighed about 47 stone (300kg). It was taken from its plinth in late July. The sculpture was a memorial to those who died at sea. It was a gift from the Icelandic town of Vik who In the past had rescued Hull trawlermen. The people of Vik were very kind to the British fishermen, when vessels ran aground in shallow water and had given food and shelter. This was a meaningful cultural exchange between the countries. An art lover in Northwood has expressed his disbelief after thieves stole a bronze statue worth £10,000 from his front garden. The two-metre high ballerina sculpture was ripped out of its concrete base at the property in April.  Beale Wildlife Park and Gardens, a not for profit charity lost five “much loved” statues stolen from the Berkshire park in June. The bronze figures of two pigs and the statue of a little girl were taken from Beale Park Wildlife Park and Gardens, in Lower Basildon in the early afternoon. The bronze pigs had stood in the park for many years and the girl statue had been recently acquired for a new Courtyard Garden. Thieves are believed to have returned to steal two hollow statues of fish in the evening. Police are also appealing for information and witnesses following the theft of ornamental statues in Little Dunmow on June 6 and 1pm on June 7. Suspects stole two bronze statues of deer from a garden in Grange Lane. The estimated total value of the statues is in the low five figures.