Volgograd's panorama museum, "The Battle of Stalingrad," will regain two Auguste Rodin sculptures, which were stolen in November 2000 and intended to be sold abroad. The sculptures were discovered late November 2003. On January 14, Nikolai Patrushev, director of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) handed over the sculptures to Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi.
In 1899, the renowned french sculptor made 30cm-tall bronze replicas of his larger and earlier masterpieces, "The Kiss" and "Jealousy." "The Kiss" depicts a couple locked in an embrace and "Jealousy" portrays an enraged man.
The sculptures, originally part of Lady Margaret Westmacott's collection, were a gift commemorating Soviet heroism in World War II. Volgograd, then Stalingrad, was the location of a crucial battle in World War II.
The criminals who perpetrated this sensational crime were revealed to be grotesque and naive after police and secret service officers caught them. The crime had the elements of a good comedy: a game of hide -and seek in a museum, a cemetery and two old German Schmeisser machine guns.
After his arrest, one of the thieves confessed that he decided to steal the works as he came to the panorama, one of his favorite spots. He re-enacted the famous Audrey Hepburn movie, "How to Steal a Million," by hiding in a closet in the museum until night. As he is an expert electrician, he disconnected the burglar alarm. Aside from the Rodin sculptures, the thief stole two German machine guns and escaped through a window.
It is still unclear why the thief hid the sculptures and the guns in a tomb. The thief's actions are reminiscence of crime thrillers or "Adventures of Tom Sawyer." The stolen goods remained in the tomb for 12 months. The thief eventually told a friend, whom he hoped would help him sell the goods, about the crime. "The Kiss" was the first piece to be recovered, and eventually police recovered "Jealousy" and the guns.
Catching the thieves is "a wonderful story that deserves to be depicted in the arts," said Mikhail Shvydkoi. He views the return of the Rodin sculptures to the museum as a landmark event.
The thieves planned to sell the works abroad for 6 million rubles (roughly $200,000), said Anatoli Vilkov, head of the Culture Ministry department for preservation of cultural values.
The FSB has returned many cultural treasures to Russia. Smugglers were caught attempting to bring "The Capture of Imam Shamil," by Franz Roubeau, a major 19th century painter, out of Russia. The painting was stolen from an art museum in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The FSB and the Culture Ministry also recovered a collection of orders and medals valued at $2 million.
The FSB and the Culture Ministry are currently collaborating in another effort to regain several icons smuggled to Cyprus from Russia, Anatoli Vilkov said.