Sunday 25 August 2019

Call Clouseau! Elysee Palace art is missing

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther (1963).
Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther (1963).

David Chazan

French detectives are investigating after hundreds of valuable works of art and pieces of antique furniture vanished from the Elysee Palace and other presidential residences.

The 700 items include bronze sculptures, Empire chairs and a table from the 19th century, an 18th-century Regence chair and 17th-century Savonnerie carpets. Investigators do not know if they have been misplaced in a storeroom - or stolen.

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In the past seven years, Elysee officials have filed 81 complaints over the suspected theft of 122 sculptures, paintings or photos, plus 546 pieces of furniture and other objects, believed to be worth tens of thousands of euro.

A police source said: "There appears to have been a shocking degree of carelessness. Investigators will be looking at whether they were stolen by staff."

Paris is notorious for art thefts, but the disappearance of so many precious historical and cultural artefacts from official residences is embarrassing for the establishment. Police said this month they were investigating seven suspected art thefts at the Elysee, but it has emerged that many more items have vanished.

If lost crockery items are counted individually, the list of missing objects totals 57,165. A porcelain serving dish spotted on eBay in 2014 was identified as part of a set ordered by the president in the 1950s. The revelations follow a meticulous stocktake with staff checking inventories going back to the 19th century.

It was only in 2017 that a reliable inventory was drawn up after a five-year hunt for missing items: around 50 were found. A bronze Louis XV chandelier thought to have been at the Elysee was found in a storeroom, and two Palace sculptures turned up in the capital's Hotel de Marigny, where the president receives visiting foreign dignitaries.

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