Julian Guy Yonge Radcliffe and the world’s foremost art detection agency

Julian Guy Yonge Radcliffe © ALR
Julian Guy Yonge Radcliffe’s methods are contentious

In his Debrett’s entry, Julian Guy Yonge Radcliffe lists his interests as shooting and strategic studies; his clubs as the City of London, and Cavalry and Guards; and his education as Eton and New College, Oxford.

There are details of a lengthy City career beginning at Lloyd’s of London and later taking in an honorary position in a City livery company. To top off the list, he has served lengthy stints as an Army reservist, with senior commands in both the Royal and Dorset Yeomanries.

So why, asks The Times, is this apparent pillar of the establishment “such a controversial figure”? The answer lies in a detail of his CV. “Chm International Art and Antique Loss Register Ltd 1991 –”.

Based on the first floor of an anonymous five-storey block in Farringdon, the business, known as ALR, doesn’t look much from the outside. But Radcliffe’s outfit is considered to be “the world’s foremost art detection agency” and boasts of returning more than £150m worth of stolen artworks to their rightful owners (see below).

It’s his methods that are contentious – in particular his use of a “shady network of informers”, who provide “information” for a substantial fee. Although the agency states publicly that it never pays anyone involved in the original theft, privately Radcliffe admits the situation is rather different.

“You have got to understand that we are operating in the real world,” he says, maintaining that his results speak for themselves. But some criminal investigators “view him as little more than a fence”.

“A tall, pale, wraithlike figure with a beak nose and poker face,” Radcliffe, 65, hints at having worked for British Intelligence and “has a taste for cloak-and-dagger theatricality”, says The New York Times. Still, even ALR’s critics concede that there’s a real need for his organisation, which has built up the most comprehensive database of stolen, looted or missing works in the world.

For a man who would one day become such an essential figure in the art market, Radcliffe had little exposure to art growing up, beyond some family portraits. It was a background in risk that led him to become involved with art sleuthing.

After leaving Lloyd’s, he helped found the pioneering consultancy Control Risks, where he cut his teeth as “a kidnap negotiator”, says the Canadian Globe and Mail. His focus shifted to the art market after a Sotheby’s director he knew mentioned that there was no list of stolen artworks that auction houses could use to ensure they weren’t selling looted items.

The work is exciting and sometimes dangerous, “but profits have not come easy” and ALR has stayed afloat “only thanks to his cash infusions”, says The New York Times. But Radcliffe, who is also a “gentleman farmer”, claims to be in the game for the long term.

“I am very patient,” he says. “I grow trees. I raise cattle… If I think something is the right thing to do, I will do it as long as it takes.”

Art Loss Register’s three prize swoops

Now the third highest-grossing criminal enterprise behind drugs and arms, art crime is big business, says Alexi Mostrous in The Times. Police budgets for fighting the crime have been slashed, leaving organised gangs – especially from Eastern Europe – able to tap into a global market worth billions.

There are currently more than 400,000 missing objects listed on the Art Loss Register (ALR). Here’s a selection of the works Radcliffe has recovered, and the stories behind them.

Matisse: Le Jardin. Stolen in May 1987 from the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, where someone smashed through the glass doors with a sledgehammer, removed the $1m painting from the wall and fled.

Its whereabouts remained a mystery until 2012, when an Essex art dealer was offered the painting by a Polish collector. Once he’d matched it on the ALR register, the company negotiated its return. “No payments were made, no arms were broken,” ALR later told the BBC.

Cezanne: Pitcher and Fruits. Stolen from a private house in Boston in 1978, along with six other paintings, it resurfaced in 1999 when a retired lawyer attempted to sell the work using a Panamanian shell company. When that failed he attempted to extort cash from the theft victim.

Working closely with the FBI, ALR recovered the Cezanne, which went on to sell at auction for £18m. It took a further decade to recover all the other six.

Picasso: Head of Horse, and Glass and Pitcher. Belonging to the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, and worth a combined £2.7m, both were stolen in 2007 when on loan to an art exhibition in Switzerland.

In 2011, Radcliffe flew to Belgrade to meet contacts who claimed they knew of the paintings’ whereabouts. The heist turned out to have been masterminded by a prominent Serb businessman, known simply as “The Boxer”. According to ALR notes, he had financed many gangs, but now apparently wanted to go clean.