Thursday, September 3, 2020

Scripophily Puzzle No. 3 - solution

Scripophily Puzzle No. 3 was about a sensational art theft that happend in Belgium during the night of 10 April 1934. As a matter of speaking, you could say that, back then, the news of the robbery went viral.

On Thursday, April 12, 1934, The New York Times reported  :

Thief Steals Panel by van Eycks That Treaty Restored to Belgium
Wrenches It From Altarpiece, 'Adoration of the Lamb,' in Ghent Cathedral During Night — Most Sensational Art Theft Since That of 'Mona Lisa' Is Laid to an Eccentric. Thief Steals Panel by van Eycks That Treaty Restored to Belgium
-- Wireless to The New York Times ---
BRUSSELS, April 11. — One of the panels from the polyptych, "The Adoration of the Lamb," by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, one of the masterpieces of Flemish art, was stolen last night from the Cathedral of St. Bavon in Ghent. ... The panel stolen is the panel of St. John the Baptist and includes the figures of virtuous judges. It is about 54 inches long and 22 inches wide. The theft was discovered early this morning when the beadle of the cathedral was making his rounds. The thief had evidently hidden in the cathedral last night and had allowed himself to be locked in. ... The polyptych had been complete only since the conclusion of the World War, when Germany was ordered to return two panels, one of them that [was] stolen last night. The theft of a panel of the Ghent altarpiece is the most sensational event in the art world since a thief walked out of the Louvre in Paris with Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" in August, 1911. ...

source:, accessed 2 Sep 2020

The three towers of Ghent in a vignette

The three towers in the old Ghent city center, from left to right :
A) Saint Nicholas Church, B) Belfry of Ghent, C) Saint Bavo Cathedral

Puzzle No. 3 was a multiple-choice question in which you had to indicate one of three towers in a vignette. I also gave you two visual clues that lead to the solution : images of share certificates in these two companies :
  1. La Victoire des Flandres SA - Vlaanderens Zege NV
  2. Société de Plantation & d'Exportation de l'Elaeis au Kasaï, dite "Plantexel"

share from La Victoire des Flandres - Vlaanderens Zegeshare certificate from Plantexel

Obviously the vignette with the three towers was taken from the former share in a Flemish insurance company. After enlarging the image - by clicking it - you could see that the company was based in the city of Ghent. Searching online for images of towers in Ghent would confirm your first clue: Ghent. 

Registered office in Ghent 
in French : siège social Gand 
in Dutch : maatschappelijke zetel Gent 

The second clue showed a share from Plantexel, dated 1928. This Belgian company cultivated palm oil, aka elaeis, in Belgian Congo. You'll be surprised knowing how this company fits in this story.

First, let us have a look at the painting. It looks like this when all panels are open. The panels have paintings on both sides.

the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck

The brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck painted the Ghent Altarpiece, or the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, in Dutch: Het Lam Gods, in the 15th-century. The polyptych altarpiece measures with all panels open 11 ft × 15 ft (3.4 m × 4.6 m). This masterpiece of European art is located in the St Bavo Cathedral, Ghent.

In our story, the stolen panel is the one in the lower left corner. The painting on its front side is called The Just Judges or The Righteous Judges, in Dutch: De rechtvaardige rechters. A notice from the public prosecutor's office, dated 12 April 1934, shows one of the last pictures taken from the paintings on the front and the back of the panel. 

public prosecutor's office notice about the theft of the Ghent Altarpiece

The public prosecutor's office distributed two days after the theft a notice with a description of the panel.
Left : front side painting The Just Judges 
Right : rear side painting St John the Baptist 
attribution : Vdkdaan / CC BY-SA, Wikipedia

At the end of April 1934 the thief demanded from the Bishop of Ghent a ransom of one million Belgian francs in return for the panel. The Belgian government intervened and refused to meet the demand.

The authorities started negociations after receiving a second letter from the thief in May 1934. More letters led to the return of the rear side painting. There was no further trace of the thief.

At this point our main suspect comes in to the story.  On 25 November 1934, stockbroker Arsène Goedertier, once a sacristan of the Bishopric of Ghent, suffered a heart attack. He was dying in the sole company of his lawyer to whom Goedertier declared that he knew the repository of the painting. Goedertier however was not able to disclose it but, so told the lawyer, he referred to documents hidden in the house.

signature of Arsène Goedertier

signature Arsène Goedertier 

The documents found were incriminating and included carbon copies of the ransom notes. The  lawyer notified the police only a month later.  The latter concluded that Goedertier had been the thief.

After a while doubts arose whether Goedertier had been the thief, or the brain behind it. Some suggested that somebody else may have put the incriminating documents in Goedertier's home office after the latter's death. Several researchers have tried to prove Goedertier's guilt or innocence or tried to find the painting.

Today the original painting The Just Judges is still missing. What you see today, and also in the picture above, is a copy made in 1945 by Jef Van der Veken. A Ghent police detective is still assigned to the case of the missing painting.

Arsène Goedertier was one of the directors of "Plantexel". He signed many of the company's founder shares (the 2nd clue in this puzzle).

Searching the word 'Plantexel' in Google yields links to the story of the famous theft. The answer for this puzzle is C: Saint Bavo Cathedral, the location of the Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers.
I received one correct reply. Well done reader-detective DB ! Why don't they assign you the Goedertier case ! 


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