How could anyone steal a £4.8million gold toilet? It’s a question that the owners of Blenheim Palace never thought they’d have to answer, but are now having to confront, following the recent theft of the highly unusual work of art. Natasha Root, Private Client Insurance Executive who specialises in providing cover for high net worth properties and their contents, looks at the lessons to be learned from this high-profile theft.
The 18-carat fully-functioning artwork was created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, and had previously been on display in the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In August this year it was moved to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and installed in a wood-panelled chamber opposite the room in which Winston Churchill was born. Despite the value of the piece, it appears that there were no special protection measures in place; when it was first installed the current Duke’s brother, Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, commented to The Sunday Times that: “It’s not going to be the easiest thing to nick. Firstly it’s plumbed in and secondly a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet and what they ate. So no, I don’t plan on guarding it.” Two days later, the work of art, entitled ‘America’, was stolen.
To make matters worse, since the artwork was connected to the plumbing and drainage systems in the palace, there was resulting water damage and flooding in the building, which may well lead to an escape of water insurance claim. The eighteenth-century palace is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough, and contains extensive and important collections of painting, furniture, sculpture and tapestries. It is unknown whether or not the palace’s insurance policy will cover the stolen artwork, and both the insurer and the claim are yet to be disclosed.
For homeowners who possess paintings, sculptures and other works of art, the most obvious lesson to learn from this event is the importance of putting in place adequate security and protection measures such as security lighting, close circuit cameras, motion detector equipment and smoke detectors/alarms. It’s also important to have (and your insurance broker will need to check) an inventory with detailed descriptions, valuations and photographs of the items you own, together with provenance documents which prove the art is owned by you.
With regards to insurance, it is rare for works of art to be included on a standard home insurance policy, and specialist cover is usually recommended. Ensure that the value of your collection is current, as it may need to be changed when you renew your policy. If you acquire new pieces, make sure you inform your broker as soon as possible. Finally consider taking out defective title cover insurance, in case a work of art bought in good faith turns out to be fake or stolen.
Whether or not the authorities will be able to retrieve this unusual work of art is open to question. But one thing is sure – nobody will be pooh-poohing the idea of displaying an unsecured work of art at Blenheim Palace any time soon.