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Prado misplaces 885 artworks

Audit Court laments lack of oversight, while museum claims many works were destroyed long ago

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Workers handle a painting at the Prado Museum.

The Prado Museum, one of the world’s biggest art galleries, cannot find 885 of its own works, according to Spain’s Audit Court.

The number of missing art pieces used to be even higher, but between 2008 and December 2012 the Madrid museum located 41 of them. This temporary misplacement was allegedly caused by “a reordering of collections” between the Prado and the Reina Sofía contemporary art museum. Twelve further artworks were also “on deposit at various institutions,” reads the report, which covers the year 2012.

Two years ago, the inventory of historical and artistic items owned by the Prado showed a total of 27,509 objects. Drawings and prints make up a significant chunk of the holdings (15,480), followed by sculptures and decorative art (4,408), while paintings get broken down into historical periods.

A Prado spokeswoman played down the fact that hundreds of artworks appear to be missing. Most of them, she said, were lost in fires and even wars.

In the 1980s, the Prado gave around 350 canvases up for lost. A decade later, the inventory showed that 500 artworks had been lost or destroyed

But suspecting this is not enough; if there is no factual evidence that they were destroyed, we cannot take them off the inventory,” she explained.

A significant portion of the missing artwork might be part of the Trinidad Museum collection, which was created with art obtained from the expropriation of Catholic Church property in 1835-1837. When the Trinidad and Prado merged their collections in 1872, some of the art may have remained behind.

In the 1980s, the Prado gave around 350 canvases up for lost. A decade later, the inventory showed that 500 artworks had gone missing or been destroyed.

But the museum’s explanations have failed to convince the Audit Court, which insists on the need to carry on searching for the artworks and to provide oversight of any works on deposit at associated art centers.

The monitoring agency also lamented the absence of a periodical report on the state of the collections, calling it “a weakness” that should be corrected, and criticized “the high number and dispersion” of Prado works at other cultural centers, which “makes oversight particularly difficult.”

The Audit Court also underscored the “lack of sufficient human resources” to manage the art deposits.

Despite all the criticism, the court also noted that much of the artwork disappeared so long ago that nobody can be held accountable any longer. After its 2005 report, however, the Audit Court did take the matter up with the state prosecutor, with a view to establishing criminal liability.

In 2012, the Prado participated in 15 national exhibitions and sent 176 artworks to other centers. It also took part in 33 foreign shows, lending 288 pieces. And then there was the Prado Itinerante, a traveling art show in partnership with other centers, which received 164 works.

There is an action plan for 2013-2016 that lays out plans for on-site checks of works on deposit in several Spanish regions and an assessment of their condition and security measures. This would entail analyzing 1,500 artworks at 130 institutions. The Prado’s holdings will also be photographed and a computer application developed to manage them.