Tracing art crimes through the great museums of Europe.
No one tells a true-crime story quite like art crime expert Laura Evans.
As coordinator of the Art Museum Education Certificate program in the College of Visual Arts and Design at the University of North Texas, Evans spends her semesters preparing graduate students for their future careers in art museums.
Once the school year ends, the mild-mannered professor takes to the high seas and entertains cruise ship travelers with dramatic tales of art thefts and forgeries.
Being an Art Crime Expert
Evans is an art crime expert, having studied the topic at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art in Italy.
Though she’s been invited to speak at many museums, conferences, and workshops, Evans has found the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) members at UNT to be her most eager audience.
OLLI members are adults 50+ who attend lectures simply for the joy of learning. They have filled ballrooms to hear Evans talk about the thefts of historic paintings like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Fransisco Goya’s Duke of Wellington.
The professor has also introduced them to the clandestine world of art forgery, which has impacted museums in our own backyard.
By weaving the intriguing, unbelievable, and often humorous details few people know about these crimes, she makes OLLI members feel like they’re getting the inside scoop.
This past spring, the professor drew from all her areas of expertise as she led a group of members on an educational trip across Europe called “Treasures and Thieves.”
Bringing Art Crimes to Life through Travel
Using some of the world’s greatest museums as educational resources, Evans, the art crime expert brought these adventures to life through docent-led tours and daily lectures.
She designed the trip from scratch in partnership with OLLI, UNT Senior Director Stephanie Reinke, and Karen Barclay of the Collette travel agency.
“It’s one of the only land tours about art crime that exists,” Evans said.
OLLI members had the opportunity to explore the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Louvre in Paris, the Tate Modern Museum in London, and several other renowned galleries.
Though some members may have visited these museums before, they could view familiar masterpieces in a new light thanks to the additional context provided by their guide.
“Dr. Evans was such a wealth of knowledge, and I learned far more than I could have expected,” OLLI member Kitty Miller said of her experience.
For example, travelers learned about Evans’ favorite art forger of all time: Han van Meegeren, a Dutch painter specializing in Vermeer’s works. Her lecture spared none of the thrilling details of a criminal career that included love, pride, shame, drugs, and even Nazis.
This coincided with a sublime moment that became one of Evans’ most cherished memories of the trip when the group went to see a Vermeer painting in person at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague.
“When we arrived at their opening time, we were nearly the only people inside,” Evans said. “My group turned a corner, and there was Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The gallery was completely empty, and my group got to stand face-to-face with her. It was an extraordinary moment: Intimate, reverent, and contemplative.”
The trip meant a lot to the professor, who has worked or interned in galleries from Chicago to Australia and toured most of the world’s greatest art museums.
“Though we visited world-class museums and saw incredible masterpieces on this trip, by far the most important works of art on the tour were the participants,” Evans said. “They were incredibly generous, curious, thoughtful, patient, and caring. Plus, they laughed at my bad jokes. What more could a lecturer ask for?”
Information about OLLI at UNT’s upcoming travel opportunities is available here or by scanning the QR code here: