An art detective combines the talents and knowledge of an artist and an art historian with the sleuthing skills of Sherlock Holmes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation calls art theft an act of theft to the history of the world. Art theft involves physically stealing artwork, manufacturing counterfeit pieces of art and looting art during times of unrest. The FBI estimates annual art theft involves pieces worth $6 billion. Art detectives assist private owners, museums and crime agencies in tracking down and exposing art criminals.
Museums hire security to protect collections and also hire art historians to authenticate collections, as well as authenticating individual art pieces before a purchase or accepting art as a donation. Art detective duties include tracking down stolen work, but also involve making safety recommendations as a precaution guarding against art theft. Salaries for art museum specialists and technicians averaged $62,520 in 2008, compared with other museum workers earning a range of salaries between a low of $43,662 for archival technicians and a high of $90,205 for museum curators.
Art historians work as consultants to national and international law enforcement agencies and also with museums tracking lost art. Consultants work under contracts specifying terms and conditions. The pay, quite lucrative for some consulting art historians, involves inspecting a piece of art or a collection to discover fraud. Consultants typically specialize in one era, such as antiquities or folk art. Consultants also focus on a medium of art, including oil paintings, sculpture or ceramic work. Pay for this art detective career involves independent negotiations and the most-respected art consultants command the highest pay.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Work
Major museums, including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Van Gogh Museum and the Museu Chacara do Ceu, lost works to art theft between 2000 and 2011. The Federal Bureau of Investigation created a special art crime team in 2004 to answer the challenge of art theft. The exclusive team numbers just over a dozen detectives. Salaries for the special team use federal employment salary charts. Salaries for FBI special agents begin at GS 10, or an average of $40,000 to more than $50,000 in 2001, and increase to a high of $129,517, at GS 15 with 10 years of seniority, for managerial positions. Federal salary levels adjust to the geographic location of the assignment. Other art curatorial staff working at the federal level of government earned an annual mean wage of $79,440 in May 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Private Art Detectives
Private art detectives work under special contracts with insurance companies and museums to investigate art theft. Independent art detectives belong to professional organizations, including the Museum Security Network, to network with museums, art dealers and private collectors to hunt down stolen art works. International registries provide images and details of missing work to assist in tracking stolen art work. Private art detectives subscribe to the free and paid networks in their work. Salaries for private art detectives varies widely. Pay focuses on the skill of the investigator in returning works. Insurance companies typically offer a cash reward to art detectives who return works to the insured. Private owners and museums also offer cash rewards to detectives. The pay, in these recovery cases, depends on the detective's ability to recover the art.
2016 Salary Information for Private Detectives and Investigators
Private detectives and investigators earned a median annual salary of $48,190 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, private detectives and investigators earned a 25th percentile salary of $35,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $66,300, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 41,400 people were employed in the U.S. as private detectives and investigators.
- University of Notre Dame: Career Alternatives for Art Historians
- Museum Security Network: About the MSN
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Art Theft — Art Crime Team
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 — Archivists, Curators, and Museum Technicians
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 — Private Detectives and Investigators
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Private Detectives and Investigators
- Career Trend: Private Detectives and Investigators
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Police Detectives — Significant Points
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Art Theft
- Guardian.co.uk: Stealing Beauty: The Greatest Art Heists in History; Nosheen Iqbal; February 2009
- FBI: Art Theft Program: Interview Program Manager
- Saz Productions, Inc.; World's Most Wanted Art
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management: Salaries & Wages
- Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images