Is Davidson Galleries’ Loss of Picasso and Rembrandt Paintings To Fire Just an Accident?

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Damaged artwork from Davidson Galleries' fire

Priceless masterpieces by Picasso, Rembrandt, Goya, and M.C. Escher are now at risk of being lost following a fire that ravaged Davidson Galleries in Seattle on Friday, January 12. Officials suspect that an individual ignited a fire in the alley behind the gallery, possibly for warmth, and it subsequently extended into the three-storey building.

The arguments

According to the Seattle Fire Department, the fire was started in the alley behind Davidson Gallery by a person trying to keep warm.

The fire spread into the building, which contained an estimated 18,000 works of art collected over 50 years, including paintings by Picasso and Rembrandt. The fire was brought under control quickly, but not before extensive damage was done to the building and the artwork.

Although there is no clear evidence or official statement that confirms or denies the negligence of anyone involved in the fire, there are some possible factors that could indicate negligence.

The absence of sufficient security or surveillance in the alley behind the gallery, enabling someone to start a fire for warmth without being detected or prevented, may be considered a lapse in diligence.

There is also the possibility of failure to comply with fire safety standards or regulations in the gallery, which could have prevented or minimised the spread of the fire or the damage to the artwork.

Amidst various possibilities and arguments, there is a school of thought that suggests the potential involvement of illegal or fraudulent activities within the gallery, such as money laundering or tax evasion. Some believe that this might have motivated someone to deliberately set the fire or cover up their tracks.

The investigation of the fire is still ongoing, and the authorities may or may not find any evidence of negligence in the future. Until then, the cause of the fire remains an accident, likely by someone lighting a fire to stay warm in the alley behind the building.

Ultimately, the truth about the fire may never be known, unless new evidence or information emerges that can shed more light on the matter.

The facts

The fire is believed to have begun in the early hours of Friday, possibly originating from a warming fire in an alley that inadvertently escalated and extended into Davidson Galleries, as reported by the Seattle Times, citing information from the Seattle Fire Department.

The gallery’s manager, Rebecca McDonald, explained that among the affected or potentially destroyed artworks were at least two etchings by Picasso and Rembrandt.

“Yes, we have insurance [but] we love what we do and we love the art … That’s what’s breaking our heart. This is irreplaceable artwork,” McDonald told the Seattle Times.

The destructive fire occurred shortly after Davidson Galleries, which had recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, revealed intentions to move from its longstanding storefront.

The gallery was on the brink of relocating its inventory from downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square to a new location just weeks away. As part of the preparation for the move, several artworks had been laid out on the floor, rendering them more susceptible to potential smoke damage.

The fire has been a devastating loss for the gallery, the artists, the collectors, and the art community, as well as a tragic reminder of the fragility and vulnerability of cultural heritage.

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