At our last AGM in May, Judge Arthur Tompkins gave an intriguing talk on stolen art. He told us about Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington. After many years in family ownership it was purchased by an American. Outrage ensued in the UK. An English military hero leaving the country? Perish the thought!
So the gracious American offered the painting to London’s National Gallery for the price he’d paid for it. Then it disappeared – thanks to the gallery’s security system being switched off for the cleaners; a hole in the wall courtesy of the builders; and a ladder conveniently at hand outside.
Ransom notes started to appear and were ignored. After many years a London newspaper received a left-luggage receipt for a locker at Birmingham railway station. There the portrait was, minus the frame.
Six weeks later one Kempton Bunton confessed. His lawyer persuaded the court that his client had always intended to return the painting, so it wasn’t theft (a loophole quickly closed by what is called the Goya Clause). Bunton was only convicted of stealing the frame.
After other art-theft anecdotes, Judge Tompkins concluded the talk with a list of paintings that are still missing: Raphael’s Portrait of a young man; Caravaggio’s Nativity; Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee; Van Gogh’s View of the sea at Sheveningen; Cezanne’s Near Auvers sur Oise; Matisse’s Pastoral; Picasso’s Le pigeon aux petits-pois and New Zealand’s very own art theft – J Solomon’s Psyche was stolen from Robert McDougall Gallery, Christchurch.
― JCD, Bay View newsletter 68, November 2016