Artdaily is reporting on the recovery of A Bridge, Race Gate by Andrew Wyeth. The work was stolen from a Houston home, along with 22 other works in 2000. The painting was then registered on the ALR database.
The painting was registered on the ALR’s database of lost and stolen artworks and nearly a decade later, the painting emerged at Simpson’s Gallery in the very city from which it was stolen. When a suspicious would-be consignor arrived at his auction house looking to unload the Wyeth, Ray Simpson recognized the quality of the work and the celebrity of its artist. He agreed to take the picture in for an evaluation and suggested that its seller return in a few hours. Mr. Simpson, trusting his instincts and first impressions, then called the New York office of the ALR to request a search of the suspect picture, at which time it was matched by art historian, Erin Culbreth.
The story goes on to say “After significant research and assistance from Nationwide Insurance Company, the ALR was able to determine the owner of the painting and broker a deal for its return. In the end, it was the instinct of Ray Simpson that set the wheels of the recovery in motion.” I’d like to know a lot more about these details, because what generally happens in these cases is the original owner and victim of the theft has probably received an insurance settlement, which usually gives the insurance company title to the work. As such, that’s why the work will be sold at a Christie’s auction in Dec. 2008. The ALR may have been very helpful in this case to the insurance company, and the gallery owner should be commended, however this is still not a happy ending for the original owner, they don’t usually get their insured painting back.
I’ve been informed that the original owner actually had an opportunity to purchase the work at a substantial discount, but decided against it because she did not need the money. The point I was attempting to make is it is often very difficult for a thief or subsequent possessors to sell a work by such a well-known artist after it has been stolen, which makes it a real shame because often times fully compensating the original owner is difficult if not impossible. That’s not the case here though as the owner had an opportunity to purchase the work and could have then auctioned the work and made a substantial profit perhaps.