Wadsworth Atheneum Welcomes Return of Stolen Painting
18th-Century French Seascape Disappeared Nearly 30 Years Ago
By ROGER CATLIN
September 24, 2010
An 18th-century French painting stolen from the Wadsworth Atheneum nearly 30 years ago has been returned to the Hartford museum.
"Seascape with Ruined Arch," a seascape by French painter Charles Francois Lacroix, was reported stolen on Dec. 8, 1980. It had been taken in the middle of a busy weekend at the Atheneum, where the annual Holiday Festival of Trees had just opened.
The roughly 8 x 12-inch work from 1780 depicting six fishermen and a pair of boats near a ruin, was valued at $50,000 at the time. The Art Loss Register, a London-based international database of lost and stolen artworks, discovered the work when it came up recently for auction.
Christopher Marinello, executive director and general counsel of The Art Loss Register, said from London that the work surfaced at auction last April in New York, where it was expected to bring a low estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
"The consigner had no idea it had been stolen," Marinello said. "He had bought it from somebody. We offered to assist him in getting reimbursed." By early June, with help from the Hartford Police Department, it was recovered by the organization and returned to the Atheneum.
"It's nice to get something that's been stolen returned," said Eric M. Zafran, the Susan Morse Hiles Curator of European Art at the Atheneum. "It's good news."
The painting had been gone so long — "long before I got here," Zafran says — it had been off the radar there.
"Seascape with Ruined Arch" currently is being restored at the museum. "It's in modest condition," Zafran said. "It's been yellowed and aged and there's no frame."
The oil work on copper — quite a popular treatment at the time — likely made it easy to be stolen, he said. "It probably popped out of the frame very easily."
There are no current plans to immediately rehang the painting even after restoration, Zafran said. Much of the museum is undergoing a massive renovation and there is reduced space for the collection of the Atheneum, the oldest public art museum in the country.
"By the time we're finished with the great reinstallation in 2013, maybe we'll find a place for it among the French paintings," Zafran said.
The Lacroix work was the last painting stolen from the Atheneum and the one work that was has been gone the longest.
Among the other celebrated art heists at the Atheneum over the years has been a Salvador Dali painting pried from its frame in 1970, and found days later in a paper bag in the South End. A Gainsborough landscape stolen in 1975 was found days later stashed behind a telephone booth outside a supermarket in East Hartford.
Modern technology and increased security make such thefts today less common, Zafran says.
Also, art thieves find it hard to unload such works once word is out that they may have been stolen, Marinello says. "They don't think about that when they're pulling it off the walls."
But, he added, with the downturn of the economy worldwide, "We're actually seeeing more of that type of brash thievery going on now."
Marinello said, "It's gratifying to see a work of this importance returned to America's oldest museum."
Zafran said "the organization deserves credit for tracking it down."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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