September 11, 2008

Find stolen paintings, collect $200,000

An Encino art collection that included works by Marc Chagall, Hans Hofmann, Chaim Soutine, Arshile Gorky, Emil Nolde, Lyonel Feininger, Diego Rivera, and Kess van Dongen was stolen recently from the home of an unidentified elderly couple. They were in another part of the house at the time of the theft, and the maid was doing errands. The theft occurred in August but was just announced publicly this week. The thief (or thieves), who came in through an unlocked side door, grabbed the paintings and was gone within an hour. It's still unclear why the alarm system failed. In the LA Times, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Andrew Blankstein and Maria L. LaGanga report that the theft is one of the largest art heists in Los Angeles history. Police announced a $200,000 reward for information leading to the paintings' return. But they would not elaborate on where the money came from, saying only that it was not a government source. The LAPD statement on the incident referred to a single "thief," but officials said they are not sure whether it was a lone suspect or a group.

"We try to gauge the sophistication of the thief, because it may give us an indication of whether [the artwork] will show up at a swap meet or a thrift shop," said Det. Donald Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department's art theft detail, who has been investigating art thieves for 14 years. "Somebody may sit on it for a decade before trying to sell it overseas." Each painting is worth at least six figures, some upward of $1 million, said Richard Rice, a senior consultant for 21 years at Gallerie Michael on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and the collection was on par with those of A-list Hollywood celebrities. "A collection of this quality that is so specialized -- these people had a passion," Rice said. "They were collecting artwork that was to the left of center. It wasn't mainstream. Most people, if they have wealth and taste, they collect things that are in the mainstream: Renoir, Degas, maybe Salvador Dali." Read more.

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