A painting stolen more than 40 years ago in a smash and grab raid on an exhibition has been safely returned to its owner, Chatsworth House in Derbyshi

Painting stolen from Chatsworth House 45 years ago discovered at auction

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2024-06-10 00:00:05

A painting stolen more than 40 years ago in a smash and grab raid on an exhibition has been safely returned to its owner, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, UK, after being spotted at an art auction in France.The oil on wood painting, A Double Portrait of Sir Peter Paul Rubens and Sir Anthony Van Dyck by Eramus Quelliness II (1640s) had been lent to the Towner Art Gallery in Eastborne, southeast England, as part of an exhibition of works by Flemish Baroque artist Anthony Van Dyck.On 26 May 1979 thieves broke into the gallery and swiped the painting. They left, however, a selection of original Van Dyck drawings which were also on display and more valuable. (In February a Van Dyck drawing sold for $2.1m at Christies.)Alice Martin, head of the Devonshire collections at Chatsworth said: “Some of the priceless drawings were left and they took this which I suppose looked more expensive.” She did not put a figure on the value of the painting but said: “Old Masters drawings are worth in the millions, this would certainly not be in that league,” she said. The returned painting, which was originally painted as preparation for an engraving and not intended to be hung on a wall, was assumed lost until, in 2021, an art historian spotted it going on sale at a small regional auction house in Toulon, France and alerted Chatsworth.It was established that the painting had been found in the seller’s late parent’s house in Eastbourne, which had been occupied by squatters shortly after the theft. It has then been kept in the family before being sent for sale in France, where the seller is now based. Some of the paint had flaked off—and there were nicotine stains which needed removing—but the work has now been restored.After a three-year negotiation, delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the painting is now back on display at Chatsworth. Lucy O’Meara, recoveries manager at the Art Loss Register said: “It is unusual to be able to trace a picture back so closely to the location of its theft more than 40 years earlier. Despite that long period of time since the loss, we are delighted to have been able to secure its return to Chatsworth where it belongs, and this should give hope to others who are still seeking the return of pictures stolen decades ago.”One person who was glad to hear the painting had been found was Peter Day, the now retired keeper of the Chatsworth Collection who was in post at the time of the theft. Martin said: “Peter still lives in the area so it was great to tell him the good news and bring the case to a close.”

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