Painting Appears to Be Stolen Rockwell
By BETSY TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007
The FBI has recovered a painting that appears to be a Norman Rockwell work stolen from suburban St. Louis more than three decades ago.
Law enforcement officials believe the painting could be the original of Rockwell's "Russian Schoolroom," snatched during a late-night burglary at a gallery in Clayton, Mo., on June 25, 1973.
"We think we have located it. It has not been authenticated," said FBI spokesman Pete Krusing. He would not say how or where the painting was discovered, only that it was not in the St. Louis area. No one has been charged in the case, he said.
The oil-on-canvas painting shows children in a classroom with a bust of communist leader Vladimir Lenin.
The painting the FBI was after measured 16 inches-by-37 inches and was presented in a 2-foot by-4 foot frame of dull gold-white molding, according to the FBI's description of the missing work.
The curator of the Rockwell collections at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., Linda Pero, said, "I think it's really wonderful, if it's been found." She did have slightly different dimensions in a catalog of Rockwell's work, 15 1/4 inches-by 37 inches for the missing painting.
The painting was nabbed in a gallery heist and then resurfaced briefly in legitimate art forums before disappearing again.
Mary Ellen Shortland worked at the long-closed Clayton Art Gallery when the painting was stolen 34 years ago. She recalled Friday that the gallery was holding a Rockwell exhibit, mainly of lithographs, at the time. The gallery's parent company, Circle Fine Art in Chicago, arranged for the Rockwell original to be on hand to draw visitors to the show, she said.
Shortland said a Missouri client bought the painting for $25,000, but agreed to let it remain on display, as it had been advertised as part of the show. Just a few nights later, someone smashed the gallery's glass door and escaped with the painting.
"That was all they took. That's what they wanted, that painting," Shortland recalled.
The gallery refunded the client's money, and there was no sign of the work for years. Then in 1988, it was auctioned in New Orleans. "It sold for $70,400 and a 10 percent buyer's premium," Pero said.
Shortland recalled that she saw the painting again in an advertisement for a small New York gallery, since closed, about 15 years ago. She said she contacted Circle, but "Russian Schoolroom" was not recovered. Shortland, now the owner of Creative Art Gallery and Picture Framing, estimated that the painting could be worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars" today, if it is in excellent condition.
In 2004, the FBI's newly formed Art Crime Team initiated an investigation to recover the work.
Rockwell's work often resonates with people because much of it captures moments from everyday life, such as a boy watching his father shave, family members saying grace over a Thanksgiving turkey or a young girl having a dress fitting.
The artist died at age 84 in 1978. While "Russian Schoolroom" appeared in Look magazine, the artist is best known for the covers he did for The Saturday Evening Post. More than 300 Rockwell creations appeared on the cover of the publication.
Art Hostage comments:
Hope springs eternal, Vermeer by the 17th, when can we go public?
If this turns out to be the original Rockwell then praise must be heaped upon the Noble FBI Agent Robert "Billboard Bob"Wittman, Straight as a gun barrel, and the finest FBI Agent Harold Smith ever met.
If this painting is a copy, then Robert Wittman was certainly not involved at all.
And that's a memo !