Belfast Family to Recover Stolen Folk Painting

Before its theft in a 2008 home invasion, the William Conor painting “Bringing in the Turf” hung in the Belfast home of Frank and Turid Malpress for 50 years. Art Recovery International announced the painting’s journey home on June 27.

(CN) – Irish folk art that showcases working-class life in the province of Ulster is going home, recovery specialists said Tuesday, nearly a decade after the painting was stolen from Belfast.

Based in Venice, Italy, the firm Art Recovery International describes William Conor’s crayon and pastel “Bringing in the Turf” as one of the leading works in the Irish folk art movement.

Conor, who died in 1968, was a Belfast-born painter, and his “Bringing in the Turf” had been displayed in the family home there of Frank and Turid Malpress since 1948.

Turid, now 95, is quoted in Art Recover International’s press release as saying the painting was stolen along with one other, “The Prodigal Son” by Daniel O’Neill, in a 2008 home-invasion.

“The thieves left a token sum of money in the family home: a method common to thieves known as ‘knockers,’” the press release states.

Though clueless of the painting’s whereabouts for five years, Turid’s son-in-law learned in 2013 that Ian Whyte’s auction house in Dublin had sold “Bringing in the Turf” that year to an American collector based in Chicago. 

Robin Thompson, the son-in-law, contacted his insurance company, which brought Art Recovery International on board.

“We are absolutely delighted to have ‘Bringing in the Turf’ back in our family over nine years after the original theft,” Thompson said in a statement through Art Recovery International.

Art Recovery International CEO Christopher Marinello says the recovery efforts included four years of negotiations with Whyte, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, An Guarda Sionchana and the FBI.

“This case shows that auction houses need to perform due diligence, not only on the artwork consigned for sale, but on the consignors themselves,” Marinello said in a statement. “Ian Whyte’s eventual cooperation was a welcome turn of events.”

The Malpress family are still looking for Daniel O’Neill’s “The Prodigal Son,” which was stolen from their home nearly a decade ago along with William Conor’s “Bringing in the Turf.”

The Malpress family are still seeking the other stolen painting, O’Neill’s “The Prodigal Son.” 

Marinello’s press release notes that Northern Irish Police had warned the Malpress family in 2003, five years before the home invasion, that their art collection may be at risk.

“In an innovative plan, the PSNI arranged for copies of two paintings to be created and installed in place of the originals, acting as bait for potential thieves while the family were away,” Art Recovery International’s press release states, using an abbreviation for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. “When no theft was attempted, the originals were replaced and the fakes destroyed.”

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