Feds Recover $350K Artwork Missing for Decades

MANHATTAN (CN) – A 1967 abstract painting by Robert Motherwell, stolen by a moving company employee in the 1970s, was returned to the artist’s foundation Thursday following an FBI investigation.

During a repatriation ceremony in Manhattan Thursday afternoon, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said the large painting was “swiftly and voluntarily” returned by a man “who found himself in possession of the piece earlier this year.”

The man who returned the piece was the son of employee of the Santini Moving Company, who is suspected to have stolen the large untitled painting in 1978.

Robert Motherwell, one of the giants of the New York school of abstract expressionism in the 1950s and 1960s, hired Santini throughout the 1960s and 1970s to store and transport his works.

The FBI reveals the stolen Motherwell painting in New York City on July 12, 2018. (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

The son contacted Motherwell’s Dedalus Foundation earlier this year regarding the authenticity of the piece, which had been in his father’s possession for at least 30 years and was inherited by the son upon his father’s death.

The painting was kept in a garage in upstate New York; Berman thanked the Putnam County Sherriff’s Office for their assistance with the investigation into the decades-old mystery.

“The Dedalus Foundation maintained photographs of the piece in the hopes that they may someday recover it,” Berman said.

“Through their diligence and the readiness and abilities of the FBI’s art crime team, this painting is finally where it should be, with the foundation and for the benefit of the public.”

Berman affirmed that since the son was not involved in the alleged theft, investigators determined that no charges were appropriate.

Berman told reporters that through their continuing art crime investigation, authorities believe there may be dozens more missing Motherwell paintings, suspected to be stolen under the same circumstances.

Bill Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, praised the specialized art expertise of Special Agent Christopher McKeogh from the FBI’s art crime team.

Jack Flan, CEO of the Dedalus Foundation, estimated the painting is worth around $350,000.

The recovered painting will now go to the foundation, which inherited nearly all of Motherwell’s works by virtue of his estate after the artist’s death in 1991.

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