(CN) – A Camille Pissarro masterpiece is on its way back to France more than 30 years after it was stolen from a museum there, prosecutors said at a repatriation ceremony Wednesday with the French ambassador in Washington.
A thief smuggled Pissaro’s 19th century monotype “Le Marché” into the United States after stealing it from the Faure Museum in Aix-la-Bains, France, in 1981.
From there, the J. Adelman Antiques and Art Gallery in San Antonio, Texas, sold the painting to the Sharan Corp. in 1985 for $8,500.
After that company dissolved in 1992, one of its owners, Sharyl Davis, displayed “Le Marché” in her home for the next decade. Sotheby’s estimated its value at $60,000 to $80,000 when she consigned it to the auction house in 2003.
But the auction house’s catalogue tipped off French police, which informed the United States about the museum theft. Eventually, the Department of Homeland Security pressed Sotheby’s to remove the painting from auction. To return the painting to France, the United States started forfeiture proceedings in 2006, citing a customs statute enacted as part of the Tariff Act of 1930, which authorizes forfeiture of any merchandise which is introduced into the United States contrary to law if it is “stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced.”
In January 2010, a federal jury ruled that the monotype should return to France in accordance with the National Stolen Property Act. The 2nd Circuit Court upheld the decision in June 2011.
France’s ambassador to the United States, François Delattre, took custody of the painting on Wednesday at a ceremony in Washington’s Kreeger Museum.
French authorities arrested Emile Guelton as the thief around the time of the Sotheby’s planned 2003 auction. Guelton admitted to walking out of the Faure museum with “Le Marché” under his coat, and a museum security guard also positively identified him.