30 Years Later, Stolen Painting Being Returned

Marc Chagall work, stolen from a NYC apartment in 1988, is worth up to $900K
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 13, 2018 10:23 AM CDT
Stolen in 1988, Chagall Painting to Head Home
Members of the FBI's Art Crime Team handle Marc Chagall's "Othello and Desdemona" almost 30 years after it was stolen.   (FBI)

From the time his father purchased it for $50 in 1913, Ernest Heller was free to take in the dark brushstrokes of one of Marc Chagall's earliest works, "Othello and Desdemona." That changed when the 1911 painting and additional works by Renoir and Picasso were stolen from the New York apartment Heller shared with his wife, Rose, in 1988, reports the BBC. "I liked them all, but the Chagall was a very interesting one," Heller told UPI at the time. The couple, who received $100,000 from an insurance company, would die without setting sight on Chagall's painting again, per ArtNet News. Their heirs, however, will now get that opportunity. The FBI has just announced the painting will be returned to the family following its recovery in January 2017. In a twist, it was a man in possession of it who contacted the FBI.

The Maryland man, believed to have purchased the painting from the suspected thief, had tried unsuccessfully to sell the painting in 2017 to a gallery, and he called the FBI afterward wondering if there might be a reward, per the Washington Post. (There wasn't.) The painting, estimated to be worth $300,000 to $900,000, will now go back to the Heller estate. The family plans to put it up for auction, with proceeds going to Columbia University, NYU Medical Center, and an arts organization, after the insurance company takes a cut. Authorities say the suspected thief was previously convicted of "interstate transportation of stolen property and mail fraud related to the theft and sale of other works of art." It isn't clear if new charges will be laid, but the investigation is continuing. The thief allegedly had access to the apartment while the Hellers were on vacation. (More art stories.)

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