After 42 years, missing Lichtenstein painting is returned


NEW YORK — A $4 million Roy Lichtenstein painting that disappeared 42 years ago when it was sent out for cleaning was returned Tuesday to its owner in Manhattan.

The painting was returned to Barbara Bertozzi Castelli, the widow of art dealer Leo Castelli, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and the FBI said at a press conference.

The 1961 painting "Electric Cord" was purchased by Castelli in the early 1960s for about $750 and displayed in the Leo Castelli Gallery in Manhattan, according to a statement by Bharara's office. In January 1970, the painting was sent to art restorer Daniel Goldreyer and it disappeared, according to the statement.

In July, Manhattan art dealer James Goodman received an offer to buy the painting, Goodman said in a telephone interview Tuesday. The sellers e-mailed him a photo of "Electric Cord" and said the work was at Hayes Storage in Manhattan.

"As soon as I saw the image, I knew what it was," Goodman said. The Lichtenstein Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to the artist's legacy, published an image of the painting on its holiday greeting card in 2006 and asked for help in finding the painting.

Goodman said he remembered the card. "For an old guy, I have a very good memory," he said.

Goodman said he alerted the foundation, and a representative accompanied him to the storage facility to view the work. The foundation notified Bertozzi Castelli.

"I did my Good Samaritan thing," said Goodman.

The FBI discovered that the storage facility had received the painting from the Quinta Galeria art gallery in Bogota, Colombia, which had received it on consignment from Goldreyer's widow, Sally Goldreyer, authorities said.

Goldreyer told authorities that when her husband died in 2009, she and others cleaned out the lockers of his company's employees, including one named Ben Dolinsky, according to the statement.

She said the contents of Dolinsky's locker were boxed and given to a friend, who, three years later, asked her to sell the painting for him, according to the statement. She offered to sell it to the Quinta gallery but refunded the gallery's deposit when she saw a missing notice for the painting posted on the Internet, according to the statement.

On Oct. 9, Goldreyer and Bharara's office "entered into a stipulation" in which Goldreyer relinquished all rights, title and interest to "Electric Cord" and return it to Castelli, authorities said.

Bertozzi Castelli said she may hang the painting in her home.

"Thank you for everything you did," she said to authorities at the press conference. "It's the first time I have seen it in my life. I came to the U.S. in 1993. I got married to Leo in 1995. And the painting was missing since 1970. I actually can tell you that Leo spoke on several occasions to me about this painting. He was saying it was a really beautiful painting."

Authorities value "Electric Cord,' which measures 28-by-17 inches, at $4 million.

"We are delighted to have played a role in securing the return" of the painting, Bharara said in the statement. "Returning stolen art and artifacts is an important mission of this office, and it is always gratifying when we are successful."