This Europe: Prado's lost fish, missing for 28 years, finally surface

An anonymous tip-off enabled Madrid's Prado museum to recover a painting missing for 28 years that surfaced for sale at an east Sussex auction gallery, Spain's flagship museum said yesterday.

Still Life of Fish, by the 18th-century Spanish artist Bartolome Montalvo, had been on loan to a school in the southern city of Cordoba, where it disappeared in 1974.

Nothing more was heard of it until a British antiques dealer in Marbella on the Costa del Sol offered the painting to Gorringes Auction Gallery in Lewes, east Sussex, last summer. He had bought it as part of a flat clearance from a Spanish woman in June.

"The dealer is among our regular suppliers and we catalogued the work and put it in our auction catalogue," Philip Taylor, senior partner of Gorringes, said yesterday. "But, to be honest, we didn't think it was a very inspiring painting and wouldn't have expected it to raise more than a few hundred pounds."

The oil painting on wood was not signed, and Gorringes described it in the auction catalogue as "Spanish School". But it had inventory numbers and marks identifying it as part of Spain's royal collection, on which the Prado was founded in 1819.

Jose Luis Diez, a curator at the Prado, was told the painting was up for auction in Britain, a museum spokeswoman said yesterday. Police were alerted and the work was immediately withdrawn.

"There's so much stolen art around these days, I'm delighted this was spotted in time, otherwise it would have disappeared for another few decades," Mr Taylor said.

"It's not so surprising that the painting has come to light after such a long time; it's had time to change hands and cover its tracks. It's more unusual for a painting to reappear after only a few years."

The woman who sold the painting to the Marbella dealer turned out to have worked as a caretaker at the Cordoba school.

"In 1974, because construction work was being done at the school, she took the picture and kept it at her home until the sale," Spanish police said. The authorities have not filed charges against the caretaker.

Once told the painting belonged to the Spanish state, the British antiques dealer surrendered any claim to the work, which was seized by British police at Spain's request. The painting has been handed over to Spanish police and will be returned to the Prado.

Montalvo is a relatively unknown artist who painted landscapes and still-lifes. His recovered work Bodegon de Pesca forms part of the Prado's vast dispersed holdings. More than 4,500 paintings and artworks owned by the museum are distributed to public institutions throughout Spain.

The so-called dispersed Prado contains artworks "not of the top category" among its huge and priceless collection of some 20,000 works. With some 10,000 pieces stored in vaults and only 1,500 on show in Madrid, dispersal enables more treasures to be publicly displayed.

Plans were in train to establish a permanent control commission to ensure the safety of the museum's dispersed holdings, the Prado's director, Miguel Zugaza, said.

The recovered painting, which was damaged and had been roughly patched in one corner, was of "modest artistic value", the Prado said. Its chief interest lay in the artist having been court painter to King Fernando VII.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence