A rare Auguste Rodin sculpture stolen nearly 25 years ago as part of a $1 million Beverly Hills art heist has been recovered after it turned up in London.
The 1991 theft was facilitated by the “trusted” housekeeper of a Los Angeles art collector who, after bragging about his employer's wealth a local bar, was paid $5,000 by art thieves to give them copies of his house keys.
The bronze statue, titled Young Girl With Serpent, by French sculptor Rodin, is believed to be worth around $100,000.
A number of other valuable artworks, including an important early sketch of Rodin’s most famous work, The Kiss, and another sculpture, The Eternal Spring, were also taken and remain missing and total assets taken were valued at more than a million dollars at the time.
The thieves had considerable access to the Beverly Hills property while its owner was away at another residence for several weeks and used the copied key to rob it over several visits.
The unnamed Beverly Hills art collector, who is now in her Eighties, described returning to her house after the burglary to find it looking “as though it had been hit by an earthquake”.
The housekeeper had skipped town and a warrant was issued for his arrest by the Beverly Hills Police Department.
A six month manhunt followed after which the housekeeper was located and arrested in Miami, Florida while sunbathing next to a hotel pool.
The collector is said to be “delighted” at the recovery of the statue which turned up at Christie’s auction house in New York and was transferred to London for sale in 2011 having being missing for more than two decades.
Christie’s were alerted to the fact that the sculpture was stolen and “assisted all involved parties during the investigation” according to Chris Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery International.
There was a four year deadlock in negotiations between lawyers for the possessor of the artwork who offered it to Christie’s and the Beverly Hills victim, but following intervention by Marinello the work has now been released unconditionally back to her.
The housekeeper claimed to know nothing of the artwork’s whereabouts after his arrest and later attempted to contact the family where he’d worked as “a trusted member of staff” to apologise.
He served time for his role in the theft in the US and was later extradited to prison in Switzerland over an unrelated crime.
Marinello credits the resolution of this case to one particular officer from Beverly Hills Police Department, Detective Michael Corren, who kept the case open for 24 years - even after he had retired.
“Detective Corren was very impressive in the way he pursued the case. He was kind of like Moby Dick and the White Whale,” Marinello told The Independent.
“The police department tracked down the caretaker in Florida by the swimming pool and got an arrest and Corren pursued it to solve it. It’s rare that you get an officer today who is so single-minded.”
The victim has asked Art Recovery International to continue pursuing the other lost artworks.
However, it seems there is quite a market for stolen Rodins on the black market and also fears that thieves might melt the statues down. “Sadly, many of these bronze items are sold for scrap, as horrific as that may sound,” Marinello said previously.
Rodin’s The Thinker was stolen and damaged along with six other bronze statues from the garden of the Singer Laren Museum, Netherlands in 2007. It was recovered two days later “pretty worse for wear” and had to undergo considerable and expensive restoration.
A nude bronze of French novelist Honore de Balzac was stolen from the Israel Museum while it was undergoing renovation in 2011 – one of a series of four studies that Rodin cast for a monument to Balzac on display in Paris – and has yet to be recovered.
In 2012 portrait in bronze of Rodin by his artist lover Camille Claudel worth a reported £800,000 was recovered in the truck of an antique dealer 13 years after it was taken from the Guéret art and archaeology museum in France.
Young Girl With Serpent will be consigned for sale later this year as part of a deal between the victim and her insurance company.
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