Back from the underworld: Tate's £24m Turner prize

By Louise Jury,Media Correspondent
Saturday 21 December 2002 01:00
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Two paintings by JMW Turner that were stolen in an audacious raid eight years ago have been recovered and returned to the Tate, the gallery announced yesterday.

The Tate spent £3.5m out of a £24m insurance payout to track down the works, two of the most important in its collection and now worth at least £20m each, in a search across Europe. The successful hunt has left it with a £15m surplus.

Both paintings, Shade and Darkness: the Evening of the Deluge, and Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory): the Morning after the Deluge – Moses writing the Book of Genesis, will go back on display at Tate Britain, in London, on 8 January.

Announcing the recovery, Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate galleries, said: "We are thrilled." He revealed that Shade and Darkness was recovered in July 2000. The find was kept a tight secret for fear information on the whereabouts of the other work might be jeopardised. Most Tate trustees were not informed.

The paintings were stolen in 1994 from Frankfurt's Schirn Kunsthalle, which had borrowed and insured them for a show called "Goethe and the Visual Arts". The Tate received the full £24m insurance a year later when two men and a getaway driver were arrested by German police.

Under usual insurance rules, the paintings would belong to the insurers if later recovered, although the Tate would have had first right to buy them back for the £24m plus interest. But, unhappy at having such a sum sitting dormant, the Tate negotiated a deal with the Treasury, through Geoffrey Robinson – paymaster general at the time – to buy the rights back from the insurers for £8m. The gamble that the works would turn up leaves the Tate with just under £15m sitting in the bank.

Ironically, earlier this week the Tate said it wanted to acquire a painting, the Portrait of Omai by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which is the subject of an export ban while galleries try to raise the £12.5m needed to save it for the nation. Sir Nicholas said he did not know what the trustees would decide to do with the windfall.

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