In 1977 Michael Hennessy and John Ryan, two London art dealers, bought a panel painting of the Madonna and Child. Ownership became shared between 20 parties. In 1986, the panel went missing from a bank vault in Geneva, taken by one of the part-owners. It was reported as a theft by the other owners. It was next seen at Sotheby’s New York in January last year, catalogued as the work of a ‘Florentine painter within the ambit of Cimabue, circa 1285-1295’.
When investigative agency Art Recovery Group saw the painting they informed Sotheby’s who withdrew the work from sale. The consigner and the heirs to the original owners – two of whom were represented by the agency – went to court.
The case reached a settlement last week that included an agreement to divide any proceeds from a future sale. This was the first recovery of a stolen painting by the newly launched Art Recovery Group via its ArtClaim database, a competitor to the Art Loss Register.
It is likely that the painting will now be sold, although its attribution is still in question. Sotheby’s gave it an estimate of $600,000-800,000, but if it is agreed to be by Duccio, as some scholars have argued, it could be worth much more. In 2004 the Metropolitan Museum of Art paid $45m. for a small work by the early Renaissance master.