Stolen painting returns home to Belfast after 9 years

A painting valued at nearly £20,000, which was stolen from a Belfast home nine years ago has been reunited with its owners.

William Conor’s ‘Bringing in the Turf’ was displayed in the home of the Malpress family for 50 years before it was targeted by thieves. Purchased by Frank and Turid Malpress, it was replaced with a copy to serve as bait after Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) alerted the family that thieves were operating in their neighbourhood.

Believing the burglary threat to have subsided, Turid reinstalled the original work. In 2008, the thieves struck and the painting went missing for five years.

It was only when Turid’s son-in-law, Robin Thompson, happened to be browsing the sale records of Whyte’s auction house in Dublin that the painting’s whereabouts were traced. “I thought ‘that looks very familiar – it must be it’”, Thompson said. Whyte’s had sold the painting to a Chicago-based collector in 2013 after its due diligence search failed to reveal anything suspect about the work’s provenance.

After Thompson’s insurance company contacted Art Recovery International, an investigation spearheaded by chief executive Christopher Marinello lasting four years and spanning three jurisdictions, America, Ireland and Northern Ireland, was undertaken. Four years later, the return of the work was successfully negotiated by the PSNI, An Garda Siochana and the FBI.

This case shows that auction houses need to perform due diligence, not only on the artwork consigned for sale, but on the consignors themselves”, Marinello stated.

The Malpress family are still on the lookout for another painting from their collection, ‘The Prodigal Son’, by Daniel O’Neill, which was stolen alongside the Conor work.

Attending the summer art sales? Our art law expert, Becky Shaw, offers a guide to buying art at auction here.

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