Belfast Telegraph

Painting stolen decade ago from Belfast family's home is discovered in Chicago

By Adrian Rutherford

A prized Irish painting stolen in mysterious circumstances from a private residence in Belfast has been recovered after almost a decade.

The artwork, called Bringing in the Turf and valued at nearly £20,000, was in the hands of the Malpress family for more than half a century.

It was stolen in 2008 and was missing for five years before being spotted by chance by a family member on an auction website.

Now, after an investigation spanning four years and three different jurisdictions, it is back in the hands of its owners.

The painting, by Belfast-born artist William Conor, was purchased in 1948 by Frank and Turid Malpress and was displayed in their home for 50 years.

In 2003 they were warned by the PSNI that thieves were operating in the area and that the Malpress collection may be at risk. Police arranged for copies of two paintings to be created and installed in place of the originals, acting as bait for potential thieves while the family were away.

When no theft was attempted, the originals were replaced and the fakes destroyed.

But in 2008, Turid Malpress, now 95, fell victim to theft.

She immediately called her grandson and the PSNI to report the crime, but the location of the paintings would remain a mystery for five years.

Then, in May 2013, Bringing in the Turf was offered for sale at Whyte's auction house in Dublin. With no claim to the painting revealed by the saleroom's due diligence processes, it was sold to a collector based in Chicago, USA.

That August, Robin Thompson, the victim's son-in-law, noticed the sale record listed on Whyte's website and contacted his insurance company who turned to Art Recovery International to recover the painting.

Chris Marinello, who is chief executive of Art Recovery International, said his team worked for four years across three jurisdictions to recover the painting, meeting with the PSNI, An Garda Siochana and the FBI.

After almost four years of negotiations, the painting was returned.

Mr Thompson said: "We are absolutely delighted to have Bringing in the Turf back in our family over nine years after the original theft.

"This would not have been possible without the professional expertise of Chris Marinello, and his team at Art Recovery International, and their persistence in the matter when all seemed to be lost."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Thompson explained how he came across the painting's whereabouts by chance.

He added: "I was browsing and I thought 'that looks very familiar - it must be it'. Sure enough it was. It had gone off to the US and the new owner had it in his collection."

He believes the painting may have been stolen to order after the thieves spotted it on display.

"My father-in-law wanted people to be able to appreciate art," he added. "The Ulster Museum was holding a retrospective on Conor and included this particular painting.

"W&G Baird produced a calendar and it was featured in it."

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

The Malpress family are still seeking the other, more valuable, stolen painting by Daniel O'Neill, which is entitled The Prodigal Son.

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