An 18-carat solid gold toilet stolen from Blenheim Palace has been valued at £4.8 million, its chief executive has said.
The fully functioning loo, named America and installed for an art exhibition at Sir Winston Churchill’s birthplace, was taken in the early hours of Saturday by a gang of thieves, Thames Valley Police said.
The theft of the sculpture from a wood-panelled room at the 18th-century Oxfordshire estate caused significant flood damage as it had been plumbed in for visitors to use.
Reports had said it was worth an estimated £1 million, but Blenheim Palace chief executive Dominic Hare said the artwork, by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, is valued at about six million US dollars (£4.8 million).
He told the PA news agency: “We have a very sophisticated security operation and we have not had an incident like this in living memory.
“The events of the last 24 hours mean we may have reason to reconsider some of our systems.
“There is always a risk when you display valuable art to the public, but it is worth that risk, even now, it was still worth that risk.”
Mr Hare said he believed Cattelan attended a reception party marking the exhibition launch on Friday night, adding: “I understand he is very shaken and shocked.”
A 66-year-old man has been arrested over the incident and the palace was closed to the public on Saturday.
The sculpture hit the headlines last year after it was offered to US president Donald Trump by the chief curator of the Guggenheim museum in New York, its former home.
It was installed at the country home of the aristocratic Marlborough family as part of Cattelan’s exhibition, which began on Thursday.
The theft comes after the Duke of Marlborough’s half-brother, Edward Spencer-Churchill, said last month the artwork would not be “the easiest thing to nick”.
Mr Spencer-Churchill told the Times: “Firstly, it’s plumbed in, and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate.
“So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it.”
Inspector Richard Nicholls from Thames Valley Police said: “A group of offenders broke into the palace and stole a high value toilet made out of gold that was on display.
“We believe they used at least two vehicles during the offence and left the scene at around 4.50am.
“The artwork has not been recovered at this time, but there is a thorough investigation being carried out.”
Inspector Nicholls said Friday’s reception party “would form part of our inquiries in order to ascertain events leading up to the item being stolen”.
He added that commenting on how the property was accessed “would be speculation at the moment”.
**OFFICIAL STATEMENT**— Blenheim Palace (@BlenheimPalace) September 14, 2019
Following the Thames Valley Police statement we can confirm âAmericaâ, the art piece by Maurizio Cattelan has been stolen in the early hours of this morning.
We are saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no-one was hurt.
The golden toilet had proved popular at the Guggenheim and has been described by critics as a pointed satire against the excesses of wealth.
Cattelan has previously said: “Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise”, and has described his work as “1% art for the 99%”.
More than 100,000 people made use of its “participatory nature” at the Fifth Avenue museum between 2016 and 2017, making available to the public “an extravagant luxury product seemingly intended for the 1%”, said the Guggenheim website.
It gained renewed attention last year when the White House requested to borrow a Vincent van Gogh painting for Mr Trump and his wife Melania’s private living area, the Washington Post reported.
Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector declined the request but, perhaps with Mr Trump’s penchant for all things gold in mind, offered the toilet instead.
Cattelan’s exhibition, his first solo show in the UK for two decades, is scheduled to run at World Heritage Site Blenheim Palace from September 12 until October 27, with tickets costing £27.
Mr Hare urged anyone with any information to contact police.
He said: “We are saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no-one was hurt.
“It’s a great shame an item so precious has been taken, but we still have so many fascinating treasures in the palace and the remaining items of the exhibition to share.
“The investigation continues, but it will be business as usual from tomorrow, so visitors can continue to come and experience all we have to offer.”
Sir Winston was born at Blenheim on November 30 1874.