In 1978, 12 paintings were stolen from the home of Robert Stoddard, administrator of the Worcester Art Museum (Massachusetts), including a work by Auguste Renoir and a watercolor by William Turner. So far only three of these twelve works of art – worth a total of $10 million today – have been found. But the recent investigation by a Boston art collector, Clifford Schorer, could speed up the restitutions.
This one is about to recover one of the stolen paintings: Winter Landscape with Skaters and Other Figures (1630) by the Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634), a specialist in winter scenes in the style of Brueghel. Avercamp’s paintings are exhibited in museums such as the National Gallery in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Cliff Schorer is a collector who has made a name for himself as an art hunter and has a special gift for finding – and acquiring at bargain prices – lost, neglected or misused masterpieces. assigned. A former chairman of the Worcester Art Museum’s board of trustees, he naturally took a keen interest in this case because many stolen works had been promised to the institution before the death of Robert Stoddard in 1984.
The amateur sleuth started where anyone could, on the internet, by doing an image search to find a winter river scene similar to that in Avercamp’s painting. Very soon, he came across a picture of a pillow that had what appeared to be the image of the lost painting on it. He clicked on the photo, zoomed in and saw that it was indeed the same work of art. The pillow was on sale for $18 on Pixels.com, a site that sells pillows, bedspreads or posters with images of artwork printed on them. The collector knew that no photo of this quality could have been taken before 1978. The person who took this photo must have been in possession of the painting after it was stolen.
Cushion with the reproduction of Winter landscape attributed to Barent Avercamp.
Cliff Schorer then studied the metadata of the photo until it was traced back to a dealer he knew in New York. The dealer recalled the painting, explaining that it had been sold at an art fair in Europe in 1995, but by another dealer with whom he shared a stand at the fair. How could serious dealers sell a painting reported as stolen? It turned out, the gallery friend told Cliff Schorer, that the painting had been sold as a work by Barend Avercamp (1612-1679), Hendrick’s nephew and pupil. Schorer speculates that whoever sold the painting may have forged the “H” to look like a “B” in the artist’s signature.
Thanks to the merchant’s archives, Cliff Schorer found the names of the buyers, a Dutch couple who died, and their price, $200,000, much less than what they would have brought if they had been sold as Hendrick and not Barend, and what he would be worth today.
The collector sent a letter to the heirs of the Dutch buyers in 2021, on behalf of the Worcester Art Museum, expressing the hope that they could find an amicable way to have the painting returned to the museum. Faced with no response, his Dutch lawyer wrote another letter to the heirs, giving them 40 days to come forward and arrange for the painting to be returned, in exchange for the sum the family had paid at the time. Cliff Schorer told the Boston Magazine that he would initiate criminal proceedings if the family did not cooperate.