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Thieves steal Rembrandt drawing from Marina del Rey hotel

A 11-by-6-inch pen-and-ink drawing titled 'The Judgment' by the 17th century Dutch master is valued at more than $250,000. Authorities say a man working with accomplices is believed responsible for the theft late Saturday.

August 15, 2011|By Abby Sewell and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Rembrandt van Rijns drawing The Judgment dates to about 1655. The 11-by-6-inch art work is valued at more than $250,000. Sheriffs Department investigators suspect the thief had accomplices.
Rembrandt van Rijns drawing The Judgment dates to about 1655. The 11-by-6-inch… (www.linearisinstitute.org )

A drawing by Rembrandt was stolen from an exhibit at a luxury hotel in Marina del Rey over the weekend in what authorities called a carefully planned heist.

The small pen-and-ink drawing, valued at more than $250,000, was taken from the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey during an exhibit Saturday night. Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators said a man working with accomplices is believed responsible.

After reviewing hotel surveillance footage, detectives believe the theft of the artwork from a private exhibit in the hotel was well orchestrated, Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

The Rembrandt was part of an event in which art pieces are put on display for potential buyers. Whitmore said such exhibits are frequently held at the hotel.

The drawing disappeared from the upscale hotel between 10:20 and 10:35 p.m. The theft occurred when a curator was distracted by another person, Whitmore said. It was unclear whether the person who caused the distraction was connected to the theft.

"The hotel has top-quality security," the sheriff's spokesman said. "We believe this was a well-thought-out and well-planned theft."

Whitmore said the small piece, approximately 11 by 6 inches, is by Rembrandt van Rijn, the renowned 17th century Dutch painter and etcher, and is titled "The Judgment." It was being exhibited in the hotel lobby and belongs to the Linearis Institute of San Francisco.

Representatives of the institute did not return calls.

Ritz-Carlton staff and management were tight-lipped about the case Sunday. At the hotel, which overlooks boats moored in the harbor, colorful lithographs of paintings by early 20th century artist Henri Matisse were on display in the lobby. Staff members at the front desk said they were not aware that there had been a Rembrandt on display or that it had been stolen.

Mike Mettler, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, and security staff on site declined to comment other than to say that the Ritz-Carlton was cooperating with authorities. Vivian Deuschl, Ritz-Carlton vice president of public relations, also declined to comment.

Art experts reached Sunday said works by Rembrandt are among the most popular targets for art thieves, second only to those by Picasso, because of the artist's name recognition and their value. Anthony Amore, chief investigator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and co-author of the book "Stealing Rembrandts," said there have been 81 documented thefts of the artist's work in the last 100 years.

One of those took place at the Gardner museum where, in 1990, a pair of thieves posing as police officers gained entry to the museum and stole 13 pieces of art, including three Rembrandts. The crime remains unsolved.

But Amore said that case is an anomaly. In the great majority of cases, stolen Rembrandts have been recovered, either when thieves were caught or returned the items, sometimes in an attempt to claim reward money after they were unable to sell them. Thieves find famous artworks extremely difficult to sell because of the high profile of the pieces and the publicity generated by such thefts, he said.

"I'd be shocked if the person who stole this piece had any idea how to fence it," Amore said.

There are about 700 surviving drawings that experts agree to be Rembrandt's work, Amore's co-author, Tom Mashberg, said.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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