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Sheriff's Department refuses to return purported Rembrandt

Investigators have been unable to verify the authenticity of the piece stolen from a Marina del Rey hotel and found at a church. They also question whether the Linearis Institute even owns the work.

September 01, 2011|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • The pen-and-ink drawing is titled "The Judgment." Rembrandt experts consulted by the Los Angeles Times were unfamiliar with the piece.
The pen-and-ink drawing is titled "The Judgment." Rembrandt… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Investigators are refusing to return a purported Rembrandt drawing that was stolen from an auction at an upscale hotel and then recovered last month, citing questions about the authenticity and ownership of the piece.

The artwork was reported stolen from an exhibit at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Marina del Rey on Aug. 13. Two days later, it was recovered when someone dropped it off at a priest's office at a church in Encino — an act whose motivation remains a mystery.

The Times reported previously that there were questions about whether the small pen-and-ink drawing was really the work of the 17th century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, as its owner, the Bay Area-based Linearis Institute, claimed. Multiple curators, art historians and other Rembrandt experts consulted by The Times were unfamiliar with the piece, which is called "The Judgment" and, according to Linearis, is a signed work completed in 1655 and worth $250,000.

The drawing is not listed in a catalog of Rembrandt's work considered definitive by most experts.

Investigators said shortly after recovering the piece that they were unsure of the work's authenticity and were trying to verify it. They have been unable to do so, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore.

"We can't for the life of us verify" that it is a Rembrandt, he said.

Investigators also now question whether Linearis actually owns the drawing. Whitmore said the institute has not provided a sales history or other proof of ownership. Until the question is resolved, he said, the department will not return the piece.

"Most important now is who owns it, and what is it that they own," Whitmore said.

William Klein, an attorney representing Linearis, acknowledged that the institute has no provenance, the detailed sales history of a piece that art dealers typically keep and that buyers look to for proof of authenticity. But he maintained that Linearis owns the drawing and has taken steps to verify that it is a Rembrandt, although he could not say how.

Klein said the institute questions the ability of the Sheriff's Department to safeguard the piece and may seek a court order to have it returned.

He said investigators demanded that Linearis representatives come to Los Angeles and "submit to a two-hour interrogation" before the drawing would be returned.

"It seems unreasonable for us to be jumping through hoops," he said. "I get the sense of overreach in all of this."

"The Judgment" was not one of the pieces being auctioned the night it was stolen, although the institute would potentially sell the drawing, he said.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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