Margaret Keane’s stolen painting is returned
A stolen painting by acclaimed American artist Margaret Keane returns home with its original owners – including one of the women pictured in the portrait – nearly 50 years after someone snatched it from the cabinet of a dentist in Honolulu.
The owners had been looking for the painting, known as “Eyes Upon You” since it was taken in 1972, according to Heritage Auctions, which returned the work at a press conference on Wednesday.
The Dallas-based auction house said it sold the painting for $ 35,000 in a December consignment sale to a family who bought it from a New Jersey art gallery in the 1980s.
Wittman is a former FBI special agent and founded the agency’s Art Crime Team.
“Heritage immediately picked up the painting from the buyer, they informed the consignee of the situation and worked with us 100% so the family is thrilled,” Wittman said.
Keane became a pop culture icon in the 1960s and 1970s and was known for her surreal paintings of people and animals with large expressive eyes.
She was living in Hawaii when she painted “Eyes Upon You” and the portrait features seven Hawaiian children of different races and ethnicities, including the dentist’s daughter, who was 7 at the time.
Keane painted her from a photo provided by the girl’s father.
Wittman said the dentist hung the painting in his reception area because he wanted all the children to feel comfortable while they waited for their exams.
The family wish to remain anonymous, but said in a statement that they were happy to recover the painting.
“The painting has special meaning for our family as our father was fortunate enough to work with the artist and imagined the concept and images for this unique piece of art. We are grateful that our painting is returning home in our family, ”the statement said.
Aviva Lehmann, vice president and director of American art at Heritage, called the painting a “tour de force” and said it was rare to see a painting by Keane with so many people.
“This is the best Margaret Keane I have ever handled and possibly the best Margaret Keane I have ever seen in terms of size, subject matter and quality,” she said.
She said the story of the painting’s cinematic plot made it even more interesting.
No one has ever been arrested or charged with stealing the painting, which was taken while the dentist’s office was closed for lunch, Wittman said.
He said the thief took the canvas, which measures 39×49 inches, and apparently carried it up the stairs to avoid being seen by a receptionist near the elevator.
Wittman doesn’t know how the painting got from Hawaii to New Jersey, but said the stolen art often changes hands multiple times. He also said it’s common for stolen works of art to be discovered when someone tries to sell them.
“This is why art theft is such a ridiculous crime, because at some point it will come back to the market,” he said. “Even the ‘Mona Lisa’ was stolen, in 1911, and it was recovered within two years.”