Monday, August 11, 2008

Stolen Art Uncovered - Is it Yours?

Talk about a surprising discovery. In 2006, a treasure trove of all kinds of art work—some of which has subsequently been identified as stolen—was uncovered in a New York City apartment. In an effort to track down the rightful owners, the FBI and the Public Administrator of New York County have posted pictures of the most important pieces on their website.

More than 300 works of art—paintings, sketches, sculptures, and other pieces by such artists as Pablo Picasso, John Singleton Copley, Alberto Giacometti, Giorgio Morandi, and Eugene Boudin—were discovered after the death of the apartment’s occupant, William M.V. Kingsland.

Kingsland was well known in New York City’s art circles as an engaging and intelligent connoisseur of art, books, architecture, and genealogy. But when he died, he left no will…and no apparent heirs to claim the floor-to-ceiling stacks of paintings and art works crammed into his one-bedroom apartment.

Turns out Kingsland was a pretty secretive guy—despite having many acquaintances, very few people had ever been inside his residence. In conversations with friends, he was often evasive about his early years and his family. And, as reported by the media not long after his death, William Kingsland wasn’t even his given name—he was born Melvyn Kohn and spent his early years in the Bronx before legally changing his name to Kingsland. He thought it had a more literary sound to it and would help him gain acceptance among Manhattan’s upper crust.

A surprising discovery. After Kingsland’s death, New York Public Administrator Ethel Griffin hired two auction houses—Christie’s and Stair Galleries—to sell the art. But as Christie’s researched the pieces to determine their provenance (history of ownership), it discovered some of them had been reported stolen in the 1960s and 1970s and immediately contacted New York Special Agent Jim Wynne, a member of our Art Crime Team. And after Stair Galleries auctioned off several pieces, one of the buyers—an art gallery owner—discovered the piece he bought had been reported stolen as well, so he too got in touch with Agent Wynne.

One bizarre side note: A mover hired by the Public Administrator’s Office to transport the contents of Kingsland’s apartment to a warehouse was charged for stealing two Picasso sketches each valued at approximately $30,000. And, it turns out that was not the first time those two sketches had been stolen…sometime before they ended up in Kingsland’s collection they were stolen from a New York art gallery around 1967!

With the cooperation of the Public Administrator’s Office and the two auction houses, we (the FBI) began investigating Kingsland’s collection of art and positively identified several works that had been stolen. And we think there are more. But because of the overwhelming size of the collection and the complex and time-consuming nature of provenance investigations, we decided the best and most expeditious course of action was to publicize the art work to the general public.

The FBI needs your help. If you have information on the provenance, acquisition, or ownership of any work of art from the Kingsland collection shown here—or if you want to make a claim—please contact Agent Wynne at (718) 286-7302 or by e-mail at

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