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Stolen Rembrandt found in church office after cleric stepped away

August 16, 2011 |  2:21 pm

Location where the missing Rembrandt was discovered.

The Rev. Michael Cooper of St. Nicholas of Myra Episcopal Church in Encino said Tuesday he was as stunned as anyone to learn a stolen Rembrandt drawing was left in his office by an intruder.

Cooper said an assistant priest left the church office for a few minutes Monday evening and when he returned, discovered the drawing inside. He had left the door open.

"Somebody may have driven by and seen the lights," Cooper said in an interview.

Cooper, a former L.A. County Sheriff's deputy who still serves the department as a volunteer chaplain, said he called authorities after his staff informed him of the discovery.

"The door was unlocked and propped open," he said, adding his parishioners "had nothing to do with it."

Asked to explain why a thief would leave a stolen picture at St. Nicholas', he replied, "We are a church. It is a place of reconciliation."

Deputies recovered the sketch, titled "Judgment Day," on Monday night after it had been stolen Saturday night from the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey.

Investigators were trying to determine whether it is an authentic Rembrandt.

The drawing has been positively identified by its owners, the Linearis Institute, but no one has been arrested in connection with the theft, he said.

The 11-inch-by-6-inch, quill-pen-and-ink work dating to about 1655 was part of an exhibition staged by the institute, which is described on its website as "a public repository for the visual arts specializing in works on paper by great masters of the past 500 years."

Institute officials have not returned phone calls seeking comment.

The artwork was stolen Saturday between 9:20 and 9:35 p.m.; a curator told investigators he had been distracted by a guest.

"When the curator turned back to the Rembrandt, it was gone," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Art experts said works by Rembrandt are some of the most popular targets for art thieves, second only to those by Picasso.

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-- Richard Winton and Abby Sewell

Photo: Church where the missing Rembrandt was discovered. Credit: Richard Winton / Los Angeles Times

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