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Stolen Rembrandt: Authenticity, origin of drawing shrouded in mystery

August 19, 2011 | 11:51 am


The dramatic theft of a Rembrandt drawing from an upscale hotel in Marina del Rey and its mysterious recovery from a priest’s office two days later has roiled the art world.

But the recovery of the piece is only the beginning to answering the myriad questions surrounding the case.

Among them: Is the work really a Rembrandt?

According to the drawing’s owner, the Bay Area-based Linearis Institute, the pen and ink drawing called “The Judgment” is a signed work of the 17th century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, completed in 1655 and worth $250,000.

It disappeared from an exhibit at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Marina del Rey Saturday night while the curator was distracted by a potential art buyer and surfaced Monday evening when an unknown person dropped it off in a priest’s office at St. Nicholas of Myra Episcopal Church in Encino.

But the drawing's origin is also a mystery.

None of the curators, art historians and other preeminent Rembrandt experts contacted by The Times since the theft were familiar with the drawing. Most were reluctant to comment publicly on an art piece they had not seen in person or to wade into a potentially controversial issue, but several expressed doubts about the piece’s authenticity, based on images of it published online.

Dr. Martin Royalton-Kisch, retired curator of Dutch drawings at the British Museum, said in an emailed response that based on the style of the drawing, “It's clearly [in my personal opinion] a work of Rembandt's school rather than by Rembrandt himself.”

A number of experts pointed to a six-volume catalog of Rembrandt’s work by Otto Benesch as the definitive compilation of drawings that experts generally accept as belonging to the master, although there is much disagreement even among scholars about which works should be included in the list of known Rembrandts.

The Times reviewed the Benesch volumes, and the drawing identified at “The Judgment” was not included. It also does not appear on a list of 70 authenticated, signed Rembrandt drawings compiled by scholar Peter Schatborn.

Typically, art dealers maintain a provenance, or detailed written documentation of a piece’s history and sales. It is unclear what documentation the Linearis Institute had on the piece’s history, although sheriff’s officials said the piece was insured.

Representatives of the Linearis Institute have not responded to to multiple phone and email messages requesting comment about the theft and seeking more information about the piece.

Sheriff’s department spokesman Steve Whitmore said that at one point, the institute was not returning calls from investigators either.

The department is still holding the piece as evidence. It has been dusted for fingerprints and will be tested for DNA, Whitmore said. Investigators are also taking independent steps to confirm that the piece is a Rembrandt.

"We are also curious about its authenticity," Whitmore said.


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-- Abby Sewell and Richard Winton

Photo: The Rembrandt drawing after it was recovered from a Encino church. Credit: Los Angeles Times