Two-year search for St John’s Wood stolen art ends in furniture shop

Chance encounter leads to happy ending for gallery owner

WHEN three paintings worth more than �11,000 were stolen from a St John’s Wood art gallery in 2009, it seemed they had disappeared forever.

But a miraculous sequence of events has resulted in the most valuable artwork – worth �5,500 – being returned to the Boundary Gallery, in Boundary Road, after it was found around the corner in Harrow Road.

The story begins with the paintings by artist Anita Klein on display in the gallery more than two years ago when a man came in and bought them on the last day of the exhibition.

“He said he was opening a restaurant and was looking for pictures to go on the wall,” said gallery owner Agi Katz.

“I asked where the restaurant was and he gave me an exact address on Fulham Road. When he paid, it didn’t cross my mind that anything was wrong.

“Three weeks later, I got a letter from Barclays saying it was a stolen credit card and the person who owned it had never set foot in the gallery. So I went to the address he had given me for his restaurant and it was actually a wedding dress shop.

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“The woman there said that something very similar had happened to her a few weeks before when a man had said his two sisters were getting married in Morocco and then he bought two dresses with a stolen card.

“The way she described the appearance of the man seemed very similar to the person who had bought the paintings.”

Despite alerting police and different people in the art world to the stolen paintings, it seemed all was lost when nothing had turned up two years later.

But just a few weeks ago, Ms Klein, a former president of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers, received an email that would eventually lead to one of the paintings.

“A woman emailed saying she had found a painting of mine on Harrow Road,” Ms Klein said.

“She said she was thinking of buying it but thought it was a bit cheap so she wanted to check that it wasn’t fake.

“She sent me a photo and I immediately knew it was one of the stolen paintings.

“I told Agi, who alerted the police and they went round and seized it.

“It was such a marvellous thing that this woman emailed me. I was so thrilled about it. It felt to me like my baby had been brought back.”

Ms Klein said she did have reservations when the three paintings were bought on the final day of the exhibition in 2009.

“When Agi phoned me to tell me they had been sold on the final day, it did occur to me that they were a disparate group of paintings,” she said.

“Usually when people buy two or more paintings they are pairs. But these were three quite different images – so I was quite surprised when they were bought.

“I thought they may have been stolen to order or taken out of the country. It seems rather stupid to put them on display for the public to see.”

The painting, titled Maia Is Upset, was found at a Moroccan furniture store called Bazaar Maro. No-one was available for comment from the shop.

So one painting has a happy ending. But there are still two more paintings out there. The story continues...