In recent art world news, forty years after a 1967 painting by modernist painter Robert Motherwell had vanished, last week the “Untitled” work (now valued at $1 million) was returned to the foundation dedicated to the preservation of the artist’s legacy. The painting is among dozens that were lost and believed to have been stolen when Motherwell had hired a moving company to relocate his artworks from one storage facility to another in 1978. The Motherwell painting was discovered in an upstate New York garage by the son of a former employee of the moving company.
The person who returned the painting has not been identified by federal investigators who helped arrange the return of the work to the Dedalus Foundation. Foundation officials said that the person was helping his mother sort through some belongings last October when he came across the painting and after inspecting same he noticed the artist’s name in faint pencil on the back of the orange, crimson, blue and black canvas.
The person conducted an online search for information about the artist and subsequently approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting. The foundation matched up photos of the discovered work to photos of the stolen painting and concluded it was the same work. The foundation then contacted the FBI and investigators in the art crimes unit established that the person’s father, who passed away in the 1990s, had in fact worked at the Manhattan-based moving company at the time the Motherwell works went missing.
The discovered painting has a few mold stains that can be removed, but the work is said to be in “good shape and had been stored correctly, upright and wrapped in plastic.”
After Motherwell passed away in 1991, nearly all of his paintings were deeded to the foundation.
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, who unveiled the painting at a news conference last week in Manhattan where the foundation took possession of the large 69-by-92 inch work said:
Today, dozens of works by Motherwell remain missing. We hope that they remain in the same condition as this piece, and that anyone encountering these pieces in the market brings them to the attention of law enforcement.”
It was reported that authorities do not believe the son knew the painting had been stolen, but it did appear that the work had been purposely taken. The foundation said that the back of the painting had marks where warehouse labels had been torn off.
According to Katy Rogers, director of the Robert Motherwell catalogue raisonné project, the person who had approached the foundation regarding the discovered painting had hoped to sell the work if it was authentic, but agreed to return it upon learning of the circumstances under which the painting had gone missing.
Motherwell was a 20th-century American painter, printmaker, and editor, who played a significant role in the Abstract Expressionist movement. The late artist is well known as a member of the New York School, which also includes acclaimed artists Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.
The foundation will circulate the discovered painting in connection with its educational programs.