Crowdsourced detective work narrows window of Winston Churchill portrait’s disappearance
Thanks to an audience of detectives, the Chateau Laurier has announced that a famous portrait of Winston Churchill appears to have been removed from the walls of the hotel last winter, for a week and a half over the holidays.
After news broke of the theft on Monday, people began sending the hotel photos they had taken of the signed print by famed Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, according to Geneviève Dumas, general manager of the Fairmont hotel at the downtown Ottawa.
“It was something very dear to the hearts of the people of Ottawa, the portrait of Karsh Winston Churchill. Everyone was so kind to send us all kinds of photos and information that they could share with us, which helped us,” Dumas said.
On Tuesday, the last submitted photo of the real portrait was taken on December 25, 2021, and CBC Washington correspondent Paul Hunter took the first known photo of the fake on January 6 of this year.
WATCH | Château Laurier asks for the public’s help in the event of the disappearance of the portrait of Winston Churchill
People love an art theft and have shared ideas of where the portrait could be.
But the mystery is not yet solved.
Anyone who may have seen anything fishy last Christmas, or who may have photos taken between Dec. 25, 2021 and Jan. 6, 2022, is encouraged to contact the hotel, Dumas said.
Don’t Romanticize Art Heists, Says Reclaimer
While the interest seems to help the investigation, a man who collects stolen artwork for a living wants to crush any idea that art thefts make good heist movies.
“It’s not romantic, it’s not exciting and it shouldn’t be,” said Christopher Marinello, attorney and CEO of Art Recovery International.
“I treat art criminals like vulgar thugs, like heartless, faceless, evil criminals who are just out to make money at the expense of all of us,” he said. “They take away artwork that belongs to all of us to enjoy.”
Marinello said it was also wrong to imagine the thief as a lover of Winston Churchill or portrait photography. Instead, they should be understood to have simply done their research on the value of printing.
Another print of Churchill’s portrait sold two years ago at Sotheby’s for $81,000, Marinello said, and it doesn’t have the same story as the hotel print.
Karsh and his first wife lived at the Château Laurier for 18 years and his studio was housed there until 1992, a bond that makes the mark of the hotel The roaring lion more precious portrait, says Marinello.
He suggested it could be worth over $100,000.
Marinello also balked at the idea that stealing art can increase its value. While the flight of mona-lisa increased his reputation, he did not go beyond that, he said.
“I would never say stealing something is going to go up in value because criminals are horrible with artwork. I mean, I’ve worked on cases where $6 million paintings have been reduced to 1 million dollars because they rolled it the wrong way.”
Stolen artwork was recovered less than 5% of the time
Art Recovery International is involved in many investigations after police complete theirs, often by an insurance company, but less than 5% of stolen artwork is returned, Marinello said.
It’s a common type of theft, and he said he’s worked on a number of other Canadian cases in the past year alone.
But it’s hard to say how common it is, according to Bonnie Czegledi, an international lawyer specializing in art and cultural heritage.
Unlike other countries, she said Canada doesn’t have a dedicated task force — like the FBI’s Art Crimes Unit — focused solely on finding stolen artwork.
“Americans and other countries are taking this seriously because we now know that stealing art and stealing cultural heritage funds terrorism,” she told CBC Radio. All in one day.
Canada also does not keep statistics on the type of art stolen, the frequency and the people targeted, which could help identify trends and prevent future thefts, Czegledi said.
All in one day10:29Famous portrait of Winston Churchill missing from Ottawa hotel in suspected art theft
Check copycat places near hotel, expert suggests
It’s likely that Chateau Laurier staff will comb through guest records and take notes on disgruntled former employees, Marinello said.
The thief could have tried to sell the print immediately after picking it up, either online or through an auction house, and he suggested checking nearby stores that offer services. to see if anyone remembers making a photocopy.
Since the signed print is one of many in existence, Marinello said there’s a good chance the seller will get away with unloading it at auction.
Auction houses are all about making money, he said, and while some have entire departments devoted to tracing the lineage of artworks, others don’t perform any due diligence.
And even if found, there might be other obstacles at the hotel to getting the print.
“You’re next to a very unusual province in Canada that I find extremely frustrating for the work I do,” Marinello said.
Quebec law allows owners of works of art who bought them without knowing they were stolen to keep them or negotiate a settlement for their return. That’s not the case in the rest of Canada, Marinello said.
The Ottawa Police investigation is continuing and police told CBC they have assigned investigators to the case.