Reached via email while vacationing in Italy, Cheim declined to speak at length about the ordeal, saying, “I know little more about it other than it being an unpleasant experience from 30 years ago.” He added that he still lives in the loft the thieves had robbed nearly three decades ago.
The third crime occurred just two days later, and was perhaps the strangest of the three. On December 21st, a driver was transporting ’s
(ca. 1922) from a framing shop to Beadleston Gallery, the since-shuttered outfit run by dealer William Beadleston at 60 East 91st Street. Along the way, the truck stopped to drop something off at Acquavella Galleries
on East 79th Street, and while the driver was inside someone swooped in, hopped into the driver’s seat, and sped off.
Due to the thief’s uncanny timing, an insurance investigator suggested to Bagli that the person who drove off with the truck had been hired by someone with knowledge of the Soutine’s whereabouts. Others were simply baffled, given how hard it is to sell stolen work.
“It’s strange that they went after that painting,” Harold Smith, the president of an insurance firm that was looking into the disappearance of the Soutine, told Bagli at the time. “Good paintings are being stolen and they seem to be put into a deep freeze somewhere. At some point, they’ll start being laundered and find their way into countries that have a low statute of limitations.”
The Krasner was eventually found and restored; it remained in the collection of Robert Miller’s wife, Sarah Wittenborn Miller, until she consigned it to Sotheby’s in May. The Salle was also recovered in 1991; the truck that had been carrying the Soutine was found in Harlem a few days later, but the painting was gone. At the time of Bagli’s article, the whereabouts of Bonnier’s de Kooning were also unknown.
Accordingly, there is no additional publicly available information about the thief or thieves. Nor is it known if the three New York City art thefts of December 1990 were actually connected, or if they occurred in rapid succession by coincidence.
“It has always surprised me that the FBI and police were unable to track down the perpetrators,” Cheim said. In their defense, at the time the FBI may have been preoccupied with the investigation into the greatest unsolved art theft in modern history
: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
heist, which had happened earlier that year in Boston. An email to FBI’s art crime unit received no response.
But one person did suggest to the Observer one possible motivation behind the timing of the crime: the hysteria surrounding Christmas shopping. Constance Lowenthal, of the stolen-art tracking organization the International Foundation for Art Research, said: “During the holidays, these people work harder.”