Stolen Juan Gris painting recovered by FBI
A sting operation in Florida ends a six-year case that started with a break-in at a private home in St Louis, Missouri
By Helen Stoilas. Web only
Published online: 17 March 2010
A dramatic six-year-long case of a stolen art work is nearing its end following an FBI sting operation. The FBI has announced that a Juan Gris painting, stolen in 2004, has been recovered in Florida and a suspect, Robert Dibartolo, has been charged with transportation of the stolen art work.
According to the criminal complaint and affidavit cited by the FBI and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, the painting was taken by unknown thieves who forcibly broke into the home of Clifton Hyatt in Saint Louis, Missouri in 2004. The Juan Gris untitled canvas, a 1926 cubist impressionist still-life valued at around $1 million, was hanging in the front entryway of the house.
The FBI started investigating the case and then finally in November 2009, Dibartolo spoke to an undercover agent about selling the painting, according to court documents. Just last week, on 11 March, the defendant met with the agent at a hotel in Jupiter, Florida and produced the Gris, wrapped in a blue packing blanket. After the undercover agent determined that the painting was authentic, Dibartolo was taken into custody, and the painting was later identified by its original owner.
The Palm Beach Post reports that the owner, Clifton Hyatt, bought the painting in the mid-1960s from a “striking” Russian woman he met and had a relationship with in Spain, where he was enlisted with the US Air Force. During visits to her home, Hyatt admired the abstract painting but didn’t know anything about the artist. When he left the country, she agreed to sell him the work at what would turn out to be a generous discount. "I didn't know Juan Gris from Juan Pepe," he told the Post. "I just rolled the damned thing up and mailed it" to St Louis. A US museum later authenticated the painting as an authentic work by Spanish cubist Juan Gris, a contemporary of Picasso and Braque.
The FBI will retain the painting until the case has been resolved. Hyatt told the Post he then plans to keep the painting in his home, "along with two Rottweilers and a shotgun".
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Lothrop Morris and if convicted, Dibartolo faces up to 10 years in prison.
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