A small footnote in the latest annual report of the Department of Culture reveals that the Tate Gallery has received £25.6 million in insurance money which is restricted for “the repurchase of stolen works of art”. This represents the payout plus interest after the theft of a pair of Turner masterpieces (“Shade and darkness” and “Light and colour”), stolen on 28 July 1994 while on loan to Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle. Nordstern and Lloyd’s syndicates, headed by Hiscox, were the insurers. Loss adjuster Tyler & Co has offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to a recovery. Although not recorded in the Tate’s published biennial report, the payment is noted in the gallery’s detailed financial accounts. After the theft, the initial £24 million payment was deposited by the Tate Gallery in a special insurance fund, where it earns interest. The interest was £1,559,000 in 1996 (producing the Department of Culture’s figure of £25.6 million) and £1,621,000 last year. Obviously it is hoped that the paintings will be recovered, in which case the payout would have to be returned to the insurers. Although the arrangements are confidential, it is likely that the Tate Gallery would either have to pay the current financial value of the Turners at the time of the recovery or the original payout plus agreed interest. The difficulty will come if after a number of years the chances of a recovery appear slim. There would then be a temptation to spend the money, which with interest would represent a very substantial sum. It would probably be used for acquisitions or projects involving the Turner collection. Another option would be to spend the interest, leaving the capital as an endowment fund. But if the Turners then turned up, the Tate would be unable to reimburse the insurers. Inquiries by The Art Newspaper suggest that if the Tate eventually wishes to spend the insurance payout, its Trustees would have to give approval. Last month the Tate’s Director of Public Services, Sandy Nairne, stressed that “we remain optimistic that the Turners will be recovered—they are great masterpieces and we do not want them to be forgotten.”
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Insurance payouts for the Tate'