A bronze Buddha statue valued at $1.5m was stolen early Monday morning (18 September) from the Los Angeles location of the Barakat Gallery. The stolen sculpture was believed to have been originally commissioned as the centrepiece of a temple and dates back to Japan's Edo Period (1603-1867), an especially prosperous time for the nation and its arts.
Paul Henderson, director of Barakat’s Los Angeles location (the ancient art gallery also has spaces in London and Seoul), estimated that the sculpture is about 4ft tall and weighs roughly 250 pounds.
“We have security footage showing somebody pulling a moving truck up at 2:30am Monday morning. They proceeded to get out, break open the driveway gate, then use what appears to be a moving dolly to remove the sculpture and load it into the truck,” Henderson says. “It was a single person. It’s shocking to us that he was able to maneuver this thing, but he was. It took about 25 minutes in total and then he drove right off.”
Due to its relatively large size and weight, the sculpture was housed in the gallery’s backyard, primarily among works made from stone and marble, and because the thief moved relatively quickly and targeted only this single object before driving off with it in a Budget rental truck, the gallery assumes that the robbery was premeditated.
The sculpture itself is attributed to an artist named Tadazou Iinuma and an inscription on it translates to: “Produced by Tadazou Iinuma, first year of Shouho, Kanoe. Prayed for and requested by Ryozen, master of Shingon religious party, Dainichi-Nyorai, Yudo-no-San Temple, of the highest social class.” The inscription implies that the work was commissioned by a religious official named Ryozen and was likely once installed in the Yudo-no-San Temple, a holy site on Japan’s Mount Yudono.
“We’re all very puzzled. Obviously this is a high-valued piece, it’s important, and aesthetically it’s a very interesting and unique item,” adds Henderson. “It’s clearly a temple sculpture from that period, and the size and the execution make it a very rare item, so it’s not something you’d find on the market which means it’s not something that could be resold easily. We're still trying to figure out what the motive was and what the thief thinks they’re going to do with this piece.”
He adds that the gallery currently has no leads, but is working with the Los Angeles Police Department and neighbouring businesses in attempts to identify the thief.
Last year, the Barakat Gallery location in London voluntarily returned two Nepalese artefacts that were found to have been stolen from temples near Kathmandu in the 1980s.