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Return of the Art Museum’s stolen painting is at risk

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The “Holy Family” painting of the 19th century’s Baltic-German artist Alexander Heibels, which was stolen 20 years ago, has returned to the National Museum of Art. However, even though the museum has announced the painting’s return, it is unclear whether the museum will be able to keep it.

Alexander Heibels, Holy family

The painting was kept hidden by a collector who was previously kept suspect of trading stolen pieces of art. The fact that such a long time has passed since the theft, it can be assumed that the merchant purchased the painting in good faith, Nekā Personīga (Nothing Personal) programme of TV3 reports.

The small painting of the Baltic-German artist was found missing at the National Museum of Art in summer 1992. There was a school excursion at the museum that day.

The police failed to locate the painting, and the case was closed in 2002. The painting was found ten years later, in October 2012, when some art merchant had submitted it for evaluation. The person in charge of the evaluation called her associate from the National Museum of Art, who then recognized the lost painting.

The museum turned to the police, and the painting was returned to the museum. Now it is revealed that the painting ended up in the hands of some art merchant shortly after the theft in 1992. Jakovs Borodeckis is one of the most experienced art merchants. He has been selling pieces of art since the Soviet years. He once opened an art gallery in Old Riga, but closed it a few years ago.

The last several years have been rough for Borodeckis. Thanks to a court’s decision, antique items had been taken from his premises – a gallery in Old Riga. Another court decision forced him out of his apartment in Pardaugava. Finally, the Riga Regional Court ruled that Borodeckis is to return 220 000 LVL to some bank. It is possible that the lack of financial means forced him to sell Heibels’ painting (the painting’s estimated worth is around 20 000 LVL).

The painting has been returned to the museum. Workers have begun its restoration. However, there is no guarantee that that it will remain at the museum – the law allows for the former owner to request its return.

The Criminal Law provides – ten years after the theft, a limitation period comes into force. Also, a lot of work was invested to hide the painting’s belonging to the museum. “The museum’s inventory label is missing. It is clear this is work of a professional. The museum’s label is still visible. The only thing left is the author’s name,” – comments Deputy Museum Director Ruta Lapina.

As a beneficial buyer, Borodeckis has rights to request to cancel the decision of the police to return the painting to the museum, as well as ask the court about confirming his rights for the piece of art. The police interrogated Borodeckis one week ago: he has yet to request the return of the painting.

According to the information available to NP, seven years ago, Borodeckis was held suspect for buying stolen pieces of art. Some visitor had noticed stolen pieces of art in his gallery in Old Riga. A search was conducted at his apartment, but he was never tried.

Heibels’ painting is not the first stolen work of art in the history of the restored independence. Paintings are regularly stolen from national museums. The National Museum of Art has still not recovered another painting and some sculpture. Works of art are being kept under supervision by museum workers and surveillance cameras. Exhibits are not connected to alarms. They are neither evaluated nor insured.

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