The Encino Rembrandt plot thickens

A few weeks ago I blogged about a Rembrandt drawing that was stolen from an LA-area Ritz-Carlton hallway exhibit only to turn up two days later in the pastor’s office of an Encino church. Almost as soon as the story got traction in the press doubts cropped up as to whether the drawing was a Rembrandt at all (see Rowan’s comment on the original entry). No such drawing is listed in the accepted catalogs of Rembrandt’s work, and none of the experts contacted by reporters had ever heard of it. At least one expert thought the pen-and-ink drawing looked like it came from Rembrandt’s school instead of having been done by the master himself.

The Linearis Institute, owners of the drawing and sponsors of the Ritz-Carlton exhibit, made no rebuttal to these charges. Calls and emails from reporters asking for comment went answered, which is a little weird but not unheard of. Calls from police investigating the theft also went unanswered for a while, which is far weirder.

The weirdnesses continue to accumulate. The alleged Rembrandt is still in the possession of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department because the Linearis Institute refuses to provide proof of ownership.

[T]he institute’s attorney, William Klein, said Linearis purchased “The Judgment,” from a legitimate seller. He said the institute’s officials just don’t want to say who that was.

“Things like that really are trade secrets,” Klein told The Associated Press. “We don’t believe we need to reveal trade secrets to get back what is ours.”

He acknowledged the institute has no trail of paperwork (called provenance in art-world speak) to prove “The Judgment” really is a Rembrandt. But he added that officials at Linearis believe it is and it shouldn’t matter what authorities think.


Call me psychic, but something is rotten in Denmark. Best case scenario this so-called institute purchased a so-called Rembrandt from the back of a truck. Why else hide the seller from the police? If your sources of high-end art are “trade secrets” who sell Old Master drawings without ownership history then you’re buying on the black market, period. The difference is that a legitimate seller would trouble himself to counterfeit an ownership history replete with anonymous Swiss private collectors and girlfriends from Canada so that the new owners can have plausible deniability should the cops start sniffing around.

On top of that, it Linearis also isn’t interested in pressing charges against the thieves should they be found. Mr. Klein, Esq., says the institute is really only focused on finding a “compromise” that will allow them to get the drawing back. If the police arrest the thieves, the institute’s position is they can “do anything they need to do that’s in the interests of justice.” Sounds legit to me.


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Comment by Hels
2011-09-13 03:00:04

Good story. According to the original report, the c1655 drawing was titled The Judgement and depicted a court scene with a judge pointing judgmentally at a man prostrate on the floor before him. That should at least identify the subject matter clearly enough. Yet it seems that no such drawing is listed in the accepted Rembrandt catalogues and none of the Rembrandt experts had ever heard of it.

So The Judgement could be:
a] a brilliant new find
b] a genuine mistake or
c] dirty doings in the art world.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-13 22:44:44

Indeed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a little bit of all three involved in the whole story.

Comment by Edward Goldberg
2011-09-13 04:58:20

Thanks, LD! I am eagerly awaiting the next episodes in this ongoing drama.

People simply don’t sell Rembrandt drawings out of exhibitions in hotel hallways unless they are trying to slip beneath the radar and find a clueless probably first-time buyer.(That is not quite the same as a fine arts trunk show, by select invitation, in a hotel suite, which happens all the time.) Nor prime impressions of Picasso or Dalì prints on cruise ships.

I loved your comment regarding the “Linearis Institute” (say what?) and their sovereign contempt for the accepted norms of crooked art dealing (rumor has it that there is also non-crooked art dealing; we wait to be convinced.)

Why didn’t they ask me to help? I work cheap! “Collection of (fill in the name of the Rembrandt student of your choice), plus “thus by descent” a few times, and Buenos Aires/Montevideo and/or Montecarlo.

“Swiss Private Collection” is no longer fashionable, for obvious reasons. I will never forget doing the provenance (about twenty years ago) for quite a good Italian picture that (honest to God!)had been in Swiss Private Collections ever since the French Revolution. But I couldn’t say that, because no one would believe me!

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-13 22:45:52

Oh come on, a likely story, Edward. Next thing you’ll tell me there’s a big mean wolf about to attack the town.

Comment by edahstip
2011-09-13 06:18:45

The likelihood of a hidden treasure increases with every step. :cool:

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-13 22:46:41

I bet if you pass the drawing over a candle you’ll find a secret message.

Comment by Stewart Williams
2011-09-13 21:04:41

That does seem pretty fishy. It seems to me that’s a good reason to steer clear of the “black market.” If sales like that aren’t regulated then how can you know whether they’re legit or selling a clever fake? Maybe it is a new discovery, that would be awesome. The problem is, how can you know if you’re buying it from some random stranger?

Comment by livius drusus
2011-09-13 22:52:28

Exactly, even if purely from a selfish interest standpoint, you’d think anyone with even half a legitimate business would want some kind of guarantee that they’re not buying a pig in a poke. Forgery is rife in the art market.

Comment by toxic
2011-09-15 18:30:15

They were probably hoping to find some gullible amateur with too much cash.

Comment by Anonymous
2012-12-27 06:01:17

Do you know whatever happened with this? Thanks

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