Stolen Rockwell paintings recovered in Brazil after 23 years

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The last of seven Norman Rockwell paintings stolen from a Minneapolis art gallery more than two decades ago have been recovered and will be returned to their owner, the FBI said Wednesday. The paintings, valued at more than $700,000, were among seven paintings stolen from the Elayne Gallery, Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1978. In 1999, the FBI recovered two of the stolen paintings, "She's My Baby" and "A Lickin' Good Bath" when they were left with a Philadelphia art dealer on consignment, according to Robert S. Conforti, Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Patrick L. Meehan, United States Attorney, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The paintings: "The Spirit of 1976," "So Much Concern" and "A Hasty Retreat" were recovered from Jose Maria Carneiro, a gallery owner, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The paintings had been hidden in a farmhouse outside the town of Teresopolis, Brazil. Carneiro has not been charged and will not be prosecuted in the United States. The three paintings were owned by the Brown & Bigelow Company, a calendar publisher located in Minneapolis and had been on loan to the Elayne Gallery for display. Ultimately, they will be returned to Brown & Bigelow. 1978 heist nets seven paintings On the night of February 16, 1978, unknown thieves broke into the Elayne Gallery located in St. Louis Park, Minnesota and stole seven original Norman Rockwell paintings. The paintings which are listed in the attached addendum are now all recovered. It is unknown where the three paintings were from the date of the theft until 1994 when the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts was contacted by Jose Maria Carneiro, an art dealer, collector and operator of art schools in Brazil. At that time, Carneiro acknowledged that he was in possession of two of the Rockwell paintings: Spirit of '76 and So Much Concern. Carneiro offered to sell them to the museum. The museum declined the offer, but informed the owners of the Elayne Gallery of Carneiro's offer. In the late 1990's, Carneiro contacted the owner of the Elayne Gallery and advised that he was in possession of several Rockwell paintings and offered to sell them back to Elayne Gallery. Elayne arranged to buy back two paintings Before the Date- Cowboy and Before the Date-Cowgirl. Further investigation verified that Carneiro was in possession of the remaining three paintings. These paintings were being held in Teresopolis, Brazil about sixty (60) miles west of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1999, as a result of this information, Assistant United States Attorneys in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, David L. Hall and Robert E. Goldman, filed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request with the Central Authority of Brazil for assistance in the investigation of the seven stolen Norman Rockwell paintings. The was approved by the Brazilian Congress in February, 2001. This was the first MLAT request between the United States of America and Brazil to be approved. The request asked Brazilian authorities to compel testimony and documents from witnesses located in Brazil and to seize the three remaining Rockwell's. Cooperation from Brazilian officials In September, 2001 Brazilian authorities executed a search and seizure warrant on Carneiro's home and business with the purpose of seizing the paintings. Investigation determined that Carneiro had relocated the paintings. In October, 2001, Carneiro was subpoenaed to give a deposition to Brazilian prosecutors where he stated that he was in control of the artwork, but would not reveal the location. In early December, 2001 a Special Agent of the FBI and a Assistant United States Attorney traveled to Rio de Janeiro to meet with Brazilian federal authorities. At that time they interviewed Carneiro and obtained the return of the paintings that had been hidden at a farmhouse. Between 1925 and 1976, Norman Rockwell, created paintings for the annual Boy Scout calendar published by Brown and Bigelow. Each of the painting depicted an image of the Scouts with intricate accuracy and detail. So Much Concern was the painting done for the Boy Scout calendar of 1975. It depicts Scouts from Troop 40 and Troop 26 of the Thomas A. Edison Council of Boy Scouts, New Jersey planting saplings. "Spirit of 1976" was the painting for the Bicentennial edition of the Boy Scout Calendar. It was intended to commemorate the 200 year signing of the Declaration of Independence. It as designed in the fashion of A. M. Williard's painting "Spirit of '76." Rockwell added two extra figures, a young boy who is carrying the American flag and an adult who is urging more young men to join the Boy Scouts. The Scout troop depicted is also from the Thomas A. Edison Council in New Jersey and the New York City skyline of 1976 is in the background. "A Hasty Retreat" is a painting that was used in the 1954 seasonal Brown and Bigelow calendar. It was used for the months of July, August and September. It depicts swift retreat of two men and their faithful canine from forbidden swimming hole. Illustrator a Berkshire legend Norman Rockwell was born in 1894 in New York City and died in his home in Stockbridge, MA on November 8, 1978 at the age of 84. The Norman Rockwell Museum is located in Stockbridge. When Rockwell died in 1978, Time magazine wrote, Rockwell shared with Walt Disney the extraordinary distinction of being one of two artists familiar to nearly everyone in the United States, rich or poor, black or white, museum goer or not, illiterate or Ph.D. Rockwell’s 47 year relationship to Philadelphia’s Curtis Publishing Company, which published the Saturday Evening Post, is legendary. The international trafficking in stolen art and antiques yearly is a billion dollar industry. Only the illicit trafficking in drugs and arms surpasses it. Over the past years, the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania have considered it to be one of their important missions to be involved in combating this crime, and as importantly, recovering stolen art and objects which represent our cultural heritage.

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