The painting was returned to Barbara Bertozzi Castelli, the widow of art dealer Leo Castelli, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and the FBI said today at a press conference.
The 1961 painting “Electric Cord” was purchased by Castelli in the early 1960s for about $750 and displayed in the Leo Castelli Gallery in Manhattan, according to a statement by Bharara’s office. In January 1970, the painting disappeared after it was sent to art restorer Daniel Goldreyer, according to the statement.
In July, Manhattan art dealer James Goodman was approached about whether he was interested in buying the painting, a black- and-white oil-on-canvas, Goodman said in a telephone interview today. The sellers e-mailed him a photo of “Electric Cord” and said the work was located at Hayes Storage in Manhattan.
“As soon as I saw the image, I knew what it was,” Goodman said. The Lichtenstein Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to the artist’s legacy, published an image of the painting on its holiday greeting card in 2006 and asked for help in finding the painting.
The foundation used the image on the card because of its continuing work since 1999 in cataloguing all of the artist’s work, said Jack Cowart, executive director of the foundation.
“It was motivated by scholarship,” Cowart said in a phone interview. “We are not in the loss-retrieval business. We are not sleuthing around trying to discover a missing Lichtenstein.”
Goodman said he remembered the card. “For an old guy, I have a very good memory,” he said.
Goodman said he alerted the foundation and a representative accompanied him to the storage facility to view the work.
“I did my Good Samaritan thing,” said Goodman.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered that the storage facility had received the painting from the Quinta Galeria art gallery in Bogota, Colombia, which had it on consignment from Goldreyer’s widow, Sally Goldreyer, authorities said.
Goldreyer told authorities that when her husband died in 2009, she and others cleaned out the lockers of his company’s employees, including one named Ben Dolinsky, according to the statement.
She said the contents of Dolinsky’s locker were boxed and given to a friend, who, three years later, asked her to sell the painting for him, according to the statement. She offered to sell it to the Quinta gallery but refunded the gallery’s deposit when she saw a missing notice for the painting posted on the Internet, authorities said.
On Oct. 9, Goldreyer and Bharara’s office “entered into a stipulation” in which Goldreyer relinquished all rights, title and interest to “Electric Cord” and return it to Castelli, authorities said.
Bertozzi Castelli said she may hang the painting in her home.
“Thank you for everything you did,” she said to authorities today at the press conference. “It’s the first time I have seen it in my life. I came to the U.S. in 1993. I got married to Leo in 1995. And the painting was missing since 1970. I actually can tell you that Leo spoke on several occasions to me about this painting. He was saying it was a really beautiful painting.”
Lichtenstein, who was born in 1923, died in 1997. He had his first solo show at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1962.
“We are delighted to have played a role in securing the return” of the painting, Bharara said in the statement. “Returning stolen art and artifacts is an important mission of this office, and it is always gratifying when we are successful.”
Authorities value “Electric Cord,’ which measures 28-by-18 inches, at $4 million. Lucy Mitchell-Innes, director of Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York, which has mounted four solo Lichtenstein exhibitions in the past decade, said she values the painting between $2.5 million and $3 million.
“Electric Cord” was painted during the first year Lichtenstein began using Ben-Day dots, a style in which small dots are either closely spaced, far apart or overlapping. The style would become his trademark.
“At that stage he was doing them by hand,” Mitchell-Innes said. “He also painted a vase with flowers, Christmas ornaments and an ice cream cone. The images came out of magazines and newsprint and they all referenced abstraction.”
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