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$1.4 Million Corot Painting Missing After Bar Visit

"Portrait of a Girl" by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. The painting is missing after a man hired to help sell the painting misplaced it after a night of drinking. The owner valued it at $1.4 million. Source: The Granger Collection via Bloomberg

A guy walks into a bar with a $1.4 million Corot. Stop us if you’ve heard this one.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s 1857-58 “Portrait of a Girl” is missing, according to a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court. And the last man with possession can’t recall where it is after a night of heavy drinking, the suit says.

Kristyn Trudgeon, co-owner of the artwork, offered a $25,000 reward this morning for its return. Her lawyer, Max DiFabio, said shortly before 3 p.m. that the reward no longer stands, and added later that the suit will be dropped.

“My client and I intend to pursue further legal remedies,” he said.

Trudgeon’s complaint, filed on Aug. 30, describes a Manhattan misadventure redolent of a situation comedy: Trudgeon and the other co-owner, Tom Doyle, enlisted James Carl Haggerty -- her acquaintance, his friend -- as an agent to help sell it. Haggerty was to be paid $25,000 upon the sale. The suit doesn’t disclose what Trudgeon or Doyle originally paid for the picture.

On July 28, according to the complaint, Doyle learned that a London dealer, Offer Waterman, was interested in buying the piece, valued at $1.35 million in the suit. Doyle retrieved from storage the 12 3/4-inch by 9 1/2-inch portrait, depicting a young woman with a steady gaze, wide forehead and white lace collar. That afternoon he, Waterman and Haggerty met at Doyle’s office in the Empire State Building.

Hotel Bar

After inspecting the painting, Waterman, the dealer, asked to examine it further with ultraviolet black light, often used for authentication, the suit said. That evening Doyle carried the painting to the midtown bistro Rue 57, where he met Haggerty. Doyle told Haggerty to deliver the artwork to Waterman at the Upper East Side Mark Hotel.

From here, the suit says, we rely on security cameras and an investigation by the owners: At 11 p.m., Haggerty leaves the painting at the front desk of the Mark and enters one of hotel bars, followed by Waterman. At 11:30, the two exit the bar and retrieve the painting and put it on a bench. They talk. Waterman leaves. At 11:34, Haggerty returns the painting to the front desk and re-enters the bar.

At 12:50 a.m., Haggerty exits the bar and collects the painting from the front desk. He “tumbles out the front door, colliding with the doorman as he is exiting the hotel,” the suit says.


At 2:30 a.m., a security camera at Haggerty’s apartment building shows him arriving -- without the Corot.

“The next morning, Haggerty informed Doyle that he did not have the painting, and could not recall its whereabouts, citing that he had too much to drink the previous evening,” the suit says.

Waterman thought the Corot was genuine but didn’t pursue it, said the dealer’s lawyer, Mark Maurice.

“He could have been unhappy with the price or condition,” Maurice said.

Haggerty, the suit’s defendant, could not be reached for comment. A concierge at the Manhattan address for Haggerty on the suit told a reporter that no one in the apartment was home. Trudgeon had no comment, said DiFabio.

“Haggerty’s explanation is unacceptable,” DiFabio said in an interview.

Fair Price

The record paid for Corot at auction was $4.7 million, set at Sotheby’s New York in 2007. Asking $1.35 million for this Corot is reasonable, said Polly Sartori, Sotheby’s senior vice president of 19th-century European paintings, drawing and sculpture.

“We’d probably have the auction estimate between $500,000 and $1 million,” she said.

A Corot with the same title was at Los Angeles-based Hammer Museum until 2007, according to Sarah Stifler, a museum spokeswoman.

“I can confirm we had Corot’s painting ‘Portrait of a Girl,’” Stifler said. “But I can’t confirm it’s the same painting” as the one that disappeared in New York, she said.

In 2007, the museum returned a group of paintings to the Armand Hammer Foundation as part of a settlement separating the museum from the foundation. Corot’s painting was among them, Stifler said, adding that she didn’t know what happened to the work since then.

The case is Trudgeon v. Haggerty, 111583/2010, Supreme Court of the State of New York.

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