FBI art crime team returns paintings to Peru

Colonial-era paintings had been stolen, consigned for sale in a U.S. gallery


Although there have been a number of art crimes that have gone unsolved or where the paintings have never been found (among them: the 1990 Gardner Museum heist in Boston, the 1933 Brooklyn Art Museum heist, and the 2008 Buehrle Collection theft in Zurich), the art community received word this week that two Colonial-era paintings from Peru have been recovered and returned.

The paintings were discovered by a U.S. art dealer who had been consigned for sale by Exipion Ernesto Ortiz-Espinosa, who had brought the paintings into the U.S. from Bolivia. Red flags for the art dealer included a lack of documentation and that the paintings appeared to have been cut from their frames.

The art dealer is said to have contacted the FBI, which found that the paintings were 18th century oil-on-canvas works called the "Doble Trinidad" (a.k.a. "Sagrada Familia") and "Saint Dominic." According to the FBI, "the works are of the Cusco and Lima style of religious painting created to inspire devotion and hung in churches, monasteries, and convents throughout Peru during the Colonial period." The paintings were forfeited to the FBI Art Crime Team, which also believed them to be stolen.

Today, on April 7, 2010, FBI Assistant Director Kevin Perkins, Criminal Investigative Division, officially returned the artworks, worth a combined value of $64,000, to Peru's Ambassador Luis Miguel Valdivieso at the Peruvian embassy in Washington, D.C., thus closing a chapter on one art crime.

The FBI's Art Crime Team has information about itself available on its website. The team was founded in 2004 and is credited with the recovery of art and artifacts worth more than $142 million.