Worcester Artwork Museum’s Stolen Avercamp Reward Is (Perhaps) Discovered

Boston artwork hunter Cliff Schorer used metadata and a few good old style shoe leather-based to trace down—hopefully!—a filched portray by Dutch grasp Hendrick Avercamp.


Worcester Artwork Museum’s Stolen Avercamp Reward Is (Perhaps) Discovered

Lots of the most beneficial work stolen from the Stoddard household within the 1978 heist have been supposed items to the Worcester Museum of Artwork, pictured above. / Courtesy of Worcester Artwork Museum

One morning in 1978, Robert Stoddard, a distinguished Worcester businessman, and a former trustee of the Worcester Artwork Museum, emerged from the master suite of his stately house and observed a hearth poker leaning on the wall simply exterior the bed room door. He hadn’t put it there. So who had? 

Stoddard scrambled downstairs into his front room. Above the hearth, the place his spouse’s beloved panorama portray by the Impressionist grasp as soon as hung, was a clean spot. He seemed across the room. The Turner large-format watercolor was gone. The Renoir was lacking. The Hendrick Avercamp had vanished. And on it went, regardless of the place he forged his gaze. In all, somebody had stolen 12 items of art work—price some $10 million as we speak—from Stoddard’s home whereas he slept peacefully upstairs.

Practically half a century later, solely three of these artworks have been recovered. Then the path went chilly. Till, that’s, final 12 months, when artwork collector Cliff Schorer began in search of the lacking work. If all goes in line with plan, in January, he’s poised to recuperate some of the beneficial stolen items: “Winter Panorama with Skater and Different Figures” by 17th-century Dutch grasp Hendrick Avercamp.

Schorer, who owns houses in Boston and Provincetown, is a famous collector and has made a reputation for himself as an artwork hunter with an uncanny knack for locating—and buying for cut-rate costs—misplaced, ignored, or misattributed masterpieces price thousands and thousands. Now, he’s coaching his sleuthing abilities and deep art-world connections on recovering the artworks stolen from the now-deceased Robert Stoddard. The mission is private: He’s the previous board president of the Worcester Artwork Museum, and several other of the stolen items have been promised items to the museum.

Final 12 months, Schorer started the place anybody would possibly: On the Web, conducting a reverse picture seek for a winter river scene just like the stolen portray. Quickly sufficient, he got here throughout an image of a throw pillow emblazoned with what seemed to be the picture of the misplaced Avercamp. He clicked the picture, zoomed in, and decided it was, in actual fact, the exact same piece of artwork. He adopted the hyperlink to a web site that sells pillows, bedspreads, and posters with photographs of art work on them. Schorer knew no picture of that high quality might have been taken earlier than 1978. Whoever took that picture, he thought, had the portray of their possession after it was stolen.

A throw pillow with the stolen Avercamp printed on it

A throw pillow printed with the stolen Avercamp offered artwork hunter Cliff Schorer together with his first clue as to who would possibly at present have the portray. / Screenshot of print-on-demand art-merchandise website, Pixels.com

Schorer traced the picture’s metadata and located a 2012 copyright owned by an artwork library. That’s the place his connections to New York’s artwork world got here in useful: The metadata additionally named a New York artwork vendor who simply occurred to be an previous buddy.

Schorer put in a name. The vendor remembered the portray, explaining that it had been offered at a 1995 artwork truthful in Europe—however by one other vendor with whom he shared a sales space on the truthful. So how did reliable sellers promote a portray that was reported as stolen? Turned out, the gallerist buddy informed Schorer, that the portray had been offered as a piece by Hendrick Avercamp’s nephew and pupil, Barent Avercamp. Schorer surmised whoever offered the portray might need cast the “H” to appear to be a “B” within the ligature with which it was signed.

The thriller was unraveling rapidly, however then Schorer hit a snag: The vendor who offered the portray considering it was a Barent Avercamp had gone out of enterprise. It took 4 months earlier than Schorer made one other breakthrough, monitoring down the niece of the proprietor of the defunct gallery, who had inherited the archive. She dug by way of her papers till she found the file of the sale. She wouldn’t reveal the value, however Schorer estimates it was offered for beneath $200,000, far lower than what it will have fetched had it been offered as a Hendrick and never a Barent—and a fraction of what it’s price as we speak. Nonetheless, Schorer obtained what he needed: the identify of the individuals who had unwittingly purchased the stolen portray.

Schorer quickly discovered that the Dutch couple who bought the piece had handed away. So he tracked down their heirs and dispatched a letter in 2021 on behalf of the museum, expressing his hope they might discover an amicable manner for the portray to be returned to the museum.

The information of Schorer’s discovery thrilled the museum’s director emeritus, Jim Welu, who was a curator on the time it had been stolen from the Stoddards. An knowledgeable in Dutch artwork, he’d all the time hoped it will flip up. “Avercamp is a giant identify and this can be a actual ice-skating winter scene,” he mentioned, including, “We wish the Avercamp again.”

Schorer waited for a response from the heirs, however has by no means heard again. In December, his Dutch lawyer wrote one other letter giving them 40 days to reply and organize for the return of the portray in change for the cash they paid for it. If they don’t reply, Schorer says, it should turn out to be a legal matter within the Netherlands. Both manner, a 44-year-old chilly case might quickly come to an finish.

For Schorer, although, that is only the start. In spite of everything, he nonetheless has eight extra work to search out.

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