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21 April 2024

US returns stolen French impressionist painting


S authorities on Wednesday returned a painting by the Impressionist Camille Pissarro that was stolen in a brazen robbery from a French museum three decades ago.

The monotype, titled "Le Marche aux Poissons" (The Fish Market), was handed over to French Ambassador Francois Delattre in Washington.

The ceremony ended an odyssey for the Pissarro that began in 1981 when a thief walked out with the picture during business hours from Faure Museum in Aix-les-Bains.

John Morton, director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), welcomed the "process where we reaffirm the commitment between two great nations to combat the illegal trade of stolen art and antiquities."

In a statement, chief New York federal prosecutor Preet Bharara said "international trafficking in stolen art threatens every nation's ability to safeguard cultural treasures for future generations. It is very gratifying for our office to play a role in helping this artwork find its way back home after so many years."

The return of the work was less good news for Sharyl Davis, who bought Pissarro's street scene at a bargain ê8,500 from a Texas art gallery, then tried to sell it in 2003 at Sotheby's auctioneers.

Davis had been expecting to raise between ê60,000 and ê80,000 for "Le Marche" at auction. She told Sotheby's that she knew only that the painting had been consigned to the Texas gallery by a man she knew as "Frenchie," in fact a Frenchman named Emile Guelton, according to prosecutors.

French authorities caught wind of the work's reappearance and requested its seizure and return.

A US court found in 2010 that the painting was subject to forfeiture as stolen property. Davis unsuccessfully appealed.