How a dealer allegedly stole a painting from the National Portrait Gallery
About ten days ago, artist Margaret Bowland received an email from a design firm in Santa Fe, NM telling her how thrilled they were to have received her painting that had been hanging in the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, where it won the People's Choice Award.
Portrait of Kenyetta and Brianna, Oil on linen, 2008. 80 x 72 in. (203.2 x 182.9 cm) by Margaret Bowland
As of today, the NPG's website shows the magnificent painting as "Collection of the Artist."
Bowland says that she has a heart condition, and that when she received that email her heart "started racing so hard I had to lie down on the ground in a public square until I could manage to get on the subway and get home. I raced to the computer and told the firm writing to me that I did not have any awareness of who they were and I had never received one dime for my painting and had been expecting its return to me here in NY." Subsequently, the design firm ceased communication with Bowland.
Bowland writes that she then wrote the NPG "frantically begging... to find out why these people had my painting and what was going on?"
According to Bowland, the NPG quickly stopped communicating with her. She writes that "I thought these people [the NPG] were friends of mine. But immediately they slammed shut in communicating to me at the direction of a lawyer."
She adds that it then required "days of begging and emails to various people" to begin to untangle the mystery. Eventually the Santa Fe buyer called Bowland because as she states: "he said he felt pretty awful about it."
Awful because he had purchased the painting from Bowland's former Santa Fe dealer for $37,500 dollars and he still owed six grand on the painting and was in the process of discovering that he was in possession of a bill of sale for a stolen painting.
How did all this happen?
Here's what Bowland says:
Three years ago I was in a group show at the Klaudia Marr Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. I found out during the short time that I was in her show that my painting had been accepted at the NPG for the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.So Bowland arranged for the NPG to pick up the painting from the gallery in Santa Fe.
A few months later... [the NPG] called and told me that Klaudia Marr wished to have the painting as it was hanging in the NPG attributed to a man she said had bought the painting or was in the process of buying the painting. I told [the NPG] absolutely not.Apparently Bowland was wrong.
I had never received one dime for the painting and had no expectations of receiving money for the piece. [The NPG] called again and said that [they] well understood and... we spoke for a bit about the horror of thieving dealers. By now the word had gone out that the Marr gallery was stealing from its artists. She had been running the gallery as a ponzi scheme and when the bottom fell out of the market she started lying to people and stealing their art. A friend in the gallery had contacted me and told me this and I had moved very fast to send a shipper in to grab my art. At the time I felt quite fortunate. My friend lost 9 paintings to her. But with this call from [the NPG] I felt that I was safe in the protective hands of the Smithsonian and what could be safer?
As the NPG exhibition ended, she notes that the NPG "could not reach me on the telephone. I was in Amsterdam for two weeks." Bowland also notes that the NPG "tried to reach me twice on an email account that has not functioned in almost two years."
Bowland never worried too much because she had received plenty of emails from the NPG (to her correct email address) on other issues: "numerous emails from three separate people there." She had also received "numerous mailings from the Museum at my address, an address I have held for 20 years."
At some point, after trying to contact Bowland on the phone while she was in Amsterdam, and via email to an old email account, but never via regular mail, and for unknown reasons, the NPG contacted the Santa Fe dealer, clearly looking for a place to ship the painting. Apparently having never emailed Bowland to her correct email address, or spoken to her on the phone, or sent her a note in the mail. Bowland adds that:
Ms. Marr seized the opportunity to steal the painting and told the Museum to send the art on to the man from whom she had taken money for the painting. When talking to him later on the phone he told me that the picture showed up "out of the blue" that he had "long ago written the painting off as a loss when he could no longer find the dealer who had gone to ground."So far, from this story, it seems to be clear from these alleged facts, that the criminal here is possibly an art dealer allegedly intent on stealing a work of art. An art dealer bold enough to allegedly involve a federal museum in the theft.
Bowland notes that:
the part of this that still stuns me the most, however, is that the NPG is agreeing that I was the owner of the painting but is not trying to help me retrieve it or offering to pay me for the loss. They will not even contact law enforcement to try to prevent this from happening to others.Because this theft crossed state lines, it seems to fit the requirements for the FBI's Art Theft Program. But even that has yielded little hope for Bowland. She notes that
When I contacted the DA [District Attorney] in Santa Fe they told me to go to the FBI. I did so, but I am astonished that they care so little for a thief operating in their own state.The FBI may still get involved in this, although from what they told Bowland:
They are interested in larger numbers than my ... dollar theft... A very nice young woman at the FBI has also basically told me that my numbers are too small but she is going to try for me.It appears to me from the facts that I have, that:
1. The only alleged criminal here (so far) from the facts as presented is the art dealer in New Mexico seizing the opportunity to allegedly steal a painting.
2. Someone at the NPG got bamboozled by the dealer.
3. The buyer thought that he had lost over $30,000 when suddenly the painting shows up out of nowhere with an NPG provenance.
4. The artist is not getting answers or help from anyone.
5. There's a former art dealer in Santa Fe who needs a little attention from Law Enforcement to clarify this issue, and I am shocked that for a city whose tourist industry is so aligned with its arts presence, LE is so lax in protecting the rights of artists.
Furthermore, if all these facts are correct, what I don't understand is why the NPG, as a federal institution, is not cooperating with the artist to assist Bowland in dealing with this alleged crime. Why are they not communicating with her? Why are they not helping her in dealing with a recalcitrant FBI? After all, it's not just Bowland who got ripped off, but also some innocent person at the NPG who got allegedly snowed by an alleged criminal to assist in the commission of an alleged art theft, and all the tax payers who fund the NPG and who are unwilling participants in the nauseating alleged act of ripping off a damned good artist.
I've asked the NPG to comment on these questions. So far the path to the right answer seems simple: assist Bowland with the Santa Fe DA and/or the FBI to make the only possible criminal in this story accountable.
Bowland ends by stating:
I am crushed by this. Never in one million years could I have imagined that participating in the show at the NPG could result in such pain and loss.Neither could I. Ball is on your court NPG; do the right thing.