ICE recovers Klee painting stolen from a Manhattan art gallery

NEW YORK - A 20th century painting is back in the hands of its rightful owner, 21 years after it was stolen from the Marlborough Art Gallery in Manhattan. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned the painting to the Art Loss Register (ALR) on March 24.

The "Bildnis in der Laube" (Portrait in the Garden, 1930, gouache on paper on board) was reported stolen to the New York Police Department in 1989. The oil painting was created by Paul Klee, an internationally acclaimed Swiss painter of German origin who painted more than 500 works of art.

ICE agents with the Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Unit out of John F. Kennedy airport recovered the Klee from Landau Fine Art Inc., a gallery in Montreal, Canada.
In December 2009, while exhibiting at Art Basel in Miami Beach, Robert Landau, the gallery owner, was approached by a man who represented himself as a Florida art dealer. The man offered to sell him the Klee painting, but Landau declined because he could not evaluate its authenticity and provenance at that time.

The art dealer sent the Klee painting to Landau in Canada with the understanding the art dealer would buy the painting if it passed scrutiny. Instead, Landau surrendered the painting to ICE agents after he discovered it had been stolen.

"The recovery of this painting sends a strong message to thieves that people in the art community are on the look out for stolen art," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. "ICE is committed to working closely with foreign governments, art dealers and organizations like the ALR to recover priceless works of fine art and antiquities so they can be returned to their rightful owners."

"On behalf of the theft victim, the Art Loss Register is extremely grateful for the assistance of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's ICE Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Unit in recovering this piece," said Christopher A. Marinello, executive director and general counsel of the London-based ALR. "ICE has once again proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the fight against art crime."

Hayes praised the work of Senior Special Agent Bonnie Goldblatt, of ICE's Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities unit, and the gallery-owner, Landau, for coming forward and surrendering the painting.

The Art Loss Register is the registered owner/broker for the insurance company who previously paid the claim after the painting was stolen. The ALR will put the painting, estimated at $100,000, up for auction at Christie's in New York City.

ICE, the largest investigative agency of the Department of Homeland Security, handles investigations into cultural property and stolen art and antiquities that show up on the world market.