British Painting Stolen by NJ Mobsters Returned After Half a Century
An 18th century British painting stolen by New Jersey mobsters in 1969 has been returned more than a half-century later to the family that bought it for $7,500 during the Great Depression.
The Stolen Painting's Journey from the UK to New Jersey to Utah
After 240 years of travel from the UK to New Jersey to Utah, the John Opie painting titled 'The Schoolmistress' remains in good condition. It is the sister painting of a similar work housed in the Tate Britain art gallery in London.
The authorities believe that the painting was stolen with the help of a former New Jersey lawmaker and was passed among organized crime members for years. Eventually, it ended up in the southern Utah city of St. George, where a Utah man purchased a house from a convicted mobster and found the painting included in the sale.
Discovery and Return to the Original Owner
The painting came back into the spotlight when the buyer died in 2020. The painting was sent for appraisal, and it was revealed that it was likely the stolen piece. The FBI took custody of the painting and recently returned it to Dr. Francis Wood, the son of the original owner, who had purchased it in the 1930s.
FBI Special Agent Gary France, who worked on the case, described the remarkable history of the painting. It had traveled all through the UK, owned by various families, before being sold during the Great Depression. It was then stolen by the mob and recovered by the FBI decades later.
The Significance of the Painting and Its Artist
The stolen painting is the work of John Opie, one of the most important British historical and portrait painters of his time. Opie often depicted British royals and members of the elite, but he also portrayed scenes from everyday life. 'The Schoolmistress' depicts an older teacher surrounded by young students and is praised for its compelling and direct portrayal.
Opie's paintings have been sold at major auction houses, and his works are highly valued. The stolen painting was taken from the original owner's house by thieves working under the direction of a former New Jersey state senator. Although the claims against the senator were never charged, it is believed that he had knowledge of the theft.