A stolen work of art will be on display at the Speed Art Museum this month before the U.S. government returns it to Italy. The Speed purchased the three-panel painting, or triptych, of the Virgin Mary and child in 1973 for $38,000. Recently, however, it was discovered that the art had been stolen from an Italian villa in 1971. The Speed obtained the work through an art dealer, and court records show the museum cooperated with U.S. and Italian officials to verify and relinquish the art. But before the art is returned, it’ll be the centerpiece of an exhibit that showcases its theft and sale.
“We’ll have a really interesting chronology that includes from the very beginning photographs of the villa in Italy that was unfortunately burglarized all the way to a photograph of the man, the dealer from New York who eventually bought the piece,” says museum director Charles Venable.
Stolen works have recently been discovered at museums across the country, but Venable says most of them have likely been in collections for decades and not obtained recently.
“You buy a Greek vase that’s 2,000 years old. There’s no way ever you’re going to know where that vase has been for 2,000 years. It’s impossible. Written history just doesn’t go back that far. We do our very, very, very best and we now sign agreements with galleries that say if it turns out something is stolen and we have to return it we get our purchase price back,” he says. ”Everything we buy now, we have very extensive research that we do on the history of things. We have large contracts with the dealers signed with us. That’s something that just didn’t happen in museum history, not just the Speed, really, in the 70s or before.”
The piece will be on display from the 9th through July 3rd. Venable says he’s optimistic the Speed will receive some sort of refund for the art, though the details are being worked out.