Sotheby's halts auction of their ‘stolen’ painting from fly tip

Dispute: the Murray family claims Children Under A Palm Tree is their stolen heirloom

A £100 000 painting is at the centre of a dispute between Sotheby’s and the descendants of a British colonial officer.

Winslow Homer’s Children Under a Palm Tree was withdrawn from sale minutes before going under the hammer at Sotheby’s in New York yesterday.

The sale was halted in an eleventh hour appeal by Simon Murray, the great, great grandson of British colonial administrator Sir Henry Arthur Blake. Sir Henry was given the 1885 painting of his children by the artist during his tenure as Governor of Bahamas.

Mr Murray, 34, a lawyer who lives in the City, claims the painting, which appeared on Antiques Roadshow last year after being found in a fly tip in County Cork in Ireland 20 years ago, had initially been stolen from his family estate nearby. The BBC programme’s art expert spotted that it was signed by Winslow Homer, a renowned American landscape painter, and was worth £100,000.

Sotheby’s said that, after the watercolour was brought to them in March, the family was given “every opportunity” to claim it. The painting is now in limbo until the auction house is given “documentary evidence” it was stolen.

Mr Murray says his mother Shirley Rountree, 60, who still lives in the family estate Myrtle House, had never been contacted by Sotheby’s and only realised the heirloom was being sold on Tuesday after reading a newspaper article about the auction.

Mr Murray said: “She was distraught. She didn’t know they were selling this painting. They did contact the family but gave a wrong number. They should have made a better effort. As we are concerned it belongs to us.”

Mr Murray said that Myrtle House suffered several break-ins in the early Eighties when the painting was found on a rubbish tip a mile away by a man who was on a fishing trip. His daughter approached Sotheby’s in March.

Mr Murray says he was fortunate to have been in New York this week, so when he received the call from his mother was able to go in person to Sotheby’s Manhattan auction house and stop the sale. He added: “Hopefully we can take back what is ours.”

A Sotheby’s spokesman said that “extensive” checks were carried out to ensure it was not stolen and that no evidence has been presented.

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Published in: on May 26, 2009 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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