Portrait of a Houston Art Theft

Will Julia Roberts play her a second time in this new movie? Houston socialite Joanne King Herring claims that an 18th century painting New York mortgage broker Geoffrey Rice tried to sell through Sotheby’s auction house last year was stolen from her home 24 years ago — and she’s got an original 1980 purchase receipt from Christie’s and a 1986 Houston police report to prove it. Rice claims he bought the painting for about $1,000 in Houston back in 1983 from — who’da guessed it? — Jerry and Wynonne Hart’s now-defunct Hart Galleries.

Alas, the Harts are in legal trouble of their own: last year they pled guilty to felony “misapplication of fiduciary property” while charges of theft and money laundering were dropped. But another judge later awarded them a new trial. Nevertheless, in an affidavit, they claim they never sold the painting — or anything else — to Rice.

Rice tells the New York Post he took the painting — by Scottish artist Sir Henry Raeburn — with him to New York after he got divorced, “where it sat in his laundry room until early last year.”

Wow. Just wow. A laundry room — in Manhattan!


Rice continues:

“I decided to sell it. I contacted Sotheby’s and they told me it would likely go for between $15,000 to $20,000, so I put it up for auction,” he said.

Over at the Art Loss Register — a company that maintains a database of stolen artworks — the attempted sale brought up a red flag. The company’s executive director says Rice has nothing to document the purchase. But Rice says he won’t be bullied into giving up the painting. A trial is set for next year.

Photo of painting via Arts in Houston

5 Comment

  • Some put in laundry rooms because they let the maid go because they either needed the maid’s room for an extra closet or they needed to cut costs. One does not do one’s own laundry, you know, in the better buildings. At least not in the basement. It doesn’t look good. And it also embarrases everyone else’s maids. Who then wonder if their employers will let them go next. And who are then likely to do all sorts of nasty things like put your laundry in the furnace.

    As for this little mystery it is interesting that he says he bought it in 1983 and she reported it stolen in 1986 and apparently he has no record of having bought it from Hart and she has the Harts having filed, per the story in the Houston Chronicle, an affidavit stating they never sold the painting as if no one knows the Harts are not as good as their word as they say. Which sort of calls into the question the affidavit although of course having been given the right to a new trial, they are innocent until proven guilty again.

    No doubt the New York Post will be hearing from her attorney for describing her as Charlie Wilson’s lover. Doesn’t fit her image and she already threatened to sue over the image before production on Charlie Wilson’s War began.

    As for the painting, one assumes a photo of the painting was provided to Art Loss Registry rather than just a description. It is possible it’s a different painting. Or maybe there are two of them and one of them was a fake. Oh, my. The possibilities.

  • About as fake as her boobs, teeth, cheekbones and everything else that can’t be attached with bolts. And if anyone can depend on the Harts for an honest response, well then I’ll tell you Joanne hasn’t had a stitch of cosmetic surgery.

  • Melanie, be careful. She has lawyers. She has an image to protect. Those of us who know her, love her. She has lawyers. So we love her. Got it?

  • Matt Mystery– you can bet my appointment with Dr Pullandtuck, I got it!

  • She is Little Miss Muffett. Unless it’s a costume party. Then she’s Little Bo Peep.