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!
“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.
- Artwork caught in custody battle [Houston Chronicle]
- Charlie Wilson’s art war [NY Post]
- Previously on Swamplot: Tracking the Disappearance of Antique Properties
Photo of painting via Arts in Houston