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NYPD's top art cop, a 17-year veteran, draws on his expertise to retrieve stolen priceless pieces

NYPD’s top art cop, a 17-year veteran, draws on his expertise to retrieve stolen priceless pieces

BY James Fanelli

Sunday, July 4th 2010, 4:00 AM

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NYPD Detective Mark Fishstein – ‘the art cop’ – shows surveillance photo of two suspects who allegedly swiped the painting ‘Orientalist Interior’ by Theodore Chasseriau in 2004.
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He makes fighting crime an art form.

As the NYPD’s only sleuth dedicated to finding stolen art, Detective Mark Fishstein has developed an eye for spotting little-known Picassos and can wax poetic on the virtues of American impressionists.

His work has resulted in the retrieval of prized Russian paintings snatched from an upper West Side museum, the arrest of two dopey thieves who filched an Andy Warhol work and the collapse of a large London jewelry-heist ring.

“I had it in mind if I should be lucky enough to become a detective, then ultimately this position would be the crowning achievement in my career,” Fishstein, 45, told the Daily News last week.

A 17-year veteran, Fishstein became the department’s art-crime detective in June 2003. He followed in the footsteps of Detective Robert Volpe, who spent decades as the NYPD’s resident art expert, drawing international acclaim for recovering priceless masterpieces.

“I guess I can attribute having this position to him because he created it,” Fishstein said.

The Brooklyn native was born into a family of art connoisseurs. His dad was a commercial artist, and both his parents were antique dealers and collectors.

Fishstein first flashed his art expertise as a patrol officer when he identified a Pablo Picasso drawing hanging in the apartment of an upper East Side woman who had been found dead.

Cops at the scene had just finished an inventory of the woman’s valuables when he told them they should add the Cubist painter’s work to their list of secured items.

“I made mention to the sergeant that she should probably take that,” he said. “She said, ‘Why’s that?’ I said, ‘Because it’s a Picasso.’ It turned out that the family was quite relieved to know it was secured.”

Now as the Finest’s fine-art aficionado, whenever a piece is stolen, the case lands in Fishstein’s lap.

In 2009, he helped recover two landscape paintings by Russian artist Nicholas Roerich that are valued at $30,000. The pieces were lifted from an upper West Side museum. Tips led him to a Brighton Beach couple trying to sell the paintings to support their drug habit.

In 2008, Fishstein gave another couple their 15 minutes of fame when he arrested them for trying to steal a $100,000 Andy Warhol screen print of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong from a frame store.

He also foiled a London man’s attempt to sell a stolen first-edition copy of “Casino Royale” worth $20,000 to a rare-books dealer in Manhattan. The recovery of the James Bond novel led to a larger investigation of a robbery ring that preyed on jewelry couriers in England.

Fishstein has reams of unsolved cases, too, which he holds on to in case the stolen pieces pop up at an auction. Most pilfered works are recorded with the Art Loss Register, a company that auction houses check with before putting an item up for bid.

The art cop continues to scratch his head over the pilfering of a $2 million masterpiece painted by French Romanticist Theodore Chasseriau from an upper East Side gallery in November 2004.

“This case I keep with me because hopefully one day it will show up,” he said.

Even when Fishstein is not working, art is a big part of his life. The nattily dressed detective collects antique cuff links, and he also picks up the pencil to draw sketches for his 11-year-old son.

And when he has a chance, he visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art – just for fun.

“I like the American and French Impressionists. Modern art, not so much,” Fishstein said.

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