‘Sleep’ may again find rest in Buffalo; Valuable stolen painting recovered in Florida

A valuable painting stolen from the Buffalo Club in 1995 has been recovered.

“Sleep,” created more than a century ago by J. Carroll Beckwith, was identified last month at a Florida art show by an art historian for a New York City database that has helped locate millions of dollars worth of lost or stolen art.

Arrangements are being made for the oil painting’s return to the club at 388 Delaware Ave., where the theft occurred early on Labor Day weekend 12z years ago, said Christopher A. Marinello, executive director and general counsel for Art Loss Register.

“You always hear about the Cezannes and Monets, but [the Buffalo robbery] is the most common type of art theft — from smaller museums and clubs,” Marinello said. “These are works worth thousands rather than millions, and sometimes the loss just goes unreported.”

The 13-inch-by-17-inch work, depicting the face of an attractive sleeping woman wearing bright red lipstick, her long, dark hair draped over her shoulders and pillow, was removed from the frame during the heist, according to a Buffalo police report filed afterward.

The painting was insured for $10,000, which the club subsequently received from Travelers Insurance, Marinello said. Club representatives are expected to travel to New York in early March to reimburse Travelers and bring the painting back to Buffalo, he said.

It turned up at the Palm Beach Fine Art & Antique Fair, where art historian Erin Culbreth was on the lookout for ill-gotten goods, Marinello said.

Art Loss Register, the world’s largest source of information on lost or stolen art, routinely sends teams to art shows, auction houses, galleries, museums and other likely destinations.

“At events like Palm Beach, we search everyone’s stock before and during the show,” Marinello said. “We match what is being sold against what has been reported stolen by the FBI, Interpol and other agencies.”

Once Culbreth identified it as the stolen Buffalo work, Anne Moore, the New York dealer who was offering it for sale, “did the magnanimous thing and agreed to return the painting to our office,” Marinello said. Moore delivered it to the register’s Manhattan headquarters Thursday afternoon.

Moore bought the painting for $6,000 from an auction gallery, Doyle New York, “we think in 2005,” Marinello said. Doyle is cooperating in efforts to find out where else the work has been since 1995, an investigation that hopefully will lead back to the thief.

The Buffalo Police Department investigation, which went nowhere in 1995, has been reopened, said Central District Chief Donna Berry.

Unlike larger auction houses, including Sotheby’s and Christie’s, Doyle does not subscribe to the Art Loss Register catalog, Marinello said.

“We hope this incident will encourage them to join,” he said. “We need people to contact us before they buy. It’s all part of the art community’s effort to stem the flow of stolen art.”

The worldwide effort suffered a reversal earlier this month when gunmen wearing ski masks burst into a Zurich, Switzerland, museum and made off with paintings by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet valued at $163.2 million. It was the largest art robbery in Switzerland’s history.

Since its founding in 1991, Art Loss Register has helped get back scores of works, Marinello said.

A year ago, the registry was instrumental in solving the 1978 theft of seven paintings, including a $30 million Cezanne, from a home in the Berkshire Mountains. The agency’s help in tracking down the works led to the arrest of a retired lawyer who allegedly tried to fence the art.

Earlier this month, an Andy Warhol painting stolen from a Manhattan gallery a decade ago, and listed on the registry Web site, surfaced at Christie’s. The gallery sued to have it returned.

Beckwith, who painted “Sleep,” was a contemporary and close friend of John Singer Sargent. They shared studio space in Paris in the 1870s as part of a group of American expatriate artists working there.

After returning to the United States, Beckwith became an associate member of the National Academy of Design and taught at Cooper Union. He painted numerous portraits, including one of Mark Twain, and before his death in 1917 lived in Italy, where he painted plein-air studies of monuments, buildings and landscapes.

The Buffalo Club did not return a call seeking comment for this story. Berry said the organization beefed up security after the theft.