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Courts and Crime

FBI: 2 Stolen NC Wyeth Paintings Have Been Recovered

Patty Wight
The FBI's Hank Shaw at a press conference Thursday.

PORTLAND, Maine — Six N.C. Wyeth paintings that were stolen from a Portland apartment in 2013 are back in Maine where they belong.

The FBI and Portland police announced Thursday the recovery of the last two remaining paintings that were missing. The paintings will soon be on display at the Portland Museum of Art.

The two Wyeth paintings — called 'The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff' and 'Go Dutton, and That Right Speedily' — were recovered last month in Burlington, Massachusetts. FBI Special Agent Hank Shaw says it draws a close to an 18-month search for the works, which are reportedly valued at about $500,000 apiece.

"This is believed to be one of the most significant thefts in the state of Maine," he says.

It started in the spring of 2013, when the paintings were stolen from Portland businessman Joe Soley. Portland police asked the FBI for assistance, and by December, the FBI tracked four of the paintings to a pawn shop in Beverly Hills, California. Three men — one from Massachusetts, the other two from California — were arrested and charged.

One was sentenced to a seven-year prison term, another to two years, and a third will be sentenced in December. But two paintings remained missing until a month ago, when a third party that the FBI is not identifying surrendered them to a retired FBI agent.

"Both paintings were found in good condition inside cardboard boxes in their original frames," Shaw says.

And now that they have been recovered, Soley is loaning all six of the recovered paintings to the Portland Museum of Art. Museum Director Mark Bessire calls Wyeth the patriarch of the most famous American art family.

Credit Images from the Federal Bureau of Investigations
'The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff' (left) and 'Go Dutton, and That Right Speedily'

"His tradition in Maine really tells the great story and role Maine has played in art history, and we are so thankful to have these six paintings back," Bessire says.

Wyeth is the father of Andrew Wyeth, the 20th century artist best known for his painting 'Christina's World' and the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, a contemporary realist painter. N.C. Wyeth himself was a prolific painter who is best known for his illustrations of a classic Robert Louis Stevenson book.

"It was 'Treasure Island,' one of the most famous books of all time," Bessire says.

The museum is opening a special exhibit of the six recovered paintings this Saturday that will run through Jan. 3. While the art community is celebrating their return, Shaw says his agency's work is unfinished.

"At this point I can tell you, no reward money has been requested and no additional arrests have been made," he says. "However, the FBI investigation into the thefts remains active and ongoing."

Shaw says there doesn't appear to be a connection between these most recently recovered paintings and the three individuals arrested in connection with the paintings found in California.