News and Press Releases

U.S. Recovers Stolen Degas Masterpiece Set to Be Sold at Auction

December 2, 2010

The Painting Will Be Returned To The French Government

The United States entered into a settlement agreement today with a New York-based art collector that provides for the return of a rare Edgar Degas painting to the government of France. The painting, “Blanchisseuses souffrant des dent,” was stolen from a French museum in 1973 and resurfaced recently when investigators discovered that it was set for auction at Sotheby’s New York.

The settlement was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) in New York.

The painting was stolen from the Malraux Museum in Le Havre in Normandy, France, on December 27, 1973. At the time of its theft, the artwork was on loan to the museum from the collection of the French government, which considers the Degas artwork to be a national treasure. The French government loaned the painting to the museum in June 1961 in honor of the reconstruction of the museum’s building, which had been destroyed in the Second World War. “Blanchisseuses souffrant des dent” was painted circa 1870-72, signed by Degas, and, like most French national paintings, was registered in the inventory of the Louvre Museum.

The painting was rediscovered last month when it appeared in the Sotheby’s New York November 3, 2010, Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale catalogue. Sotheby’s promptly cooperated with law enforcement and pulled the piece from the auction block. When inspected, federal agents found the Louvre Museum’s registration markings on the back of the painting. The auction catalogue estimated the sale price to be between $350,000 and $450,000.

“The return of this masterpiece to the French government reflects our commitment to ensure the return of stolen artwork and cultural patrimony,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to INTERPOL France and Washington for their cooperation and assistance in this matter.

“We are very pleased to have recovered this historic piece of art and look forward to its return to the French government,” said ICE Special Agent in Charge Hayes. “ICE will continue working with foreign governments, art dealers, and INTERPOL to recover priceless works of fine art and antiquities so they can be returned to their rightful owners.”

The government’s case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Duncan Levin.

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