Lost 17th-Century Painting Returns to an Oxford Gallery Four Years After It Was Stolen

“A Rocky Coast, With Soldiers Studying a Plan” was recovered from a man in Romania who alerted the authorities

A Rocky Coast, with Soldiers Studying a Plan
Police recovered Salvator Rosa's A Rocky Coast, With Soldiers Studying a Plan, from a man in Romania. Christ Church Picture Gallery

In March 2020, thieves broke into the Christ Church Picture Gallery at the University of Oxford and stole three artworks, which were together worth approximately $12 million. Now, four years later, one of those works has been returned: A Rocky Coast, With Soldiers Studying a Plan, a 17th-century landscape painting by Salvator Rosa

According to a statement from the Thames Valley Police, the piece was recovered in Romania, where authorities found it in surprisingly good condition.

“We’re grateful to the Romanian authorities and Thames Valley Police for their help in retrieving this priceless work and returning it to our gallery,” says Jacqueline Thalmann, a curator at the museum, in the statement. “The missing paintings have been on public view since 1768, so it’s vital that we recover them so they can be enjoyed and studied by all once more.”

A Boy Drinking
A Boy Drinking, Annibale Carracci, circa 1580 Thames Valley Police

Born in 1615, Rosa was an Italian Baroque painter and poet celebrated for his dark depictions of nature. A Rocky Coast captures his talent for creating “a new type of wild and savage landscape,” as Art U.K. puts it.

The handover took place on March 26 at the National Museum of Art, Bucharest, according to Eurojust, a European Union agency that coordinates investigations into cross-border crime. Officials announced the news last week.

Police say they were contacted by a Romanian man who had the painting in his possession. He had previously held all three paintings but sold the others. Per the statement, the man is “being treated as a witness” and hasn’t been arrested.

Police are still searching for the two other stolen paintings: A Soldier on Horseback (circa 1617) by the Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck and A Boy Drinking (circa 1580) by the Italian painter Annibale Carracci.

A Soldier on Horseback
A Soldier on Horseback, Anthony van Dyck, circa 1617 Thames Valley Police

“From information provided by Romanian authorities, we know that these two paintings were sold on in Romania but could now could be anywhere in Europe,” says James Mather, a detective chief inspector with the Thames Valley Police, in a video.

How the thieves broke into Christ Church’s gallery and smuggled the paintings out is still unclear, as Artnet’s Adam Schrader reports. Authorities are now conducting a detailed forensic analysis of the recovered artwork, which they hope will help lead them to the other two.

Mather says he is “optimistic” that these efforts will help the search, per BBC News. He hopes experts will be able able to recover DNA evidence from the piece. Meanwhile, museum officials are eager to hasten the process.

“Not only do the paintings form a significant part of our collection, but their significance to our British and European culture is inestimable,” says Thalman in the statement. “I’d like to appeal to anyone who has any information which can help return the remaining pictures to our gallery, where they can continue to enrich our public life.”

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