The robbery took place at Carlton Fine Arts in midtown on September 25. Security cameras captured the thieves smashing the gallery’s glass doors, running into the rain with the artwork and stuffing it into the back seat of a 1996 Honda Accord.
Until recently, the fate of the print was uncertain. Gallery owner Charles Saffati thought it may never be recovered.
“The detective told me, ‘Charlie, I’m going to get the piece back. I’m going to catch the criminals.’ And I’m saying, ‘but how?’” Saffati tells NBC New York’s Marc Santia.
Then, officials called him with good news.
“I thought it was almost like a joke,” Saffati recalls. “I said, ‘This is amazing. This is like winning the lottery.’”
Saffati’s family has been running the small gallery since the 1960s. The print, titled Eve (1971), comes from a collection of 50 lithographs depicting the biblical figure in the Garden of Eden.
Chagall is known for dreamlike compositions that blend Surrealism, Symbolism and other artistic styles. Eve showcases how he used expressive detail to capture iconic biblical imagery and portray complex emotions.
After the burglary, Saffati told NBC New York that the print was valued at $100,000—although that number may have been inflated. Artnet’s Adam Schrader reports that other prints from the same collection have sold for under $10,000 at Bonhams and Abell Auctions in the last ten years.
Police have arrested two of three suspects seen in the video footage, according to Artnet: 59-year-old Carlton Smith and 61-year-old Larry Nestman. Both men face charges of burglary and criminal possession of stolen property, while Nestman has also been charged with criminal mischief.
The perpetrators were on the run for over a month after committing the crime, though the exact timeline is unclear. Police have yet to apprehend the third suspect.
Joseph Metsopulos, a detective with the New York Police Department who investigated the heist, carried the artwork down the streets of New York and back into the Carlton Fine Arts gallery to personally return it to Saffati.
“Anything that happens on Madison Avenue you kind of want to take an interest in,” Metsopulos tells NBC New York. “It’s alarming when smash-and-grabs happen on Madison Avenue.”
After a long journey, the artwork is once again on display at the gallery.