In 1966, Louis Edelman, gallery manager and salesman for the Arnot Gallery at 250 West 57th Street, decided to leave his job there to open his own gallery nearby. It was later discovered that during his tenure, Edelman was selling the Arnot Gallery’s paintings and invoicing buyers in his own name. By the time he was done, Edelman had absconded with over 3000 artworks worth over $1M from his employer.
The thief was eventually arrested in Chicago by the FBI and convicted of transporting stolen artworks across state lines, a federal crime. While Edelman was sentenced to two years in prison and given a $10,000 fine, most of the 3000 paintings were never recovered. Edelman sold most of the paintings in Chicago, Kansas City, and St. Louis. During the criminal trial, one gallery owner was questioned on whether he knew the paintings he was buying from Edelman were stolen. “Well, not all of them”, he answered.
Over the years, the stolen artworks have been reappearing for sale at auction houses and galleries around the world.
This Cortès, entitled Flower Market Madeleine was being offered for sale in 2023 by Carnes Fine Art, a dealer in Mawdesley, England. Carnes purchased the artwork in November 2022 at Capes Dunn auctions, which have been operating outside of Manchester, England since 1826. The painting had been consigned to Capes Dunn in 2022 by a Cheshire estate who confirmed that it was acquired from the MacConnal-Mason Gallery in London.
On August 29th, while researching a work by Cortès, Howard Rehs, of Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York, came across an image from the UK gallery. Intrigued, he clicked on it and discovered several photos of the painting they had for sale, including a verso shot displaying a five-digit inventory number. The number caught his attention, triggering a sense of familiarity. Upon cross-referencing their records related to the Arnot theft, he confirmed that the same number was listed.
Howard promptly reached out to Vicki Arnot via email, informing her that he had uncovered some important information for her. She wrote back stating I will give you a call tomorrow. His reply was that My info for you might be time sensitive. She promptly called, and he shared all the relevant details, setting the investigative process in motion.
To provide some context, Rehs Galleries, Inc. has a substantial history with works by Cortès, handling approximately 600 pieces over the years. Additionally, they are recognized as the expert of another French artist, Antoine Blanchard, whose works were also part of the theft. Prior to the gallery’s awareness of the crime, they acquired a couple of paintings and during the provenance research discovered they were among the works Louis Edelman took. Subsequently, the gallery engaged legal assistance to recover their funds from the seller. Considering the experience, the FBI requested the Arnot family share the complete list of stolen Blanchard and Cortès paintings with them. This was a smart move since, over the years, the gallery has found several of them.
Christopher A. Marinello, lawyer and founder of Art Recovery International spent several months unwinding this sale. “We are very grateful to Bradley Carnes, Capes Dunn, and their vendor for releasing this stolen painting unconditionally to the Arnot Gallery. While in this instance, we were able to convince many of the parties to reimburse the other, eventually there will be those who are out of luck. I cannot stress enough the importance of performing due diligence and authentication checks which would have uncovered this stolen painting decades earlier.”