/ 13 September 2009

$1m reward for stolen Warhols

A reward of $1-million is being offered this weekend for information leading to the recovery of a unique collection of stolen Andy Warhol portraits.

The works of art disappeared earlier this month from the Los Angeles home of Richard Weisman, who commissioned them from the artist in the 1970s.

Weisman’s 10 original silkscreen prints feature famous sporting figures. The images include portraits of boxer Muhammad Ali, tennis player Chris Evert, golfer Jack Nicklaus, footballer Pelé and disgraced actor and former American football star OJ Simpson. They were produced by Warhol between 1977 and 1979.

The pieces were taken from the walls of the house’s dining room, along with a Warhol portrait of Weisman. Police said the theft had been discovered by a nanny on September 3. The Weisman family were not at home when she spotted that the Warhol works had been removed.

Several valuable artworks, including other notable prints by Warhol, were left untouched. The house, in an exclusive area of the city on Angelo Drive, was locked at the time of the discovery and there was no sign of forced entry.

Mark Sommer, a detective with the LA police department’s art theft unit, said it was unclear how the paintings had been removed but that witnesses in the road had noted a maroon van parked in the drive at around the time the theft was noticed.

”This was a very clean crime,” Sommer said. ”[The home] wasn’t ransacked. For some reason they had an interest in this collection.”

Don Hrycyk, another detective, said that the delay in announcing the theft had allowed police to organise the reward and distribute photographs of the missing artworks.

The 10 portraits that make up the collection are each about 101cm by 101cm and were featured in a book, Picasso to Pop: The Richard Weisman Collection, that was published by Weisman in 2003. He had tried to sell the collection the previous year for $3-million. ”The theft of Warhol’s athlete series represents a profoundly personal loss to me and my family,” the collector said in a statement on Friday.

Warhol became famous as an artist in the 1960s for his ground-breaking pop art images. The artist’s bohemian lifestyle, combined with his avant garde film-making and the parties he held at the New York studio known as The Factory, helped to establish him as an enduring cult figure.

Brenda Klippel, director of Martin Lawrence Galleries in Los Angeles, which has a large collection of Warhols, said: ”Warhol was always a portraitist and fascinated with anyone in the public eye. He wanted all of his imagery to be instantly recognisable.

”If Weisman was in his circle and had the money, he could commission what he wanted.” – guardian.co.uk