Of the dozens of emails that come through her inbox daily for Constable Caroline de Kloet, there was one that stood out.
On November 2, The International Art & Antique Loss Register Ltd., in England, contacted her about a stolen painting they had located.
The painting was stolen in April 1982 from Babbin Galleries then located on Queen St. E.
“I remember thinking this is kind of a mystery in comparison to the many other straightforward occurrences coming across our desk,” said the Corporate Communications Media Relations Officer.
Registered on the Interpol database, the paintings were located at Bonhams, New York, where they were up for sale six days later.
Hours after de Kloet received the call, Ada Perihana in Records Management received an email from her group leader to track down any theft reports bearing the painting names.
“It was about the stolen art and I was requested to dig up the police report,” she recounted, noting the only way to search records that old has nothing to do with a computer. The only route is to use the microfilm machine, affectionately known as “The Turtle,” to review the records on film.
Staying late, Perihana spent hours poring over the film in their vault, as opposed to the keyword searches she would normally tap out on the electronic records system.
“I went through 12 tapes without coming up with anything,” she said, of examining the brown spools of film carrying scans of sometimes smudged and fuzzy paper records. “There are thousands of occurrences on just one tape and I was shocked that there were so many thefts back then.”
The next day, Perihana spent her entire shift looking for the occurrence.
“There was about 15 minutes left on the shift and I was very close to giving up when I found an occurrence that mentioned stolen art,” she said. “It was scanned in very nicely and in really good condition.”
One of the paintings depicted a beach docking area with a small boat pulling in and dwellings on the side of a hill. It was painted between 1935 and 1940 and signed by the artist, A. Brandeis. The approximate value of the painting was $7,000.
The other painting, valued at $12,000, was created between 1890 and 1920 and depicted a harbour scene with a church-like building overlooking the harbour. It bore the artist’s signature, J. Maris.
Toronto Police 51 Division investigated the theft of the painting 35 years ago.
“I had a cursory look at the occurrence and it appears that the owner of the painting was paid out for the loss by an insurance company more than 30 years ago,” said Detective Sergeant Michael Richmond. “It appears that the adjustment firm that handled the claim is no longer in business, so tracking down the legitimate owner of this property will be a challenge.”
The painting was withdrawn from the auction and investigators from 51 Division are now trying to determine the rightful owner of the art.