Stolen Impressionist Classic Turns Up at Museum Exhibit

By Jim Sams | September 8, 2020

A painting by American artist Robert Spencer, missing since 1995, was recovered after a Pennsylvania art museum included it in an exhibit.

Christopher A. Marinello, owner of Art Recovery International, said one of his researchers spotted a notice in November that Spencer’s The Boating Party was on display at the James A. Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He said the painting had been loaned to the museum by its owner, who he identified as a “New Jersey collector.”

Marinello said the collector had purchased the work from an auction house and was unaware that it was stolen.

“Most museums do due-diligence when they acquire a piece, but they should also check the provenance when it’s on loan,” Marinello advised.

The Boating Party, painted by Spencer in 1928, was owned by the late Constantine “Gene” Mako, a Hungarian immigrant who learned to play tennis in Southern California and won doubles champions at the United States Open and Wimbledon during the 1930s. Mako opened an art gallery after a shoulder injury forced him to retire from the sport.

The Boating Party was part of a collection of more than 800 paintings that Mako had intended to donate to the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City, on the condition that the city raise funds to build a museum to display the works. The city declined the offer, unwilling to raise the necessary funds, Marinello said.

The painting and a second piece went missing while they were in storage. Marinello said police suspected it was an inside job, but never found the culprit.

Marinello said the painting was worth an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 when it was stolen. An insurance carrier reimbursed Mako for the loss.

Mako died in 2013 at age 97. His art collection, including the missing Spencer work, became the property of his estate.

Marinello said generally when stolen art is recovered after an insurer pays a claim for its loss, the original owner is given an opportunity to recoup the painting by reimbursing the carrier. He said in this case, the trust that inherited Mako’s possessions reached a confidential agreement with the insurer, which he did not identify.

Marinello credited Detective Mel Vergara with the Los Angeles Police Department for recovery of the painting. He said Los Angeles is one of a handful of cities worldwide that operates a stolen art recovery unit.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that The Boating Party was a part of a specific exhibit.

About Jim Sams

Sams is editor of the Claims Journal, a part of the Wells Media Group. He can be reached at More from Jim Sams

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