A drawing by Rembrandt was stolen from an exhibit at a luxury hotel in Los Angeles over the weekend in what authorities called a carefully planned heist.
The small pen and ink drawing, valued at more than $250,000, was taken from the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey during an exhibit Saturday night. Los Angeles County Department sheriff's investigators said a man working with accomplices is believed responsible.
After reviewing hotel surveillance footage, detectives believe the theft of the artwork from a private exhibit in the hotel was well-orchestrated, sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
The Rembrandt was brought in as part of an event in which art pieces are put on display for potential buyers. Whitmore said such exhibits take place frequently at the hotel.
The drawing disappeared from the upscale hotel between 10:20 and 10:35 p.m. The theft occurred when a curator was distracted by another person, Whitmore said. It was unclear whether the person who caused the distraction was connected to the theft.
"The hotel has top-quality security," the sheriff's spokesman said. "We believe this was a well-thought out and well-planned theft."
Whitmore said the small piece, approximately 11-by-6 inches, is by Rembrandt van Rijn, the renowned 17th century Dutch painter and etcher, and is titled "The Judgment." It was being exhibited in the hotel lobby and belongs to the Linearis Institute of San Francisco.
Representatives of the institute did not return calls for comment.
Ritz-Carlton staff and management were tight-lipped about the case Sunday. At the hotel, which overlooks boats moored in the harbor, colorful lithographs of paintings by the early 20th century artist Henri Matisse were on display in the lobby. Front desk workers said they were not aware that there had been a Rembrandt on display or that it had been stolen.
Mike Mettler, director of sales and marketing for the hotel in Los Angeles' Marina del Rey section, and security staff on site declined to comment other than to say that the Ritz-Carlton was cooperating with authorities. Ritz-Carlton vice president of public relations Vivian Deuschl also declined to comment further.
Art experts reached Sunday said that works by Rembrandt are among the most popular targets for art thieves, second only to those by Picasso, because of the artist's name recognition and the pieces' value. Anthony Amore, chief investigator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and co-author of a book called "Stealing Rembrandts," said there have been 81 documented thefts of the artist's work in the past 100 years.
One of those took place at the Gardner museum, where in 1990 a pair of thieves posing as police officers gained entry to the museum and stole 13 pieces of art, including three Rembrandts. The crime remains unsolved.
But Amore said that case is an anomaly. In the great majority of cases, stolen Rembrandts have been recovered, either when thieves were caught or returned the items, sometimes in an attempt to claim reward money after they were unable to sell them. Thieves find famous artworks extremely difficult to sell because of the high profile of the pieces and the publicity generated by such thefts, he said.
"I'd be shocked if the person who stole this piece had any idea how to fence it," Amore said.
There are about 700 surviving drawings that experts agree to be Rembrandt's work, Amore's co-author, Tom Mashberg, said.
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