The two late paintings by JMW Turner in Tate's Collection: Shade and Darkness - the Evening of the Deluge (NOO531; exhibited 1843) and Light and Colour (Goethe's theory) - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses writing the Book of Genesis (NOO532; exhibited 1843) were stolen on 28 July 1994 from the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt whilst on loan to an exhibition entitled 'Goethe and the Visual Arts'. A painting, Nebelschwaden, by Caspar David Friedrich, belonging to the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, was also stolen. The three thieves and the associated driver who carried out the theft were arrested in 1995 and convicted in Germany in 1999.
The paintings by Turner are highly regarded within the remarkable group of works that the artist painted towards the end of his life, in which the subject matter is highly abstracted. In the case of this pair of paintings, they are based around the theme of the biblical description of the flood. Turner seems to have created them in part as a response to Goethe, as he had read Charles Eastlake's translation of Goethe's theory of colours and appears to have disagreed with it. When first exhibited in 1843, the art critic of The Times referred to Shade and Darkness as a 'ridiculous daub'.
As a condition of the loan from Tate, the paintings were insured by the Schirn Kunsthalle for £12 million each. Following the theft, Tate made a claim and the insurers settled for the full insured sum of £24 million in April 1995. In accordance with normal procedure, title to the paintings passed to the insurers, subject to an agreement that Tate should have first option to re-purchase the paintings in the event of recovery for £24 million plus interest.
By 1998 Tate had become increasingly concerned that the paintings had not been recovered and as a result a large amount of money in the insurance fund was lying dormant rather than being applied for any benefit. An approach was made to Geoffrey Robinson, then Paymaster General, and he helped devise and then negotiate an arrangement whereby Tate bought back the insurers' title for £8 million. This was approved by the Treasury, the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Charity Commission.
The released money was placed in a restricted fund, held for the benefit of the Turner Bequest and this fund made a loan of £7 million to Tate to allow the purchase of the freehold of Tate's store in Southwark. None of the funds were used for the capital costs of creating Tate Modern or Tate Britain.
It is the intention of Tate's Trustees to use the balance of the funds for the benefit of Tate's collections as had been proposed in earlier discussions with the Charity Commission. Formal approval by the Charity Commission is expected to take several months.
The recovery operation involved a small team which included two former Metropolitan Police officers, Jurek Rocoszynski and Michael Lawrence who have assisted since 1999.