Press Release

Tate's stolen Turners are recovered

Tate's stolen Turners are recovered: Press related to past news.

Tate is pleased to announce that two paintings by J.M.W. Turner, stolen from an exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany, on 28 July 1994, have both been recovered and will go on show at Tate Britain from 8 January.

The two paintings Shade and Darkness - the Evening of the Deluge and Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses writing the Book of Genesis are two of Turner’s most significant works.

Investigation continues to try and recover a painting by Caspar David Friedrich from the collection of the Kunsthalle, Hamburg, stolen at the same time, and therefore no further information about the recovery of Tate’s paintings can be made available.

Shade and Darkness was recovered on 19 July 2000 but no announcement was made for fear it might jeopardise the recovery of the second painting. Light and Colour was recovered on 16 December 2002 and returned to this country on 18 December 2002.

The recovery operation was carried out in continental Europe but both paintings were recovered in Germany. The Metropolitan Police have provided advice throughout. For Tate, Sandy Nairne, formerly Director of Programmes, now Director of the National Portrait Gallery, co-ordinated the recovery operation. He and Tate’s Head of Conservation, Roy Perry, have both seen the paintings and are satisfied that they are the original works and that they are in good condition although they are without their original frames.

Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, said this morning:

These two paintings are amongst Turner’s most important works and, in their references to Goethe’s colour theories, show him to be at the forefront of European intellectual enquiry. I am grateful to all those who have worked over the years to make their recovery possible, and particularly to Sandy Nairne for his assiduous work towards this successful outcome.

Editor notes

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.