April 1, 2020

Stolen three years ago today. Have you seen a pair of Gottfried Lindauer Māori portraits?

On the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2017 it took just under 40 seconds to steal the pair of Gottfried Lindauer Māori portraits, valued at almost $1 million.  The smash and grab happened around 4:00 am on this day, exactly three years ago.

In a tree-lined upmarket street close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand, a stolen Ford Courier ute (utility vehicle), later recovered by police at the scene,  drove up Parnell Road between 3:30 and 4:00 am where it then turned and reversed into the plate glass window at the front of the International Art Centre - IAC in Parnell shattering the glass.

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
The two culprits, then ran into the gallery, removed the two paintings from their holdings and loaded the canvases into the back seat of a second vehicle, a Holden Commodore, before making their getaway.  

The two portraits taken during the raid were the intended centrepieces of an upcoming auction: two companion portraits, painted by Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, entitled Chieftainess Ngati-Raure and Chief Ngati-Raure.

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure was painted in 1884 and was then valued at $350,000 - $450,000 NZD.  It shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and she is wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring. 

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was also painted in 1884 and had the same estimated value.  This portrait shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. 

At the time of the theft, local art world figures expressed dismay at the thefts, as characterising Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.”  New Zealand-based art historian and art crime specialist Penelope Jackson, author of the important recent book, Art Thieves, Fakers and Forgers: The New Zealand Story (2016, Te Awa Press) noted to the Guardian:

Yet, despite the immediate and extensive publicity, and a false lead saying the paintings were for sale on the Dark Web, three years have past and the paintings have not been recovered. 

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