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May 23, 2024

4th Francis Bacon painting stolen in Madrid is recovered by Spanish Police

Today, the Spanish authorities announced that the fourth of five stolen paintings, by the artist Francis Bacon has been recovered by the Policía Nacional España.  The operation followed upon the February 2024 arrest of two individuals who, it is alleged were the receivers of two of the stolen paintings. 

This hauntingly circa 1980, oil and pastel portrait, signed on the verso by artist alongside a dedication to its owner, was created in Bacon's vivid and distorted aesthetic.  A hauntingly blend of abstraction and figuration, the portrait's contorted form converges to evoke a profound sense of existential unease and demonstrates the painter's mastery of positive and negative space.  

Earlier, on the ARCA blog, we reviewed the theft, which occurred at a private residence in Madrid during the summer of 2015.  During that incident thieves entered a five-story building on the Plaza de la Encarnación—an affluent area in the centre of Madrid, near the Spanish Senate and the Royal Palace.  Once inside, the burglars broke into the residence while the property owner was out of the country in the UK. 

Entering the apartment without being seen by the doorman or other residents, the raiders went about disabling the apartment owner's alarm system and stole five visceral portraits, made by the Irish-born British figurative painter, in total worth an estimated €30 million.  The team of burglars also made off with jewellery and a collection of ancient coins valued at €400,000.    

In February 2016, the first major break in the case came in when an individual queried the Art Loss Register trying to establish if one of the stolen portraits had been listed as stolen.  Writing anonymously, the inquirer sent photographs of the painting which could only have been taken by individuals with access to the portrait after its theft.

This exchange proved critical to the investigation, and by March 2016 police had identified seven individuals believed to be involved in the theft and attempted circulation of the five stolen paintings.  Some of those,  named by the Spanish press, are stated to be:

• Ricardo Barbastro Heras, the lead organiser for the fencing network who has  a minor but significant criminal record and who is a relative of the later arrested Cristóbal García.  

• Antonio Losada de la Rosa and José Losada Manzano, a father/son duo of antique dealers from el Rastro, the most popular flea market in Madrid.

• Rafael Heredia González, a jeweller

By May 28, 2016 Spanish news reported that agents working with the Central Specialized and Violent Crime Unit (UDEV) had arrested six more individuals in Madrid who were also believed to be connected to the theft or circulation of the artworks. By January 2017 that number grew to seven, bring the total arrests to fourteen.  Others reported by the Spanish press as allegedly having involvement in this crime are: 

• Cristóbal García, a dealer from Castellón who is considered to be one of the leaders of the operation

• Alfredo Cristian Ferriz González, AKA Cristian Ferriz or Christian Férriz, a close friend of García and a real Renaissance man in the criminal world with a long police record, eight of them for robbery with force, three for vehicle theft, one for threats and another for drug traffic.  

• Agustín González Serrano, affiliated with the photo shop which rented the camera used to send photos to the Art Loss Register

• Jorge de las Heras Escámez, a cousin of Ricardo Barbastro Heras, who worked in an art gallery

• Aquilino Jiménez Bermúdez, another seller from Madrid's el Rastro.

In 29 February 2024 the Historical Heritage Brigade of Spain's National Police announced the arrested two more individuals in connection to this increasingly complex police investigation.  

Previous recoveries related to this theft case. 

In 2017 investigators announced the recovery of three of the five stolen Francis Bacon artworks.  

On January 7, 2021 Dutch private investigator Arthur Brand tweeted that the remaining two stolen portraits were being shopped internationally via underworld contacts, complete with "proof-of-life" images which showed that the two portraits were still in relatively good condition despite being in the hands of fences.  One photograph published by Brand depicted the verso of one of the painting's with the Irish painter's signature, and date.  Another photograph provided but the private investigator showed the portrait which was announced as being recovered this week.   This painting was photographed laying on what appears to be a yellow couch cover.

The last photo, depicted below, shows the singular remaining stolen portrait from the Madrid theft.  This 35.5 x 31 cm oil and pastel on canvas painting was photographed lying on a tabletop, partially obscured by a copy of Spanish newspaper El País which is dated October 6, 2019.  

In various articles Brand indicated that he had received communication that indicated that underworld buyers were considering the two stolen Bacon portraits, not yet recovered by the police, telling journalists that he had been passed the video by an unnamed informant.  This person indicated that the two remaining artworks were being shopped by an individual going by the nom de plum, "Jason".  

Accompanying the video was a piece of paper which implied perhaps that the remaining two paintings might still be in Spain, even if the thieves had widened their marketing to contacts internationally.  Handwritten on this document was the would-be seller's alleged name "Jason" noting that it was signed at "Starbucks Madrid," on the date of "2020-5-11."

The artist Francis Bacon died on April 28, 1992 at the Ruber clinic in Madrid at 82 years of age.  Prior to his death he was reportedly in love with the young Spanish financier to whom gifted the paintings.

For now, the last painting remains listed on Interpol's stolen Works of Art database.