Oscar-winning film-maker Steven Spielberg is facing a courtroom battle over a valuable painting that he bought in good faith 18 years ago, only to learn this year that it was on the FBI’s list of the most-wanted stolen works.
The director avidly collects the 20th-century American artist Norman Rockwell, whose Russian Schoolroom was one of his prized works – until he discovered that it was stolen 34 years ago. The oil painting, measuring 16 by 37 inches (6.3cm by 14.6cm), was taken from Arts International, a gallery in Missouri, part of a chain of US galleries that belonged to Jack Solomon. It disappeared without trace until 1988, when it surfaced at a New Orleans auction, changing hands for $70,000. Mr Spielberg bought it a year later from Judy Goffman Cutler, a Rhode Island art dealer, for a reported $200,000.
Today, its value has soared to about $700,000 (£350,000) and it is the subject of two lawsuits. In the first, filed in the Nevada federal court, Mr Solomon – whose gallery chain went bankrupt in 1996 – is suing both Mr Spielberg and the FBI, claiming that the work belongs to him. He alleges that the FBI wrongly allowed Mr Spielberg to keep the painting despite knowing of the theft.
In the second case, Ms Goffman Cutler has filed suit in New York against Mr Solomon and the Art Loss Register (ALR), the British agency with an international database of 200,000 stolen artworks, which Mr Solomon asked to assist in recovering the painting. She asserts that Mr Spielberg severed his business relationship with her shortly after Mr Solomon made his accusations and is demanding
$25 million (£12.3 million) for losing Mr Spielberg “as a client” and damage to her reputation.
She claims that she has acquired good title in the work and that Mr Solomon’s interest in the work ended when his business went bankrupt – although he maintains he never gave up title to the work. Mr Spielberg’s spokesman, Marvin Levy, told The Times yesterday: “We are the innocent victim in all of this. [Steven] bought it in good faith.”