Art collector wins $3m civil suit for decades-old theft

  • August 24, 2011 16:44

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Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906), Bouilloire et Fruits (Pitcher and Fruits), 1888-90, oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 24 in. (50 x 61 cm).

In 1978, Michael Bakwin and his wife left their Berkshires home for a weekend trip only to find seven paintings missing upon their return. Among the couple's stolen artwork was a major still life by Cezanne that would later fetch $29.3 million at a Sotheby's auction.

The largest residential theft in Massachusetts history was finally concluded Tuesday when Bawkin won a $3 million civil judgment against the man who possessed the artwork for more than two decades and tried to sell it, according to Bakwin’s lawyer.

Robert M. Mardirosian, a retired criminal defense lawyer, was convicted in federal court in Boston in August 2008 of possessing six of the stolen paintings and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He is now in prison and has been ordered to pay $3 million to Bawkin for his costs in recovering the stolen art.

Mardirosian received the paintings from a client who later was shot to death for a poker debt he owed. For a time, the stolen art was hidden in Massachusetts before heading to a Swiss bank, and then to auction in London where Mardirosian expected to cash in. The Art Loss Register which tracks stolen art halted the sale.

Bawkin was able to reacquire his paintings, including Cezanne's “Bouilloire et Fruits,’’ from 1888-90, sold in 1999 at Sotheby's, and two more were recovered last year after Mardirosian's appeal process ended.

“I think the civil jury here has sent a strong message to those dealing in stolen art that there will be a price to pay for that activity,’’ said Michael Collora, the Boston lawyer representing Bakwin.

Read more at Boston Globe

Tags: european art

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