A 350-year old Rembrandt stolen from a California Ritz-Carlton hotel this weekend was found in the pastor's office of an Episcopalian Church about 20 miles away.
The Rembrandt sketch, titled "The Judgment," was reportedly stolen from an exhibition staged by Linearis Institute at the Marina del Ray Ritz-Carlton. It is believed that the sketch was stolen sometime after 9 p.m. while the exhibition's curator was distracted by a guest.
L.A. County Sheriff's station in Marina del Rey received an anonymous tip on Monday evening from someone claiming to have seen the drawing "near" a church in Encino, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, confirmed that the sketch was later recovered from the office of Rev. Mike Cooper.
"Obviously, the pastor isn't a suspect," Whitmore told the Los Angeles Times. "Someone left it there."
No suspects have been identified in what Whitmore described as a "well-thought-out, well-executed theft."
"The Judgment," an 11-inch-by-6-inch quill-pen-and-ink work dating to about 1655, was positively identified by the Linearis Institute, but is still being held by police.
"We have the Rembrandt at the station evidence lockup," Whitmore said. "We are now seeking to authenticate it is a Rembrandt with other sources."
Rembrandt thefts are so popular that at least one book has been written about the phenomenon. Anthony Amore, chief investigator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, co-authored of a book called "Stealing Rembrandts."
Amore told the Los Angeles Times that 81 Rembrandts have been stolen in the last 100 years. Most stolen work has been recovered, largely due to the difficulty in selling the stolen art.
"I'd be shocked if the person who stole this piece had any idea how to fence it," Amore said, explaining that the publicity surrounding thefts like these make it very difficult to find a legitimate buyer.
Earlier this year, the actor and author Steve Martin was reported to be among the victims of an art forgery operation that swindled buyers out of $48 million dollars.
In 2004, Martin purchased what he believed to be "Landschaft mit Pferden," or "Landscape With Horses," by the German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk, from the Paris gallery Cazeau-Béraudière. The actor paid € 700,000 (roughly $850,000), which would have been considered a very good price for the painting.
The artwork is now believed to be one of 59 forged paintings produced by a group of con artists led by Wolfgang Beltracchi, who created convincing replicas of original pieces.
Martin had the painting authenticated by a Campendonk expert before purchasing it.