Stolen painting recovered by Silver City shop

NBC News Channel
August 15, 2017 09:29 AM

SILVER CITY, N.M. -- They knew it was a cool painting, but Silver City antique shop owners Buck Burns and David Van Auker had no idea they bought a stolen masterpiece. 


It turned out it was "Woman-Ochre," a painting by Willem De Kooning stolen 31 years ago from the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

The painting was one of the abstract expressionist paintings that De Kooning did of women in the 1950s.

It was stolen on the day after thanksgiving in 1985. There was no surveillance video.

It was lost until Van Auker placed it on the floor of their shop in Silver City.

"I thought 'Wow, great, cool mid-century painting, and I called my partner in, asked him what he thought of it and I thought 'Great, we'll take it home,'" said Van Auker.

Visitors at their shop started asking about it, suspecting it to be a Willem De Kooning painting. 

"I didn't know whether to call our local police, I didn't know what to do, and so I said, 'Well we'll start with museums, so I Googled the museum, pulled up the phone number, and called them, and got the receptionist, and I told her that I thought I had a painting that was stolen from the museum thirty-something years ago. She said 'Hold please,'" said Van Auker.

The dealers returned the painting to the museum. It will be sent for restoration and it could be worth millions.


NBC News Channel

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