Painting lost; reward offered


Dear Artist,

On a small beach between towering rocks around the corner from Cabo San Lucas in Baja, Mexico, I set up, shaded and alone except for an occasional beach walker and the skimming pelicans. A 20″ x 24″ proceeded, not bad, I thought, considering the wind and the blown sand. Leaving my easel (I call it my “office” in places like this), I joined our friends on their grander beach, discussed lunch, had a Coke, then returned to the office.

The painting was gone. It might have been whipped away by a gust, I thought, but a search higher up against the rocks proved nothing. As I was some distance from the water’s edge, it seemed unlikely to have floated up and away like a parasailer and was now somewhere over the Sea of Cortez. It had to have been stolen.

Funnily, though, the thieves overlooked the Toshiba laptop that had been under my folding stool. Were these perhaps high-end bandits, ones with some taste, like the nipper of the Mona Lisa, or were they just local riff-raff who might sign the work and make a quick peso in the local market?

I began to think my painting was the best thing I’d ever done, unrepeatable, irreplaceable. The more I thought about it, the more I boiled. Unlike the fish that got away, the art we make is part of us, part of our very body, and unless we willingly sell or give it, losing it like that is a supreme insult.

Then I began to think otherwise. Wasn’t this just like any other painting I had never properly painted? Wasn’t it just an exercise, its own reward, a faltering, inadequate plod toward improvement and nothing worth fussing about? I had thought to run an ad — “Painting lost — reward offered,” but I cancelled my thought. No, my painting had floated off into the great art diaspora where they all ultimately go. Or maybe it was now an angel in painting heaven where sins are forgiven, where human effort lives on in anonymous eternity, blessed with being neither seen nor juried.

I thought again. My little moment of ecstasy on a private beach was something I might secretly cherish as from the fruit of my youth, better than reality, passionate, brilliant. In fact, for one tiny moment I was a major performer in Western Culture, a regular Lothario of the brush. I’m sticking to that.

Best regards,


PS: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” (G. K. Chesterton)

Esoterica: When all is only exercise and experiment, where questions give more delight than answers, and results are the lesser of process, we are given a special kind of energy. It’s shifty sand, though. Joy can be stolen because an artist has to put enough technique under the belt to be simply confident. To see a painting that never was, as it is to hear a tree falling in a forest, witness is during, not after. What happens after is really someone else’s business. And one mustn’t be fooled, as I almost was, that it was some of my business where they all end up.


Theft of moldy paintings
by Lorna Allan, Auckland, New Zealand


acrylic painting, 15 x 30 inches
by Lorna Allan

I had a few paintings that I was going to throw out, not good ones and had found that they had some sort of mucky stuff spilled on them during a house move and the mucky stuff had gone moldy. Talk about stink! Whew! I threw them in the ‘hard pick up’ – the council picks up stuff that won’t go into your rubbish bag a couple of times a year. There was a heap of all sorts of household refuse at the side of the road from a number of houses and amongst it my smelly bad paintings. Guess what was first to be picked up by the scroungers that go around these heaps looking for stuff? Yes my smelly ugly paintings! All I can say is that I am glad I hadn’t signed them!


Art disposal
by Russ Wagner, San Rafael, CA, USA


“Cafe Dancers”
oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches
by Russ Wagner

How does an artist kill a bad painting if their studio is on the ground floor? Out the window is probably the kindest way, but it would still be waiting outside. Often too big to put in my garbage can and it is a bit too violent for me to slice it with a razor. If I leave it outside my studio, my neighbors will think it is drying and pity me for creating it. I thought of donating several of my biggest failures to the Museum of Bad Art. But, I don’t think this is the type of fame I am looking for. I’m not sure how, but to let it be stolen is a great solution for me. Maybe take out an ad on Craigslist?




School art scavengers
by Kathy Weber, RI, USA


“Thayer St. Troubadour”
oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by Kathy Weber

When I was in college, my professors hung a number of paintings in the halls and lobby of our building because we were being visited by an accreditation team. One of mine, 12 x 16 inch oil on canvas that I had painted in an hour as a study for a figure painting, and that I really liked, was near the door. There was no security in that building, and, no surprise, I walked in a day or two later and my painting was gone. Of course, it remains in my head as one of the best things I ever did.



The ebony effigy
by Louise Francke, NC, USA


etching with pastel tint, 8 x 10 inches
by Louise Francke

When I was young and a student at NYU, we had an art exhibit at the student center. Needless to say, in our innocence, who would think unfinished or student art works would be stolen. There was no guard and sculpted pieces were not encased. My piece was a half finished deep relief carved in ebony which chipped many a chisel. I had worked painstakingly on it during my summer tutelage under a Dutch sculptor living in Michigan. It still leaves a bittersweet taste in my memory. My gut feeling was that the person who lifted it was the person who gave me the piece of ebony. After that, Pinkerton was hired to guard the works of students.


Book stolen and reprinted
by Jane Champagne, Southampton, ON, Canada


“Lumbs’ Point”
watercolour painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Jane Champagne

It’s not a good feeling to have a painting appropriated whether by the wind or a thief. Last week I had a similar experience, when I found my book, Painting the Ontario Landscape, advertised on by BCI International, a publisher I had never heard of, declaring that the copyright had been cleared with another company I had never heard of, and anyone could order a copy for $90. Since I own the copyright, which had reverted to me from the publisher, I was astonished to read that the copyright had been “cleared by UMI special order” which was news to me. Turns out BCI is a POD — Publish on Demand outfit, and there are many. UMI clears usually academic copyrights; in this case, without permission. I wrote both companies, plus the original publisher, and received a reply from BCI promising to remove the ad, but have yet to find out who authorized the so-called “clearing” of the copyright. It reminds me of your columns on unauthorized copying of paintings.


Haunted by past paintings
by Cheryl Braganza, Montreal, QC, Canada


acrylic on canvas, 18 x 18 inches
by Cheryl Braganza

Your lost painting made me think about a moment of intense emotion I recently experienced where I took a knife to one of my paintings and sliced into the canvas until it was in shreds. This was all related to a fractured relationship that I was trying desperately to salvage — a powerful, passionate act of despair, one that I never imagined possible. I see the painting now in my dreams, in sand dunes, in waves of the ocean, in the bark of the coconut trees, in the red mud of Goa where I am presently living. But I know it is lost forever, irrecoverable, as a part of me is, and I continue to pine. Unlike your angel in painting heaven, due to the nature of the act, mine is probably hovering in purgatory or awaiting a decision of the gods. Will I see it again when I die? Am I then Shiva and Vishnu all rolled into one?


Looking on the bright side
by Sue Martin

I used to feel that loss when my parents no longer displayed the favorite painting I created in high school; when they left it in a pile for the thrift store when they moved; and when I went to thrift stores and saw paintings for $25 that some artist had no doubt valued as a masterpiece. Then, a friend of mine who enjoys shopping yard sales bought a gorgeous, original watercolor, dirt cheap, and hung it proudly on her living room wall. I thought, here’s an art lover who will no doubt spend a lot of money on art in her lifetime, but for now she and her husband are working hard to put two daughters through college and why shouldn’t she take great delight in an art bargain at a yard sale. I no longer perceived it as de-valuing the painting, but giving it new life with someone who loves it as much as if the price had been $2500 rather than $25.


Clearing art clutter
by Anne Hightower-Patterson, Charleston, SC, USA


original painting
by Anne Hightower-Patterson

Like so many of us, I am usually unable to discard reasonable efforts at study. While unworthy of gallery exposure, most assuredly these little parts of me cannot be sent to the trash can. Last year, as I cleaned my studio, the number had really become overwhelming. So I devised a plan. At Christmas, as I gathered with my dear friend, I laid out the paintings on the bedroom wall and floor and bed assigning each a number. As the friends arrived, I gave each a paper and pencil and asked them to list their top four choices and place the slips in a basket. Later in the evening, I selected the slips one by one and announced the winner of each piece of art. They were delighted and so was I. Each work had a loving home and I had happy friends. It worked so well, that I plan to do it again on the 4th of July. Not with new work, but with the ones filling my rented storage building.


Innocence lost to geisha
by David Paul Wesson, Kanabi, Japan

A similar thing happened to me in Kyoto when I went to use the john for a minute. IN KYOTO!!! If our art isn’t safe on Kyoto streets, where is it safe? As it was, no one was on the street except two amateur Maiko ( practitioners of Geisha to be) and I doubted highly it was either of them. Though one did look back. The world’s changing, though, as are our images of right and wrong and who would be right or wrong in character. Integrity is something you read about in a Louis La’Mour Western novel. I hear some of these same Maiko who, acting the sweet and pure by day are making extra fast cash as call girls in the Cabaret by night. Could they be thieves?


Hotel theft
by Ron Ukrainetz, Great Falls, MT, USA


“Straight On”
original painting, 6.5 x 9.5 inches
by Ron Ukrainetz

Years ago, when I was just starting my art career, I was attending a hotel show in Washington State. The hotel providing exhibit rooms was under construction at the time, so there were probably a lot of room keys floating around the construction crews. At some time during the second night, after closing, about 20 rooms were raided by art thieves, stealing some $25,000 worth of art. Naturally, I was concerned, so when the police asked me to open my room and take inventory, I was dismayed to find that the thieves didn’t even like my work enough to steal a piece! Nothing was missing!




Donated to the winds
by Sara Poly, Arlington, VA, USA


“Tidewater Sunrise”
oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
by Sara Poly

I am a professional artist also and teach many outdoor workshops and classes and do a zillion demos. Last fall I did one of my best demos… really labored over it. I chose a particularly difficult scene to pull off, sun coming directly at us through the clouds and an amazing reflection on the water, etc, etc. I was thrilled and so were they… took over an hour. So then I laid it down on the ground and went to have lunch with everyone… got distracted with teaching… eventually gathered my gear and we all left… the painting still on the ground near the water! I didn’t realize until the next day. I called the marina but it was gone. I had a very similar set of thoughts as you did… and felt happy in the end for a job well done and a donation to the winds.


Joy of art
by Susanne Kelley Clark, Dallas, TX, USA


“Dandelions & Nettles”
oil on canvas
by Susanne Kelley Clark

While painting on a beach in Mexico a woman came up and sat beside me. Occasionally she would gesture with her arms. Then another woman sat down near me and said, “She wants your painting, don’t give it to her, she’s crazy.” “Really?” I said. She told me that she consistently did things like this to make money. Being in a place where I did not understand the language, nor the customs… I thought, well if she likes it that much, if it gives her that much joy… because she became more excited as I worked… I did give it to her. She lifted it up, danced around smiling and laughing, the other woman who was trying to help me, shook her head. But I have to say it was very satisfying watching someone become excited about having the small painting. Then later the maid in the motel room became very interested in the watercolors themselves, again I could not communicate with her. She looked at the tubes and the palette with excitement and longing. After she left, I went through the pack of supplies I had brought with me, made a pack including paint, brushes, paper and a small palette and gave it to her the next day. She almost cried. The realities I encountered there were so extreme. Somehow my experiences in Mexico made it clear why I am making art and also what an amazing form of communication it is. On my return, it made it easier for me to show it, sell it and give it away.


Life is terminal
by Susan Crouse-Kemp, Berthoud, CO, USA


original textile artwork
by Susan Crouse-Kemp

I often tell people that I am not concerned about the loss of my work, as in a fire or robbery. It’s my perspective that I will always have another piece of art lingering in my head, so in some way it is all replaceable. Yes it would all be different, hopefully our path as an artist is always evolving, but truly we are the lucky ones. Artists actually leave behind a part of them every time they create, so they attain some amount of tangible eternity that many others aren’t as fortunate to realize. Of course when we’re gone, we won’t know if it mattered. It makes me recall the quote: “Life is terminal.”




Stolen by a friend
by Peggy Guichu, Phoenix, AZ, USA


watercolour on panel
15 x 20 inches
by Peggy Guichu

Didn’t you find it fascinating and shocking how many thoughts ran through your mind at the moment that you realized your painting was stolen? The feeling of not understanding what you aren’t seeing, the sadness, then anger and finally followed by the feeling of being violated were probably felt in less than 2 or 3 seconds. Several years ago, I had just moved into a cabin in the woods and had to leave quickly for an emergency surgery. While I was away the water pipes froze and broke completely flooding my garage. I didn’t find out until I arrived home 2 weeks later. In the garage were boxes I hadn’t moved inside yet filled with my watercolor paintings. All of them stained by the water. I wasn’t supposed to do any lifting so a friend of mine came over and cleaned it all up for me. He said all the paintings had been destroyed and he had thrown them away. Several months later I visited him and there, tucked behind a piece of furniture in the corner of his living room was a pile of my paintings. When I asked what possessed him to take my paintings his response was that he didn’t think I would care because they were damaged and if I ever became famous he would have something valuable. I took my damaged paintings back home, made a big bonfire fire behind my cabin and slowly burned them. Needless to say, the friendship didn’t recover from the fire, either. If he had asked me, I would have given him the paintings, but he violated me in a very profound way.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Painting lost; reward offered



From: Rick Rotante — Jan 29, 2008

Robert – stop using “funnily”…..

From: Debbie Wilson — Jan 29, 2008

Many years ago I had a painting stolen on its way to a show in San Francisco. Over the years I have tried to remember it; as at the time I thought it was one of my best. It was a subject matter that was difficult for me and I mourned its loss and was frustrated by not knowing what became of it. I am sure it is much better in my mind than in real life. I felt so shocked that someone had actually taken it! There has always been a small whole from its loss and I still wonder about it now and then.

From: Lin Wryghte — Jan 29, 2008

I too had some art work go missing… stolen, I think. It happened over 43 yrs ago and I still occasionally think of those missing pieces and wish I had been able to magically retrieve them. It was the habit of our high school art teachers to hold the best pieces of our art work until the end of the school year, at which time we could go to the classroom and claim our work… except when I looked through the accumulated works to collect mine, 2 of my best pieces were missing… one was a series of figure studies with close ups of hands, feet, faces, and the other was a painting which closely resembled a picture from a dream I often had. This happened with 2 different art teachers, who both seemed unconcerned and unwilling to agree to monitor who took what from the classroom. I don’t really think about these missing pieces that often (or my suspicion at the time, that perhaps the teachers kept them) but your description Robert about how you felt upon finding your painting missing, presumed stolen, reminded me of my loss of long ago.

From: D F Gray — Jan 29, 2008

Having artwork stolen may be better than this: an art gallery I was in years ago had a break-in and the thieves took chairs, coffee table, couch but took the sculpture off the table and left it on the floor.

From: Anonymous — Jan 29, 2008

In High School my oil painting went missing from the drying rack and I wished I could have finished it first (I had been experimenting with pure cerulean in the shadows). Then in College my handcrafted Book of Design disappeared and since I suspected the professor of keeping it, I was flattered and thought maybe he could use it. While returning from a Mexican trip a few years later, the top was slashed on the convertible and 3 paintings were stolen from the back seat. I still wonder where they ended up. A gallery took a loss on one that disappeared from their inventory and I took a loss on one lifted from a wall under surveillance cameras – the police, apparently, have better things to do. To offset my personal sense of loss and violation, I have imagined that these paintings of mine were, and maybe still are, being enjoyed by someone, somewhere. That’s what it’s all about.

From: Irene Brady Thomas — Jan 29, 2008

Years ago a patron informed me that my painting was stolen from his home on moving day. They also took some small change and a pumpkin. Go figure…

From: Sarah — Jan 29, 2008

to Rick: Telling Robert to stop using the word “funnily” is like telling him to stop using the word “laptopping.” They’re all part of the half-fabricated (but all amazing) vocabulary he carries around in his head. On another note, I love the Sharon Sprung painting in the World of Art…simply beautiful.

From: Rick Rotante — Jan 30, 2008

to Sarah – I understand..forsure!

From: Faith Puleston — Jan 31, 2008

Hi Russ. It’s quite simple. Paint it black! Use spray paint if anything else is too laborious or soul-searching. Then it might even be picked up by the MoMA and given an airing there. Even Picasso painted over the canvases he was not happy with. You could use any colour, of course. Take one that eats into your consciousness, maybe put a strip of something across the middle. Or divide the canvas into areas with sticky tape and go for the promaries. There’s no end to solutions for maverick canvases. So long as you enjoy doing it, it#s definitely a step forward.

From: Ted Openshaw — Feb 01, 2008

While I was at a concert someone took some CDs along with a sketchbook which I kept in the jeep always. It didn’t take long to pacify my anger and disappointment by imagining that the person had selected a page from my sketchbook, matted and framed it and hung it. Then from my CDs they could select a jazz album and enjoy it while viewing my work. After all I put out my work to be seen by others.

From: Joan Simpson — Feb 01, 2008

I believe we have all shared adverse, infuriating experiences, as Robert did. Dishonor to the thieves! There comes a point in our lives (I believe) we need to forgive…let it go. Ease your mind and set your spirit free. We live to paint…not grieve.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Feb 01, 2008

After reading all these experiences, maybe I can finally let mine go. Many years ago, my painting was stolen off the wall of a student exhibition of the university I was attending. I have dreamed of walking into someone’s house and finding that painting and confronting them! I have grieved over that painting for years – maybe it is time to let it rest. The worth of the lost painting to my soul has far surpassed the probable value of the actual painting.

From: Pike Sullivan — Feb 01, 2008

Years ago a friend of mine who had bought some of my work had his house broken into. He was pleased that of the items stolen the thieves had taken my watercolors, too. Said “At least they had good taste”.

From: Peter — Feb 01, 2008

Museum of Bad Art. I couldn’t stop laughing.

From: Jan Ross — Feb 01, 2008

A few years ago, one of my large watercolors was accepted and won a prize at a National Show. The show traveled to a few locations before closing some months later. During that time, one of the other artists had an award-winning, wonderful, small oil painting stolen, after it had been hung next to the fire escape stairway. Why no one involved with the exhibition considered this as an easy escape route, we’ll never know. Those disclaimers on the prospectus are there for a reason! While this was an isolated case, it reminds us that our work is vulnerable to theft.

From: Jill Baker — Feb 01, 2008

About 20 years ago, I had to move furniture and artwork across the country by renting a truck and cleaning out a storage unit. I hired a stranger to help me, who had been hanging around the storage units and had struck up a conversation with me, a lone woman hauling boxes to my truck in this deserted venue. The stranger, though he at first appeared untrustworthy, actually was quite reliable and helped me pack the rental truck completely full, discarding frames in order to get my painted panels to lie compactly together for easier shipping. Unfortunately, there were about five enormous paintings that just wouldn’t fit. I had worked on them for years and had finally given up on them, though they were good works. They were much too large to hang on the average living room wall and though they had been exhibited a couple of times, had not sold. My helper said he would carry them in the back of his pickup to the landfill and discard them. I reluctantly watched them flapping in the wind as he drove off, believing the painted wooden masonite panels would soon be buried beneath piles of junk. But my helper returned after awhile and excitedly told me that as he drove up and was pitching them off the truck, that people began running up and grabbing the paintings and carrying them away, exclaiming over having gotten an original painting! I was relieved to know that these long-neglected paintings had at last found a home. Would they be appreciated? I wonder where they hang now, if some child grew up with them, following with their eyes the lines that I took such care in applying and appreciating the images that held and still hold meaning for me. I can see the paintings in my mind and will actually never lose them. I’m glad they were found.

From: Anonymous — Feb 01, 2008

Rick – dude, what is your problem? I think you have a little too much time on your hands, man. Go and get busy.

From: Yvon Bouchard — Feb 01, 2008

I choose to think your stolen painting is a sign that fame may be closer at hand. How lucky you are!

From: Sarah Judson — Feb 01, 2008

It’s at least as much about our relationships with other people (strangers or otherwise) as it is about the painting itself (good or otherwise). Sometimes it’s a feeling of betrayal, or of being irresponsible enough to let it happen. Very painful. Recently my parents (who are getting ready to move) sold a large primitive portrait. I never thought they would do that, even though it was just a lucky find that my grandmother made at the Goodwill. I feel torn, because, even though my brother and I obviously didn’t *need* it, I’d become attached to it. Very confusing. It really does help to presume that someone, somewhere is appreciating it.

From: Sarah — Feb 01, 2008

to anonymous – What does having too much time have to do with not liking realism? Rick is a professional artist…what’s wrong with a professional artist thinking about paintings?

From: Norma Hoyle — Feb 01, 2008

Query: Why should Robert “stop using funnily”? Funnily, funniment, and funniness are all valid English words, and may be found in the Oxford dictionary.

From: Anonymous — Feb 01, 2008

Sarah – I think Rick thinks a little too much, but I was actually referring to his objection to the word “funnily”. Chill, babe.

From: Joy Gush — Feb 01, 2008

I have never had a painting stolen, but a former agent told me never to hang unsold canvases at restaurants, or corporations, unless there was no doubt whatsover that the business would not fall into bankruptcy–which can happen fast. 30 paintings he had held for artists had been swept up in bankruptcy court. He and his artists received zero! Many artists have had a fire, a bomb, or a hurricane destroy their artwork. When someone cannot afford one of my paintings, and I see it is loved, I give it to them. If we can bless another person with our artwork, isn’t it why we have been given the gift of talent? As we give, we will receive….Keep painting!

From: Jan Evans — Feb 02, 2008

Robert, I hope you also enjoyed the philosophical irony of the story of the stolen painting coming on the heels of all the archiving information. Love your letters…thank you!

From: Sarah — Feb 02, 2008

to Anonymous – sorry, it’s just a pet peeve of mine when people say, “You have too much time on your hands.”

From: kathryn hoffnagle mitchell — Aug 12, 2012

Im am trying to find any oil paintings by my grandfather, john h hoffnagle, circa 1912 to 1920’s. he painted in Pine Bluff Ark. and Harrisburg, pa……my father particularly remembers on called The Prodical Son…. but there were many more.







Taos Spirit Wind

watercolour painting, 15 x 11 inches
by Lou Jordan, New Orleans, LA, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Donald Demers of Eliot, ME, USA who wrote, “I lost paintings off the deck of a sailboat once. I searched endlessly for those two paintings. Eventually gave up and my painting friend and I had a drink in the cockpit of the boat while I waxed philosophically about my loss. The day was the reward, not those paintings. I believe that I have gained more in their loss than in their possession.”

And also Paul de Marrais of KY, USA who wrote, “Your initial anger hits at an artist’s ambition that each attempt might create that special painting we have all eagerly anticipated, the one that will have a thick red velvet rope around it at a museum.”

And also Otis Goodin of Franklin, TN, USA who wrote, “Think of it as the ultimate compliment. Someone admired your art so much they had to have it, even if it meant stealing it.”

And also Merlin Miller of Mobile, AL, USA who wrote, “Don’t despair, you may get it back yet and like most of us, your best painting is probably still in the box.”

And also Billy Mangham of San Marcoa, TX, USA who wrote, “Every now and then my past work, or the work of some of my many potter friends, shows up in Goodwill or someone’s garage sale and what a treasure it is to find. Wouldn’t it be great to come across that work again in some totally unforeseen context?”

And also Ted Peterson who wrote, “If the painting washes up on the beach here, I will promptly return it to you.”

And also Dena Crain of Nakuru, Kenya who wrote, “Whether the work sells, is donated, gets stolen or destroyed by fire, we, the artists, retain forever the best part of it. We own the soul of the work, and that is something no one can take from us.”

And also Sam Liberman who wrote, “I have had a couple of paintings stolen, but never on the beach. One was being returned from a gallery in Buffalo. The circumstances suggested someone at UPS had simply taken it out of the packing, which was returned intact but empty. The gallery owner had underinsured it, but UPS paid the claim.”

And also Haim Mizrahi of East Hampton, NY, USA who wrote, “You should consider this incident the highlight of your career.”

And also Gwen Purdy of Seattle, WA, USA who wrote, “In my 81 years of living, I have learned that we ‘own’ nothing; we just get to use it as we go about our actions in life.”

And also Mark Day who wrote, “It could have been a seagull, the most powerful and willing thieves of the beach… they’ve tried carrying away towels, pots, etc from my campsites. Perhaps it was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”

(RG note) Thanks, Mark. The painting was too large for even two seagulls working together to carry away. I rather lean toward a Pelican. After all, “A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill can hold more than his belican, He can take in his beak, Food enough for a week, But I’m damned if I see how the helican.” (Dixon Merritt)




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