Stolen Rembrandt found in Encino church building

Tue Aug 16, 2011 4:18pm EDT
 
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A valuable Rembrandt stolen from a Los Angeles-area hotel has been recovered at a church in nearby Encino, authorities told Reuters on Tuesday.

Owners of the drawing, known as "The Judgment," verified just after midnight that the recovered 11 X 16 inch pen-and-ink artwork was indeed the original that had vanished from an exhibit on Saturday night, said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Police Department.

An anonymous tip led investigators to the church around 7 p.m. on Monday. Experts from the Linearis Institute, which owns the drawing, later verified its authenticity, he said.

There are no suspects in custody, and authorities are not commenting on how the drawing -- valued at $250,000 -- ended up at the church on Ventura Boulevard in the city about 25 miles from Los Angeles. They also are not confirming the name of the church.

The drawing was in "a building on the church grounds, not in the sanctuary," Whitmore said. It wasn't hanging on a wall or otherwise displayed, he said.

"We got an anonymous tip because there was so much news coverage," Whitmore told Reuters. "That really was the turning point. The news coverage led people to call us and say, 'Hey, I've seen this, and this is where I've seen it.' We responded, and they were right. There it was."

The drawing by the famed 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn disappeared sometime between 10:20 p.m. and 10:35 p.m. on Saturday from an exhibit at the Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey.

The theft happened while the curator was being distracted by a person who "appeared to be buying something, and that required the attention of the curator," Whitmore said. "As the curator turned away from the exhibit momentarily and then turned back, he saw that the Rembrandt was gone."

High-tech specialists are scouring hotel security video, and authorities may release a sketch or stills of the suspects later this week or next week, Whitmore said.

(Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Jerry Norton)