On Oct 28, 2010, the Art Loss Register issued a press release on recovery of the 18th century portrait by Johann Zoffany, stolen in 1979 from the private collection of John and Patience Sheffield in London.
“. . .In March 2009, John Sheffield’s daughter Belinda Pomeroy, saw an article about the painting in the Evening Standard. The painting stolen thirty years earlier, appeared to be one of the masterpieces of the prestigious ‘Versace Sale’ at Sotheby’s London, 18th of March 2009.
The loss was reported to the ALR by the three heirs of the theft victim and registered in the ALR’s international database of lost and stolen works of art.
As soon as the match was reported, the ALR acted on behalf of the heirs of the theft victim. The ALR contacted Sotheby’s and asked them to immediately withdraw the painting from the sale, which they did the very same day.
The ALR then informed the Metropolitan Police that they had identified a stolen painting at the auction house.
The case was dealt with as a civil matter. Versace’s lawyers first wanted to start proceedings if the painting kept at Sotheby’s was not quickly transferred to their client. The painting was bought by the Versace estate in 1987, the insurance valuation prepared in December 1987 proved it. However, the Versace estate did not forward any provenance of the painting.
The heirs had photographs in-situ of the painting and kept the pre-theft inventory written by John Sheffield, these elements considerably helped the procedure.
In September 2010, an agreement was signed between the ALR, the three heirs of the theft victim and Allegra Versace. The painting will return to the heirs of John Sheffield for a modest sum.
The painting was collected by the ALR at Sotheby’s London and given back to the victims of the theft who could finally enjoy the painting after thirty years.
This portrait was special to the heirs of John Sheffield since the Colonel Maule represented in the picture was their ancestor. The picture was part of a series that J. Zoffany did when he travelled in India. The German neoclassical artist worked actively in England and was one of the founders of the new Royal Academy in 1769. He encountered a vast success thanks to his ‘theatrical conversation pieces’ and portraits of the high society.”