Spielberg owned stolen painting

Times Staff Writers

A Norman Rockwell painting stolen from a Missouri gallery 34 years ago was recovered and authenticated Friday in the collection of movie mogul Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg’s spokesman, Marvin Levy, said the director’s staff contacted the FBI several weeks ago after seeing a bulletin from the agency’s Art Crime Team seeking clues about the theft of the “Russian Schoolroom” oil painting.

“The second anybody said, ‘I think we have that painting,’ [our] office got a hold of the FBI,” Levy said.


Special Agent Chris Calarco of the FBI’s Art Crime Team and Jessica Todd Smith, curator of American art for the Huntington Library, inspected the painting Friday afternoon at Spielberg’s offices on the Universal Studios lot. The filmmaker was not present.

“He’s an absolutely unknowing victim in this,” Calarco said of Spielberg.

Calarco declined to speculate on the painting’s value, but two sources close to the investigation said it is worth between $700,000 and $1 million.

The painting, depicting schoolchildren in a classroom looking at a bust of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, was stolen during an exhibit at a small art gallery in Clayton, Mo., in June 1973.

According to the FBI, its whereabouts were unknown until 1988, when it was sold at an auction in New Orleans for about $70,000.

Spielberg bought the painting from an art dealer in 1989 for an undisclosed sum, Calarco said.

The director is a high-profile Rockwell collector who helped found the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.


As of last fall, he was listed as the museum’s third vice president and a member of its board of trustees.

“He’s certainly one of the collectors of Rockwell,” said Levy, who wasn’t sure how many Rockwell paintings Spielberg owns or where he kept “Russian Schoolroom.” “We have a few in our office on the Universal lot.”

The probe into the original theft lay dormant until 2004, when art crime investigators determined that the painting had been advertised for sale at a Norman Rockwell exhibit in New York in 1989.

Agents in the New York and Los Angeles field offices began putting out bulletins in art circles and tracking down known Rockwell collectors.

“We were basically just about to figure it out when the Spielberg people made the connection,” Calarco said.

Linda Pero, curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., said: “I think it’s really wonderful.”


The FBI made the Spielberg link public late Friday, after an earlier notice -- published in today’s Calendar section -- that the painting may have been found.

For now, the painting will remain in Spielberg’s possession.

“I just advised them to hold on to it. It’s safe there,” Calarco said.