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Stolen Goya Recovered, in Good Condition; No Arrests to Date

By Randy Kennedy

FBI officials in Newark and Philadelphia said Monday that they had recovered a Goya painting that was stolen from a truck this month while it was being transported from the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio to a major exhibition now on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Officials said the painting was recovered unharmed Saturday in central New Jersey after a lawyer called the FBI and told investigators where they could find the painting while warning them that he could not tell them anything else about the theft. As of late Monday, no arrests had been made, and because the investigation into the theft remains active, officials would not say exactly where or how the painting had been found.

But they did say it appeared that — contrary to earlier theories among law enforcement officials that the theft was an inside job — the thieves probably had no idea what kind of art-historical loot they had stumbled upon when they broke into the truck overnight in a parking lot at a Howard Johnson Inn near Bartonsville, Pa.

“This time of year — close to Christmas — they probably thought they’d found a truck filled with PlayStations and broke in and started looking for the biggest-looking box,” said Steve Siegel, an FBI agent who serves as the spokesman for the bureau’s Newark’s office.

“Basically, it’s a target-of-opportunity typical New Jersey cargo theft,” Siegel said. “There are literally predators — for lack of a better word — who when they see a tractor trailer or a cargo vehicle parked for any length of time start snooping around.”

Officials at the Toledo Museum of Art said the painting, which was insured for $1 million, would not be included as a late entry in the Guggenheim show, “Spanish Painting From El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth and History,” a sprawling exhibition of some 135 paintings by Spanish masters that opened Friday. Instead, the work, painted in 1778 and titled “Children With a Cart,” will be returned to Toledo.

“We are ecstatic that the painting has been recovered, and we look forward to bringing the Goya home and sharing it again with our community,” Don Bacigalupi, the director of the Toledo Museum of Art, said in a written statement.

Lisa Dennison, the director of the Guggenheim, said the museum would have liked to put the painting back into the show but she added that it was “understandable that the Toledo Museum would want to bring the stolen painting back to its home after this nerve-racking experience.” She pointed out that the show includes 21 other works by Goya, “so the public will not be deprived in any way.”

The crated painting was stolen either late on the night of Nov. 7 or early on Nov. 8 from an outer shipping container in the truck while it was parked in an unlighted lot near the Howard Johnson motel. The two drivers checked in around 11 p.m. on Nov. 7, according to the motel manager, Faizal Bhimani. He said the white midsize truck was left in a lot adjacent to the hotel, out of sight of the motel’s rooms and the main office.