Art gallery ram-raid: No sign of paintings one year on

It‘s been a year since robbers ram raided an Auckland Auctioneers and fled with two valuable paintings by artist Gottfried Lindauer.

The ‘Chieftainess Ngatai-Raure‘ and ‘Chief Ngatai-Raure‘ (inset) were stolen from the International Art Centre in Parnell on 1 April last year. Photo: RNZ / Laura Tupou

However their whereabouts, and who exactly was behind the heist remain a mystery.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, 1 April last year, a window in the front of the International Art Gallery shattered as a car backed into the building.

Alarms went off but by the time people arrived two 1884 Gottfried Lindauer paintings known as were gone.

A year on the centre‘s director Richard Thomson said they were still no closer to finding them.

“There‘s no news about the paintings… For us it‘s still as big a mystery as it is to a lot of people.”

It took several months for the $50,000 to $100,000 worth of damage to the building to be fully repaired and security measures have been ramped up.

They will be on show this week as works from Dame Kiri Te Kanawa‘s personal collection go up for auction, including three major paintings by Charles Frederick Goldie.

“There‘s a couple of really serious things that we‘ve done that we‘ve talked to the insurance company about.

“We‘ve got 24 hour monitoring on foot, so after hours we‘ve got an actual guard on at the moment until the auction is finished. The security is obviously quite high.”

Mr Thomson said he believed the paintings hadn‘t left the country.

“A lot of people say ‘oh they‘ll be overseas hanging on a wall in Shanghai or somewhere‘ but I really believe that‘s unlikely … Everyone‘s speculating and who knows, they might just turn up. They could turn up in half an hour, they could turn up this time next year, we just don‘t know.”

However, he said it wasn‘t something he‘d like to dwell on.

“That‘s not how I live my life. The only person dwelling on that situation is the people that took them. They‘ll be living in fear and they‘ll have problems so their day will come.”

Art historian and art crime expert Penelope Jackson said the art community was more aware now and it demonstrated to the country that New Zealand wasn‘t immune to these sorts of crimes.

“This terrible event had all the ingredients, all the sensational ingredients really, that you might get in a movie. Night time, smash and grab, highly valuable works and when I say valuable I mean not just monetary valuable but culturally valuable. That there were two get away vehicles etc.”

While nothing is for certain, she said the paintings were more likely to still be in the country with their cultural significance and history meaning there‘s a bigger market for them here.

“New Zealand‘s too small, there‘ll be something that happens that will be a catalyst that will lead someone or the police to find those works.”

She said many famous paintings have been found again in the past, in late 2016 two Vincent van Gogh paintings were found in Naples after being stolen from a public art museum in Amsterdam 14 years earlier.

Ms Jackson said many were worried about what condition they would be in if they did turn up.

“You‘ve got paintings there that are 134 years old now so they‘re very vulnerable.

“They were moved quickly, there was broken glass involved, there was speeding vehicles, and if you think about how in an art museum context works are moved, you know not when the public are there, on cushioned trolleys, white gloves, lots of people, very carefully, very slowly, and this was the complete opposite.”