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What Is Lost May Never Be Found

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

The River Screams Through the Rubber City, 1990

By Bobby Padilla

Oil on Masonite, 4’ x 4’

All throughout the long and laboriously documented history of art, there is a subcategory that seldom gets any of the limelight. However, this subject has provided the inspiration for many books and probably a couple of movies, most recently Monuments Men. I’m talking about works of art that has been stolen, destroyed, or even worse, went missing. I pondered this topic as I recently faced my own mystery. I’ll get back to that in a bit.

So I’ve found some key samples of lost, stolen and destroyed paintings, but believe me, there are dozens. So, let me enlighten you to a few.

The Painter on his Way to Work, 1888

By Vincent Van Gogh

Oil on Canvas, 5” x 7” (framed)

Van Gogh’s Painter on his Way to Work was initially thought to be lost to Allied bombing to the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum of Magdeburg. It was later determined by the Real Monuments Men, (a real foundation for the retrieval and preservation of stolen or confiscated art by the Nazis) that the painting was listed as “missing” on April 12, 1945 in the Stassfurt Salt Mines Art Repository.

The Concert, 1664

By Johannes Vermeer

Oil on Canvas, 27” x 26”

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633

By Rembrandt Van Rijn

Oil on Canvas, 63”x 50”

In 1990 a large heist was pulled off at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Many pieces were stolen by perpetrators including numerous studies from Degas, Manet and Flinck. The cache also included several priceless works from Rembrandt and Vermeer. Since Vermeer only did about 3 dozen paintings, the fact that one of them got boosted is a tragedy. He completed The Concert in 1664 and is one of his most accomplished. In addition, several works of Rembrandt were snatched. Christ on the Storm of Galilee was among them. Another work of Rembrandt, Night watch, which is one of his largest paintings (11’x14’) has a long history of abuse. Victim to a knife attack in 1916 by a crazed shoemaker, and again in 1975 by a crazed school Headmaster who was on a “divine mission “. A Dutch Nationalist assaulted Night Watch in 1990 by spraying sulfuric acid on it, only causing minor damage. In all cases, the piece was restored and repaired.

Night Watch, 1642

By Rembrandt Van Rijn

Oil on Canvas, 142”x 172”

Water Lilies

By Claude Monet

Oil on canvas, 18’ x 24”

In 1958 a careless employee installing an air conditioning unit on the 2nd floor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York had a fateful smoke break. Smoking around dozens of paint cans and sawdust and drop clothes probably not the best idea. A fire started that took out one of the largest Monet Paintings (18 feet long), as well as several small waterlily paintings from the same series or works. While the smaller pieces were salvaged and meticulously restored, the large mural was destroyed.

Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, 1609

By Caravaggio

Oil on canvas, 106” x 78”

Stolen from the Church of San Lorenzo in Palermo in 1969 by the Sicilian Mafia (allegedly), Caravaggio’s masterwork was taken. Rumors circulated the large painting was damaged during the theft. Later thought to be destroyed during the Irpinia earthquake of 1980. In 1996, a mafia snitch Francesco Marino Mannoia claimed he stole the priceless work on orders of a higher ranking mob boss. After being shuffled around and winding up hidden in an old barn, the painting was eaten by pigs and rats.

So that brings me back to my personal mystery. The painting that is pictured at the top of this post is missing. Those that know me, know I live in a little house. While paintings “litter” every little nook of my home, garage, and of course studio, I can’t find this painting at all. Since it’s nearly 4’ x 4’ it’s kind of hard to get lost or tucked out of view. This whole thing came to light when I was trying to locate it to photograph it in prep of a blog post. I wanted to share early work that I did when I was just starting out. Well it made it into a blog post, but I don't think this is the way I wanted to write about it.

It’s nowhere to be found! I save everything, even the crappy Jasper John rip offs and the awkward figure drawings are accounted for. I wouldn’t have thrown it out, it was the first “real” piece of art I feel I accomplished. The fact that it’s just missing is eating at me. I don’t even have a good story behind it’s disappearance. It’s not like it was lost during Allied bombing trying to free the world of Nazi tyranny, like Clositer Cemetery in the Snow by David Casper Friedrich.

Clositer Cemetery in the Snow, 1819

By David Casper Friedrich

Oil on canvas, size not determined

It wasn’t stolen, set on fire or fed to pigs. It’s just gone. I can repaint it, but it’s not the same. No I’m not comparing myself to Vermeer, Van Gogh or Rembrandt (well yeah I sort of am ), but I got thinking about what is lost and may never be found. My painting wasn’t a Magnus Opus or had worldly importance. It was, and still is, important to me and my subsequent narrative to being an artist.

I do have all my work from early college days documented on slides, so I was able to pull a print for prosperity. I don’t normally repaint or redo paintings. This one I will. It will be re imagined and brought back to life, and probably painted with far more proficiently.

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