Almost 50 years after a painting was stolen from a dentist’s office in Hawaii, the artwork is being reunited with its original owners.
Artist Margaret Keane was living in Honolulu in 1972 when she painted the work known as Eyes on youdepicting seven children peeking out from behind a stone wall. The painting was supposed to represent the racial diversity of Hawaii and, according to Heritage Auctions in Dallas, had an image of a 7-year-old girl in the middle.
The father of the girl who had given Keane a photo of his daughter for work bought the painting and hung it in the waiting room of his dentist’s office.
One day in November 1972, the staff went to lunch and left the door to the waiting room unlocked for patients arriving early. When they returned the painting was gone, the auction house said.
Despite a report in the newspaper and a reward, the family could not find the painting to this day.
Earlier this year, the woman depicted in the center of the painting as a child contacted Robert Wittman, the FBI Art Crime Team agent, after discovering it was sold through Heritage Auctions in December.
Wittman worked with Heritage, the seller and buyer, to facilitate the return. The money was refunded to the person who bought the painting for about $ 35,000, Heritage said.
In a ceremony on Wednesday, Wittman accepted the painting on behalf of the family.
The family, who have chosen to remain anonymous, thanked Wittman and Heritage in a written statement.
“The painting has a special meaning for our family because our father was fortunate enough to work with the artist and came up with the concept and images for this unique work of art,” said the family. “We are grateful that our painting will return home for our family.”
Wittman said it was not clear how the painting got from Hawaii to New Jersey, where a family bought it from a gallery in the 1980s. It hadn’t been entered on the FBI’s National Stolen Art File.
“These cases usually take a lot longer, there’s a lot more effort, a lot of legal situations, but in this case, Heritage did the right thing,” Wittman said on Wednesday. “You are giving a family’s legacy back to their family.”