When Leigh Capel, the director of Belle Epoque Fine Art, searched on eBay for portraits to display in his Sydney gallery last September, he came across an interesting piece.
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He came across a portrait miniature of Josephine Bonaparte that was of high quality and, because of its age, would have been painted during Napoleon’s lifetime.
After buying the piece for a bargain price of around $250, he decided to find out more about its origin.
As it turns out, the piece of art he purchased on eBay is a genuine piece of priceless artifact stolen from The Briars historic homestead in Mount Martha in 2014.
It was among a collection of 10 pieces taken that included portraits of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte, a lock of Napoleon’s hair, and a gold ring.
“I come across artworks that have been misattributed or they’ve lost their stories or their labels, and that’s part of the fun of my job. I feel a little bit like Indiana Jones,” he said to Virginia Trioli on ABC Radio Melbourne in Australia.
“This was the first time I’d come across an artwork that was stolen from a museum,” he added.
When Capel contacted the Mornington Peninsula Gallery, which is connected to The Briars, he said they were just as shocked as they had put it as a cold case.
After receiving the artifact from Capel, the gallery confirmed it was the stolen piece and now as put it back on public display.
Unfortunately, the nine other pieces are still missing but with this find, Victoria Police confirmed the investigation is continuing.
There is also no word if Leigh Capel received a finder’s fee and if eBay is assisting in the investigation as they would have to know the seller’s identity.
eBay Prohibits Stolen Items to Be Offered for Sale
eBay prohibits sellers from listing stolen items on its marketplace. The company suggests that if users see an item they believe is stolen, to contact law enforcement. But is that good enough?
It seems very easy to just open an account and list collectible-type items without scrutiny. Items stolen from the late Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas were sold on eBay earlier this year by a seller that just opened an account and with zero feedback.
Maybe some categories need some tougher standards to list in. However, that would probably hurt eBay’s drive to bring in more high-value buyers and sellers, which are often in the collectibles categories.
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