Stunning art theft has a Harvard link

Ex-doctor’s losses upwards of $27m

By Abbie Ruzicka
Globe Correspondent / September 30, 2009

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Some of the world’s most valuable paintings and drawings, valued at more than $27 million, were stolen last week from the Pebble Beach, Calif., home of a retired Harvard Medical School professor and his business partner.

The thieves broke into the rented home of Dr. Ralph Kennaugh, 62, an art collector and former oncologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and his business associate, art collector Angelo Amadio, 31, between 1 and 6:50 p.m. Friday and made off with at least 30 pieces of art.

Amadio described 16 of the pieces as “significant,’’ including works by Jackson Pollock, Edgar Degas, Rembrandt, and Renoir.

The stolen art was valued at $27 million by the Monterey (Calif.) County Sheriff’s Department, a default price tag based on a 2002 insurance appraisal. The two men are partners in a business that includes buying and selling art, although the stolen pieces were from their personal collection.

Amadio said in an interview last night that he believes the value of the collection increased since 2002, as the two acquired more art, including a 4-foot-by-7-foot Pollock painting thought to be worth at least $20 million and possibly as much as $80 million.

Internal and external hard drives containing business records and client contact lists were also stolen from Amadio and Kennaugh’s laptop computers, Amadio said.

Several factors have led the business partners to believe the heist was done by professionals with sophisticated knowledge of the art market.

Amadio said that only three or four people in the world knew the two owned some of the pieces and that the thieves took only authenticated paintings, though the collection included some impeccable reproductions that only a skilled eye would be able to distinguish from the original.

“When they hit us, they knew exactly what they were looking for,’’ he said.

“They knew exactly where they were and the difference between some of the authentic pieces and some of the reproductions.’’

Kennaugh said he has been collecting artwork for 30 years and had never had a piece stolen. “This, now, is not the safest feeling,’’ he said.

Two of Kennaugh’s favorite Rembrandts were taken, he said, one depicting St. Jude praying and the other a woman in water. Both had hung in the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam.

“Those and a Renoir,’’ he said, “those were some of my favorites.’’

Investigators have strong leads in the case, but Amadio said that does not mean the pieces will be returned.

“We believe these pieces are already out of the country and sold, since they have buyers ready in professional heists like this,’’ he said.

The two men, who have hired private investigators, are offering a $1 million reward for return of the art in the same condition in which it was taken, and a $5 million reward for the return of the art with evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.