Authorities in New Zealand have now officially confirmed the inauthenticity of a stolen Gottfried Lindauer painting which was listed on the dark web in 2017 with a $500,000 price tag.
Though the listing turned out to be a scam, the whereabouts of the painting, Chief Ngatai-Raure, have yet to be identified.
The investigation is still underway, according to law enforcement officials.
Background: Two Paintings Stolen from the International Art Center in 2017
In April of last year, two 134-year-old paintings by Gottfried Lindauer—Chief Ngatai-Raure and Chieftainess Ngatai-Raure—were stolen when a van smashed into the window of the International Art Center in Auckland, New Zealand.
The paintings, worth between 350,000-450,000 New Zealand dollars ($250,000-$300,000), were due to be auctioned prior to the theft.
Months after the incident, one of the stolen pieces surfaced on a popular darknet market. Completed in 1884, the Chief Ngatai-Raurepainting was listed on the darknet marketplace White Shadow with a $500,000 price tag.
The seller of the painting, “Diabolo,” claimed in the listing that the painting was created by Bohemian painter Gottfried Lindauer and it would be shipped anywhere in the world to the highest bidder.
He further stated that the artwork is 100% genuine, and later launched a Bitcoin auction with an addition featuring a “buy now” price.
At the time of its headline attention after the theft, some experts were skeptic about the authenticity of the painting.
For instance, International Art Center Director Richard Thomson, alleged that the incident was an obvious hoax and that no art collector would be seriously willing to buy art on the dark web.
Thomson further reiterated that the painting was a fake, stating that the piece was incorrectly proportioned because it had been photoshopped into the antique frame.
Police Claim the Listing Is a Scam
Police in New Zealand released news supporting claims that the painting in the listing was indeed a scam.
The detective in charge of the investigation, Inspector Scott Beard, said their conclusion was a result of the use of new image-matching toolsdeveloped to spot counterfeit or stolen artworks in the dark web.
Beard further stated that their findings were supported by an analysis from Artnome, which claimed to have used reverse image search technology to locate the source image of the painting.
They then analyzed pictures using image-matching tools, allowing them to discover that the images came from photos circulating within the media while the frame and the wall in the background were from an image of another Lindauer painting.
The art world continues to hope that the stolen Lindauer paintings will turn up, but some critics are wondering whether if the dark web is a new threat to the fine-art market.
Art historian Dr. Ngarino Ellis, who is also the founder of the New Zealand Art Crime Trust, suggested that artwork thieves are usually motivated by a number of factors, with financial gain being the most common.
But there have been instances where drugs, arms deals, and even personal vendetta or political motives have been the drive behind these crimes.
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