A 17th Century drawing by Rembrandt was snatched from a private art display at a Marina del Rey luxury hotel while a curator was momentarily distracted, officials said Monday.
The theft of the $250,000 sketch from the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey happened around 10:30 p.m. Saturday night while someone who seemed interested in buying another piece held the curator's attention for a few minutes.
"When the curator turned back to the Rembrandt, it was gone," Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said. It was not clear whether the person talking to the curator was connected to the theft, though Whitman said a team of at least two people was involved.
The sketch, called "The Judgment," was completed around 1655 and is signed on the back by the Dutch master. Rembrandt von Rijn is widely regarded as one of the finest painters in European art history and his worldwide name recognition has made his work a common target for thieves.
Speaking on Monday's Patt Morrison show, Tom Mashberg, co-author of Stealing Rembrandts, said the theft isn't likely be as romantic as most hollywood heists. There will be no Dr. No, and no Thomas Crown Affair. The crooks are, instead, most likely small-time criminals. "These are your basic low rent scoundrels, they are not art connoisseurs," he said.
Mashberg said there's a clear reason for the 81 documented Rembrandt thefts over the past 100 years.
"It boils down to name recognition," he said. "Every common criminal has heard of Rembrandt, and they can see, for example in the case of Marina Del Rey, they might see an item in the newspaper 'Valuable Rembrandt on Display', and really in their heads they'll go 'cha-ching', that's a quick score!"
"The truth of the matter is, of course, there's no one reputable person who's going to step up and buy that."
Anthony M. Amore, co-author of Stealing Rembrandts and head of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, agreed, and said museums and public displays are "an attractive thing for a thief to know that he could perhaps get get very close to something of high value, and to put his hands on it and make a run for it."
The sketch was being displayed on an easel or wooden stand and was apparently not fastened down in any way, Whitmore said.
Witmore described the theft as well-executed, "but not executed well enough to get away with," adding that investigators had several strong leads and that detectives were looking at video surveillance from the hotel.
Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Vivian Deuschl said she could not comment because the theft was a police matter.
A sketch artist was putting together a suspect composite drawing based on witness accounts. It will be released at the end of the week.
The drawing was part of an exhibit at the hotel sponsored by the Linearis Institute based in the San Francisco Bay area community of Hercules. Messages left Monday weren't returned.
The stolen sketch was drawn with a quill pen and depicts what appears to be a court scene with a man prostrating himself before a judge.