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Stolen Art Returned 3+Decades Later


It’s not quite the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, in fact it preceded that caper, but in my eyes it was just as devastating.

When I was in my late teens my mother owned a rental home in Lynnfield MA. The home had a stand-alone, and I believed, off limits garage. For reasons that are no longer remembered, I was advised to store some of my coolest stuff, including a piece of artwork I hoped was a Maxfield Parrish in an ornate and  unusually arched frame in a corner of the garage. I also stored a “Nippon” stamped lustreware tea set and a few other things. One weekend, the tenants had a yard sale and invaded the garage and sold my items without my knowledge and certainly without paying me for them. I was livid but my mother wouldn’t confront the tenants probably because they paid their rent in a timely manner. I asked her to withhold their security deposit and she declined. She might also  have been trying to curtail my natural instinct to collect that I’d inherited from my father.  I think she saw in my collecting (I had over 100 stuffed animals as a child) something that would eventually overtake our home.

Jump ahead several decades and I visit the art studio of an advertising client of mine. And there on the wall was the same print with the same arched frame. I told my sorry tale to the client, making sure I specifically said that in no way did I believe it was mine and that it was undoubtedly mass produced. She told me how she’d picked it up for free at a transfer station in Maine just a few years back. She also became convinced it was my very own specific print.

IMG_2673 Robert Wood DAWN 1920s

My print returned

She dropped by the other day and brought me the print. I looked at it closely for the first time in so long and assumed it had faded to the point where there was no swing visible. I’d always thought there’d been a swing mainly because I knew Maxfield Parrish had painted a piece with a swing and that had been enough to convince me.(Remember this was before the internet was widely available so while I thought it was a Parrish style, I didn’t have any way of researching it at the time. Both she and my husband just thought the woman in the painting had an unusual stance, never suspecting there had been a swing.

Shortly after she left, it dawned on me that we have the internet now – I could research this. I Googled “Maxfield Parrish” and “swing” and found “Dinkey Bird” featuring a naked adolescent in full swing before a castle,  “Reveries” with a Grecian clad pensive woman on a swing among the magnolia branches, and the one image that ‘felt’ most like my own entitled “Daybreak”.

And then there it was…..my print.  exactly my print. Attributed to Robert Wood, it was called “Dawn” or “Fantasy Lady”, or “Fantasy Maiden”. And not only was it not a Maxfield Parrish, it appears to be a less successful rip off of a R. Atkinson Fox “Dawn” print. But there were so many painters doing this fantasy type of painting in the 1920’s it’s hard to say for sure which came first, Dawn or Dawn. And, there never was the swing of my memory, the woman is just standing oddly.

There is however an interesting little story with my “Dawn”.  According to an e-Bay listing:

“Robert Wood – (1889 – 1979) – American  

This print is called “Dawn” or sometimes referred to as “Fantasy Lady”.   The beautiful lady is standing at the lake edge, under an arch of flowers, welcoming the day.

The original painting was done by Robert Wood.   The Prints were originally censored when issued as a nude and later prints like this one had an overlay of a silver to cover nudity.  Hard to get a good picture, but as you turn the print the lady has a silvery sheen — somewhat like a hologram but the image stays the same, just in silver — very different. **  The frame on the e-Bay sale measures about 19-1/2″ by 11-1/2″.  NOTE:  Mine is larger

I invested a mere hour or two researching the print, but never found one framed as mine is. And never found more information on the artist because there is a much better known and respected (it seems) landscape artist of the same name. But since I noted that the e-Bay price dropped from $95 to $76, and another on etsy is listed at $45, it seems the most valuable thing I got out of the experience was a good story and a better friend.

Welcome Home, Dawn.

Update: Found one “Dawn” print listed at $295 on Funk & Junk Collectibles that no one has bought. Still not part of my retirement plans.

Please put a comment in the section below if you have any more information on the artist or other works he’s done.

(c) Alison Colby-Campbell

Resource:  FBI Investigation into Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist

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