Twelve Paintings

Twelve paintings including works by Soutine, Chagall and Diego Rivera.

Stolen from a private residence

Encino, CA, USA, 23 August 2008


Hans Hofmann was one of the most highly regarded and sought after teachers of the Abstract Expressionist movement.  Hofmann was born in Bavaria and grew up in Munich. At a very young age, he showed a highly developed skill for science and mathematics, yet he decided to move towards the arts. He studied in Munich and Paris during the most volatile and revolutionary periods in Western Art. Soon after, having established a stellar reputation, he opened the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts (1915) and taught artists like Glenn Wessels and Louise Nevelson.  Hofmann then began teaching in the U.S. at U.C. Berkeley and then at the Art Students League in New York. He never returned back to Germany. It wasn’t until later in his career that Hofmann got a reputation as a great artist, and not just a great teacher.

Lyonel Feininger was born and raised in New York. At the age of sixteen, he went to Germany to study, and eventually settled there permanently. He studied at the Königliche Akademie Berlin and under Ernst Hancke.  After fifty years of living and working in Germany, the Nazi campaign against modern art forced him back to New York, where he was honored and beloved.  He was a major figure of the Bauhaus movement, and his works typically included romantic abstraction and recognizable imagery of mostly architecture and seascapes.  His artistic career spanned many movements including modern art, cubism, Bauhaus & Black Mountain College. At the age of 58, he took up photography producing major works of avant-garde photographs.

Chaim Soutine was an important Abstract Expressionist painter from Belarus.  Although his work was inspired by classic European painters like Rembrandt and Courbet, Soutine’s individual style ended up being more about shape, color, and texture.  It is because of these two things that his work is acknowledged to have formed the bridge between classical art and the modern Abstract Expressionist art.

Emil Nolde is considered to be the finest intaglio print maker of the German Expressionist group Die Bruke.  His prints featured a unique brush technique where he was able to treat the copper plate and produce rich tonal effects with textural results. Nolde is also known for his preoccupation with the subject of flowers, partly due to his obsession with the artist Vincent van Gogh. Similar to van Gogh, Nolde’s works feature expressive colors and pronounced brush strokes.

Marc Chagall was a very prominent Russian-French artist. Chagall was considered a modernist, and is mostly known for his paintings. But during his lifetime he also worked with many different mediums including book illustration, stained glass, set design, ceramics, tapestries, and prints. Chagall was extremely inspired by color.  Cognat, the French art critic once said of Chagall’s work: “His colors do not even attempt to imitate nature but rather to suggest movements, planes and rhythms.”

Kees van Dongen, born Cornelis Theodorus Maria van Dongen, was a Dutch painter who gained a reputation for his scandalous portraits of sailors and prostitutes.  He painted these portraits while living in Rotterdam and attending the Royal Academy of Fine arts.  After dropping out of the Academy, he moved to Paris and started exhibiting with Henri Matisse and the Fauves.  The Fauves were a group of artists spearheaded by Matisse who implemented the use of bright colors directly from the tube and the use of bold, undisguised brush strokes.

Diego Rivera, sometimes also referred to as the husband of Frida Kahlo, was a prominent Mexican painter who allied himself with the communist party.  Rivera was one of the most important figures in the Mexican mural movement and won acclaim and infamy for his public wall frescos, which featured socialist ideas and promoted the indigenous Mexican heritage.  His style as a painter was to use large simplified figures and bold colors in order to highlight the important subject matter. His work was considered controversial, and at one point, the mural he was commissioned to do at Rockefeller Center in New York City was torn down due to a depiction of Lenin.

Arshile Gorky, born Vostanik Manuk Adoyan, was an Armenian born artist, who early on in his life fled his native Armenia to come to the United States.  He attended the New School of Design in Boston, where he changed his name to Arshile Gorky after the Russian writer Maxim Gorky.  In 1924 he settled in New York and went to the National Academy of Design and the Grand Central School of Art.  Gorky, being mostly self-taught, was greatly influenced by the European avant-garde artists, specifically Cezanne, Picasso and Miro. These influences led to significant changes in style throughout his career, which he was greatly criticized for. He finally settled on a style in between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism with watery, biomorphic abstractions.  These abstractions were original and combined memories of his tragic childhood with observations from nature.


Early Saturday morning on 23 August 2008, the thieves, who were either very smart or very lucky or both, noticed an unlocked side door of a home in the hills of Encino, California. The elderly owners were in a different part of the house. The maid was out for the moment.

The thieves entered the building, and within an hour removed 12 masterpieces. Works were by Hans Hofman (Blue Bottle), Lyonel Feininger (Fin de Séance), Chaim Soutine (Old Woman with Dog), Emil Nolde (Figur mit Hund), Marc Chagall (Les Paysans), Kees van Dongen (Alicia Alanova), Diego Rivera (Mexican Peasant) and Arshile Gorkey (Cubisst Still Life).

The maid returned about an hour later. The works were taken with their frames. For some reason, the anti-theft system did not prevent the theft.

Detective Donald Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail announced that a $200,000 reward had been offered.