There's a 1939 record of a small figurine being part of Colombia's National Museum's catalogue. From there, nothing: The sculpture vanished from the Cartagena museum, but there is no documentation regarding how or when. It's now been recovered, thanks to a conscientious art historian and the Art Recovery Group, which has unpacked how the sculpture made it out of Colombia. The man who most recently possessed it was reportedly rejected by Sotheby's and turned to Hampstead, a small London auction house, to sell the figurine. After Hampstead art historian Beth West spotted a registration number on the chunky ceramic piece, she decided to contact the Art Recovery Group. Sure enough, additional research led to the confirmation that the centuries-old sculpture has been missing for decades, per a press release.
The piece's checkered history has been only partly dissected, but Art Recovery Group CEO Christopher Marinello tells CNN that the unnamed owner received it as a parting gift from his girlfriend's father, a "very important government official," on his way out of Colombia in 1999. With an estimate of less than $13,000, the piece isn't particularly valuable, says Marinello, but he calls it "quite symbolic of the material that has been stolen from Latin America." He gives a nod to the auction house, a "relatively small operation [that] could teach the bigger players in the art market a thing or two about thorough due diligence." The sculpture was returned to Colombia earlier this month. (The biggest case of stolen art in SC history was recently solved, kind of.)