Stolen paintings by late Canadian artist recovered after sister spots them on Kijiji
'I really, really couldn't believe it,' says Mary Tatossian
When Mary Tatossian came across a painting online done by her late brother, renowned Canadian artist Armand Tatossian, she was shocked.
That's because the painting had been stolen over a decade ago.
Quebec provincial police, Sûreté du Québec, have recovered more than a dozen paintings by Armand Tatossian that were stolen from a storage locker in Vaudreuil Dorion, a suburb of Montreal.
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Sûreté du Québec spokesperson Audrey-Anne Bilodeau told As It Happens that a 51-year-old man was arrested on Sept. 20. He has since been released, and is expected to be charged with theft and possession of stolen goods.
Armand Tatossian was admitted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, when he was 22. He died in 2012.
Mary Tatossian spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the sentimental value of the paintings.
Here is part of that conversation.
What does it mean for you and your family to have these paintings recovered?
It was such a gift. It came as such a surprise and we're so, so happy and it was just in time for Armand's birthday. If he was with us, he would have been 57.
But you don't actually have the paintings back in hand, is that right?
No, not yet.
They're currently with the police but I feel a lot better knowing that they're with the police than, you know, when they're just out there.
How many paintings are we talking about?
I thought that it was only 12 at the time, but they found 19 of them. In total though, there was over 60 that were missing
And so, are other paintings still missing?
Yes, and we're truly praying that with all the exposure someone might have some clues as to where the others might be.
How did the paintings go missing in the first place?
Well back in 2005, we were placing our condo for sale.
Coming from an artist's family, we've got a lot of paintings and...they kind of pile up everywhere.
So when we were selling the place, you have to declutter and make it presentable so we had no choice but to take a lot of our stuff...there was like 60 plus paintings that we temporarily put in storage.
In storage, they were basically stolen.
The art of Armand Tatossian is very, very popular. It sells very well, so were these paintings part of the collection that was for sale... or were these your own personal paintings?
They were the family's collection.
And so these paintings meant more to you than just the art. These were connections to your brother who's now deceased.
But not only my brother. There were paintings by my grandfather, my great-grandfather, my father as well.
So, you know, there are some paintings that were made before the genocide, 1915, that my grandparents and great-grandparents had brought with them.
And when you mentioned the genocide, your family is Armenian?
And were the police looking for them? Do you know if this was an active investigation?
That, I don't know.
It was really a fluke.
I was just surfing the net and I stumbled upon it on Kijiji and I really, really couldn't believe it. My stomach sank and I checked and rechecked and then I called the [Sûreté du Québec] up and told them, I said, "Listen, you know these are from a theft from 12 years ago."
I had no idea what the law is, whether they can go and get it. But luckily with anything criminal there's no statute of limitations.
So the police were actually able to recover these paintings and apprehend someone because of a sting. Do you know anything about that?
All that I know is that I saw the painting on Kijiji so I can only assume they posed as a buyer. That's... the only logical assumption that I could come up with but they didn't share details of their operation with me.
What is the retail value of a painting by your brother?
I'm not involved in the retail market. But I mean, the prices that I found out … the retail value for 24x30 is something around like $12,000.
And when you said when you saw the paintings on Kijiji, what were they being sold for?
I think it was a 12x16. And I think the price was below $2,000.
Wow. So people who were buying this, you think 40 paintings may have been sold, because they're not part of what was recovered. So there are a lot of paintings that people got at very much reduced prices of your family's art.
Yes. And I really don't know what happens with that. I don't know if they're even able to get back anything that was sold
I hope they do, you know, because these paintings have been around since I was little.
So it's not just a painting for us.
Just like when you hear a song and, you know, the song kind of brings you back to a time. Or, you know, you're passing someone, you smell perfume and all these memories come rushing back. Well that's what those paintings are to us.
Written and produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.