Painting stolen in 1971 returns to Dagenham

PUBLISHED: 17:00 25 July 2019

Council leader Cllr Darren Rodwell and deputy leader Cllr Saima Ashraf with the painting of Rear Admiral Charles Fanshawe. Picture: Sophie Morton

Council leader Cllr Darren Rodwell and deputy leader Cllr Saima Ashraf with the painting of Rear Admiral Charles Fanshawe. Picture: Sophie Morton


Almost half a century after it was stolen, an 18th century painting has been returned to Dagenham.

The oil painting of Rear-Admiral Charles Fanshawe was one of six taken from Valence House during a burglary in 1971.

The thieves made off with the pictures, which were worth more than £1,500 at the time - £21,000 in today's money - in a stolen library van.

Despite having little evidence to go on, police officers quickly recovered two of the missing pieces along with all six frames.

Over the next four decades, the museum tried unsuccessfully to locate the remaining canvases until they were informed in January about a painting of Rear-Adml Fanshawe being put up for auction in Philadelphia.

They informed the Met Police's art and antiques unit, who in turn contacted the FBI's art crime team and were able to secure the return of the portrait.

Leeanne Westwood, museum curator at Valence House, said that she believed the painting had belonged to the same person who initially purchased it in an auction in 1973. The museum were't made aware until after it had been sold and had been unable to retrieve it.

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"We didn't think we'd get this one back," she said. "We don't know why it went to America, it's by an unknown artist so it wasn't because of who painted it.

She added that the painting of Rear-Adml Fanshawe was one of 72 pictures of the family to be held at the museum.

"This collection is one of the largest collections of gentry portraits in the world," Leeanne said.

"They're a significant family, not just locally but nationally and internationally.

The stolen painting is thought to date to around 1750, and was donated to Valence House by Rear-Adml Fanshawe's descendant, Captain Aubrey Fanshawe.

The family were lords of the manor of Barking between 1628 and 1857 and lived in homes across the borough.

Councillor Saima Ashraf, deputy leader and cabinet member for community leadership and engagement, said: "We are absolutely delighted to welcome home this portrait of one of our borough's important figures almost 50 years after it was stolen.

"They say a picture tells a thousand words and in the case of this painting, this is another long and dramatic tale added to its rich tapestry."

The painting is set to go on display at Valence House in the next few weeks.

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