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Missing Chuck Close Discovered
May 10, 2001 (AP)
An important early painting by American photorealist painter Chuck Close, stolen from the artist's studio thirty years ago, was recently discovered in a Westchester County basement. "Harry," measuring 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide and painstakingly rendered in acrylic on canvas, is described by Museum of Modern Art curator Robert Storr as "a striking example of Close's early style." Close himself has authenticated the painting, saying, in a phone interview from his Manhattan loft, "It's Harry, all right. I feel as if I've gotten an old friend back."
Painted in 1970, "Harry" was one of the last purely photorealistic images Close produced, and one of a mere handful done in full color. The subject was Harry Ernesto, a musician and part-time model who lived near Close's studio in Soho. Close never exhibited the painting because he didn't believe the subject was "scruffy enough"; most of his paintings of the period, he says self-mockingly, featured the "bad hair and negligible fashion sense" characteristic of three decades ago. Shortly after the work was completed, it was stolen from Close's loft, in an incident described by the police as a "straightforward break-in."
"I was in the press quite a bit at the time," according to Close, who is considered one of America's most important living painters. "I guess somebody thought they might find something valuable in my studio. 'Harry' was off the stretcher and rolled up--whoever did it came in the window and left with the roll." A year after the theft, Ernesto, the model, died in a plane crash, an incident which investigators determined had no connection to the break-in.
The biggest mystery is how the roll ended up in Port Chester, NY. John McCafferty, the realtor who brought the painting to the attention of authorities, discovered it in the basement of a house that had been on the selling block for several years. "I was poking around down there," said the realtor, "and when I found this, I knew it was something major. I hadn't heard of Close, but a friend of mine told me he's a really big deal." The house has been vacant since 1996, and the last owner of record, Edna Lughner, could not be reached for comment.
Now that Close's painting has been recovered, the artist has changed his mind about the aesthetic merit of the piece. "I think it's fabulous," he said, noting that his gallery, PaceWildenstein, already has a huge list of potential buyers. Looking at it now, he says he is amazed how much it resembles images made today with a computer. "What took me weeks of patient labor can now be produced in a day or two," he says, with a trace of wistfulness. "Times have certainly changed."
"Harry," by Chuck Close