‘We go after them like pitbulls’ – the art detective who hunts stolen Picassos and lost Matisses

‘We go after them like pitbulls’ – the art detective who hunts stolen Picassos and lost MatissesMay 5, 2021

Christopher Marinello has spent three decades finding missing masterpieces, recovering half a billion dollars’ worth of art. He talks about threats from mobsters, tricky negotiations – and bungling thieves

One summer morning in 2008, Christopher Marinello was waiting on 72nd Street in Manhattan, New York. The traffic was busy, but after a few minutes he saw what he was waiting for: a gold Mercedes with blacked-out windows drew near. As it pulled up to the kerb, a man in the passenger seat held a large bin-liner out of the window. “Here you go,” he said. Marinello took the bag and the car sped off. Inside was a rolled-up painting by the Belgian artist Paul Delvaux, Le Rendez-vous d’Ephèse. Its estimated worth was $6m, and at that point it had been missing for 40 years.

Marinello is one of a handful of people who track down stolen masterpieces for a living. Operating in the grey area between wealthy collectors, private investigators, and high-value thieves, he has spent three decades going after lost works by the likes of Warhol, Picasso and Van Gogh. In that time, he says he has recovered art worth more than half a billion dollars. When I call him, he answers, then abruptly hangs up. “I was just on my way to a police station to recover a stolen sculpture,” he explains later, apologising.

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