THE owners of rare paintings may have been looking at replicas for years – and not even realised it.
Gardai are looking to reunite owners with a series of stolen artworks that were replaced by replicas so that the thefts would not be discovered.
The thefts could have happened years – or even decades – ago but the owners may have remained oblivious.
It is believed that many of the paintings, worth over €100,000, were stolen from private collectors, stately homes and hotels.
Some of the pieces are over 200 years old and gardai are appealing to art owners to check if any of their paintings are among the haul recovered.
The paintings, books and antiques are believed to have been stolen in the 1980s and 1990s and were discovered in April, at the Dublin home of an art thief who was known to the gardai. They were put on display yesterday afternoon at Pearse Street garda station as part of an attempt by gardai to track down their true owners.
Among the stolen artwork was a painting by former RTE presenter Thelma Mansfield.
Last night she said that she was unaware of the alleged theft. Garda Superintendent Paul Moran said yesterday their objective in showing the paintings to the public is to return the pieces of art to their owners.
"We have confirmed that six of these recovered items have been stolen and we suspect that the remaining items were also stolen," he said.
These six pieces have been reunited with owners in Dublin, Carlow, Belfast and the UK – but 42 paintings and other artworks are still to be re-homed.
The total haul, before these six paintings were returned, had an estimated value of €135,000. No charges have been made in relation to the discovery of the art, but the investigation is said to be at a very early stage. The collection includes an oil painting of a ruined castle landscape by William Ashford, which dates back to the 1800s and is worth in excess of €10,000.
Pieces by Irish artists Brian Ballard, Graham Knuttel and Mark O'Neill have also been recovered and are valued at €10,000 each. Gardai from Pearse Street also liaised with the Arts and Antiques Unit in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation as well as Interpol and they are appealing to anyone with further information to come forward.
All of the artwork is on display on the garda website www.garda.ie and anyone who has information in relation to the investigation is being urged to contact Pearse Street garda station at (01) 666 9000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.