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News 8 Archives: Thieves steal Rembrandt painting from George Eastman Museum

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It was one of the biggest art heists in Rochester history. 50 years ago, an original Rembrandt painting was stolen from the George Eastman Museum.

The 350-year-old masterpiece by Rembrandt was one of George Eastman’s prized possessions, but there was a time when its stewards in Rochester feared they’d lost it for good.

On January 31, 1968, two thieves removed it from the living room wall at the George Eastman Museum and made off into the night.  News 8 was there while investigators brushed the wall for fingerprints and Museum Director Beaumont Newhall talked about the heist. “This painting is so well known that anyone who tries to sell it will have a very hard time,” he said.

Police believe the thieves hid in the Dryden Theater and when the museum closed for the night, snuck down the hall and made their move. A guard discovered the theft the next morning.

“I believe they walked right out the front door once they were inside,” says Kathleen Connor, George Eastman Legacy Curator.  “It was cut out of the frame. The frame was actually found right by our fence in the back parking lot!”

The painting was recovered 9 months later in Plattsburgh when three men tried to book a private flight into Canada. They were arrested and the painting was eventually returned to Rochester. Today it’s on display at the Memorial Art Gallery, an authentic Rembrandt back in its rightful place.

A replica hangs at the George Eastman Museum in the same room where the original was stolen 50 years ago.

The painting, called “Portrait of a Young Man in Arm Chair”, was thought to be worth $500,000 at the time of the theft. It’s one of about 200 works by master artists that belonged to George Eastman and were given to the University of Rochester after his death.

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