Large, Expensive and Audacious:
By Carol Sims
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. — The owners of Edenhurst Gallery at 8920 Melrose Avenue, Don Merrill, Tom Gianetto and Dan Nicodemo, have stopped answering their phones and closed their doors (for the time being) in the media aftermath of one of the biggest art heists in recent memory – big in dollar value, big in size and big in audacity. On Sunday, July 28, thieves cut a hole in the ceiling of the gallery, disabled the alarm system and ruthlessly sliced two seven- by eight-foot Maxfield Parrish murals from their freestanding, custom-made oak frames.
The thieves, well versed in disabling alarm systems as they also disabled the alarm system of a neighboring gallery, did not do a very good job removing the works from the frames. Don Merrill said that they cut down the sides of the frames but when they got to the corners they got sloppy. “In the corners they left an inch or two where the razor blade didn’t cut.”
The murals, cataloged as number 3A and 3B, are two of six that were consigned to Edenhurst Gallery by a syndicate of three owners, reportedly from Houston. They were valued at $1.7 and $2.5 million each. The other four Parrish murals were left in the gallery and nothing else was taken.
Maxfield Parrish expert and author of several Maxfield Parrish monographs Alma Gilbert, also director of the Cornish Colony Museum Foundation, noted that the murals that were taken were painted in 1914 and showed details from Parrish’s New Hampshire residence, The Oaks. “Both murals showed a wall, urns and the oak tree in 3B is from The Oaks.”
In addition, a jeweled belt featured in one of the stolen murals was actually jeweled; Parrish had imbedded rectangular and triangular lapis stones into the paint pigment. The murals had been displayed side by side at Edenhurst Gallery when they were taken. “There was also a great signature,” added Gilbert, “a great big looping signature.”
According to Gilbert, the sheriff’s office in West Hollywood did not notify the owners of the stolen property until July 31, the day before the story broke in The New York Times, “in an effort to keep the theft quiet and the crime scene intact.” Merrill said he was unable to comment on how notification of the owners was handled but did state, “There are reasons.” The FBI is also investigating the case.
Merrill was the first to discover the theft when he entered the gallery on Monday morning and to his chagrin assumed that his “business partner had somehow turned the Parrish murals around” because all he could see were the stretcher bar supports. When he realized the murals were gone he checked the doors and then saw the hole in the ceiling.
“This was very well planned, very sophisticated,” said Merrill. “We have a state-of-the art security system which will now be upgraded even further to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.” Edenhurst Gallery is known for its top-of-the-market California art, American Impressionism, Modernism, Nineteenth Century American art, and Nineteenth and Twentieth Century European art.
Don Merrill and Tom Gianetto spent Monday and Tuesday night in the gallery as an extra precaution. The hole was still in the ceiling and crime scene investigators needed to keep it that way until all the evidence was collected. Also, investigators thought there was a chance that the thieves might return for the rest of the Parrish murals. The gallery now has a 24-hour guard and the security system has already been reactivated and upgraded. The gallery has filed an insurance claim. “If the painting is still in this country it is most likely not in California anymore,” said Merrill.
Detective Scott Petz is conducting the investigation for the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s West Hollywood station.