Stolen art saved by The Art Fund

  • 11 April 2008

Ten years after an attempt to steal a collection of paintings worth over £500,000 they have finally been returned to their rightful home, the National Galleries of Scotland, thanks to The Art Fund.

The charity became suspicious following the owner Helen Guiterman’s death in 1998. She had decided to leave her collection of six oil paintings and 51 watercolours and drawings by the Scottish Victorian painter David Roberts to The Art Fund in her will, but they never materialised.

The Art Fund began to investigate and discovered that Shaun Gray, the grandson of Helen Guiterman’s cousin, was claiming to be her executor. But he gave varying accounts of what had happened to the collection of paintings, and when he claimed that Ms Guiterman had changed her will and they would no longer be donated to The Art Fund, the charity raised the alarm.

In 2006, following an extensive investigation by the police and HM Revenue and Customs, Shaun Gray was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment having pleaded guilty to charges of false accounting and forgery. He had forged her will making himself entitled to her estate, including the collection by David Roberts.

The Art Fund rescued the paintings after the sentencing and arranged for them to be cared for until they could be legally received by the National Gallery of Scotland. It had been agreed between Helen Guiterman and The Art Fund that the works should go to the gallery to complement their existing collection of Roberts’ work.

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said: “Helen Guiterman was a devoted collector of the work of David Roberts, who, during his lifetime, was one of the best-known and most influential 19th Century British artists. The Art Fund has gone to great lengths to ensure that her generous wishes are fulfilled and I’m delighted that this impressive collection will at last join the National Galleries of Scotland.”

The 19th Century Scottish artist David Roberts, born in 1796, popular and critically acclaimed during his lifetime, had tended to be overlooked until the extensive research of artist and enthusiast Helen Guiterman.

Drawings from the David Roberts collection will be included in the exhibition ‘Imagining Spain: From Goya to Picasso, The British and Spain’ from 18 July to 11 October 2009 at the National Gallery Complex.

The Art Fund provides an important service to collectors who wish to give or bequeath works to public collections. It is uniquely placed to help donors identify the ideal recipient or recipients for a single work of art or collections of works and is committed to ensuring that museums and galleries care for the works and respect donor’s wishes in perpetuity.

Timeline of events:

Shaun Benedict Gray, born 1966, had an enduring power of attorney, signed by Helen Guiterman on 22 July 1997. Following Ms Guiterman’s death in 1998 The Art Fund became suspicious that it had not received the agreed donation of paintings, watercolours and drawings by David Roberts (since valued at £501,350) and raised the alarm. In 2005 the police and HM Revenue and Customs carried out an investigation. Shaun Gray pleaded guilty to charges of false accounting and forgery and was sentenced to three years imprisonment at Bournemouth Crown Court in 2006.

Helen Guiterman (1916-1998)

Helen Guiterman studied at the Slade School of Art, London receiving the Fine Art Diploma in 1936. Specialising in textile design until the outbreak of war, she worked at the Tate Gallery sorting photographic records and then for Middlesex County Council and the London Borough of Haringey, designing colour schemes for schools and council institutions. She became interested in David Roberts after buying two works purporting to be by Roberts in the early 1960s and finding little information she determined to track down more. During 30 years of research she traced the artist’s descendents and through them, surviving journals and letters. She tracked down hundreds of works attributed to Roberts and travelled extensively, visiting many of the places he depicted. She selected and catalogued Roberts’ exhibitions in 1967, 1981 and a full retrospective at the Barbican Gallery in 1986. She died on 8 May 1998.

David Roberts (1796-1864)

Roberts was born in 1796, the son of a shoemaker in Stockbridge near Edinburgh. With an innate talent for drawing, he was apprenticed to a herald painter, then a house painter, before joining a touring theatre company as a scene painter. Following encouragement from a fellow artist, Clarkson Stanfield, Roberts began to submit oil paintings for exhibition. Soon after exhibiting his first paintings in London in 1824 he began to travel extensively. He was the first independent, professional artist to travel so widely in the Near East. Following extended trips to Spain and Egypt he created a large collection of material. The Spanish and Eastern prints brought him widespread fame, popularity and critical acclaim.

Related links:

National Galleries Scotland