Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Arrest warrant issued for suspected art thief

By Stefanos Evripidou

POLICE ISSUED an arrest warrant yesterday for 55-year-old Sergei Tyulenev from Russia in connection with the reported theft of a 19th century Edgar Degas painting believed to be worth around €6 million.

Two Cypriot men, 44 and 53, have already been remanded in custody for eight days in connection with the case after a 70-year-old man reported the precious painting- along with other valuables worth €157,000- stolen from his home in Apaisia village in Limassol on Monday.

The painting is believed to be Degas’ pastel on paper, titled Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe, approximately 47cm by 61cm in size and dated late 19th century.

According to police sources, the two Cypriots previously lived in England and South Africa before relocating to Cyprus. They are believed to have put Tyulenev, a Cypriot citizen and resident of Limassol, in touch with the 70-year-old, after the latter expressed interest in selling his estate and part of his vast art collection.

The source described the pensioner’s home as one massive art gallery, filled wall to wall with over 250 paintings from famous European painters, as well as sculptures, crystal and Victorian furniture.

The known art collector used to have an insurance policy on his valuable art collection. He did not have an alarm system installed.

However, following the Eurogroup’s decision in 2013 to nab deposits in Cyprus’ two biggest banks, the 70-year-old fell on hard times and cancelled his insurance policy, said the source.

He decided to sell his home and part of his collection, but specifically not the famous painting from the great French impressionist, one of the founders of Impressionism.

The Degas came to his possession after his great grandmother who lived in Paris acquired it, added the source.

The last person to show interest in the house and paintings was reportedly Tyulenev. The two Cypriot men arranged a meeting between the Russian and the 70-year-old at his home and then again last Monday at a lawyer’s office.

At the time of the burglary in Apaisia, the 70-year-old was with the Russian discussing the sale deal. Tyulenev reportedly told the seller that he wanted time for his lawyers to go over the contract. During this time, burglars gained entrance to the house by breaking through the front door, using a crowbar.

They went straight for the Degas and a safe containing seven gold watches, three pairs of gold opera glasses and other items worth €157,000. The case marks the biggest art theft ever recorded in Cyprus.

The 55-year-old Russian has since gone missing.

Police are investigating the possible involvement of the two remanded men, and are examining information connecting others to the burglary.

An arrest warrant was issued yesterday for Tyulenev, who is described as being around 1.85m tall, well built, with blue eyes and very short blonde hair.

Anyone with information as to his whereabouts is asked to call Limassol CID, or their nearest police station or the Citizens’ Hotline on 1460.

European and international arrest warrants are expected to be issued within days, said the source.

Police have also requested information from the authorities in Russia, South Africa and England regarding the three suspects.

One local art collector and expert told the Cyprus Mail that they had seen the Degas painting hanging on the wall of the 70-year-old’s home at a party he had thrown.

The art expert described the pensioner as a “serious collector” who was known for spending all his money on his collection. “It was his life,” said the expert.

The artwork in question is part of Degas’ body of work studying ballet dancers, which includes the dreamy Blue Dancers.

According to HistoryofDrawing.com, by the end of his career, Degas produced over 700 pastels.

In Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe, he coloured the girl’s tights and bodice pink and her ribbon blue and added yellow ochre hatching “that radiates from her like a sunburst”.

The Art History News blog described the painting as “a prime example of Degas’ breathtakingly fluid draftsmanship and near-photographic instinct for capturing a fleeting moment”.
Following an online search, the Cyprus Mail discovered a near identical version of Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe, belonging to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, dated 1885.

The Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina also included a Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe at an Impressionism exhibition in early 2013.

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail last night, Mark Winter, art expert and authenticator working from Florida-based Degas Experts, said it was not uncommon for Degas to do many variations of the same composition and for these to have the same title.

Regarding dancers and their shoes, Winter said Degas “worked extensively on the theme”, producing many that ended up with the same or subtly different titles.

“Very often it is auctioneers or art critics who put titles on paintings… and once they get translated from French to English, they read exactly the same in English, even though the French version may have had a slight change.”

Having seen a picture of the stolen painting, Winter said: “It looks very strongly like an authentic work. I have a very favourable first impression of the painting.”

However, the expert said the €6m price tag was probably an optimistic view of its value.

“That’s definitely on the high side, but not extremely so. It may actually sell for €3m, or on a lucky day, if you have two Russian billionaires competing over it, you may get €4m,” he said.

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