Friday, 20 December 2013

The Art Heist...and how I became Mark Rothko

It's a midwinter day, the longest night of the year is tomorrow, a good time for firelight, getting cosy warm and sharing stories and wonder tales. 

My word for 2013 has been 'Expressive', and this Ghost story (a ghost of a pastel painting past) and the telling of it, feels like a fitting way to lay an old ghost to rest before a New Year begins and a new word unfolds.  So come in close... I have a tale to tell......

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood but of respect and joy in each other's lives. Rarely do members of the same family grow up under the same roof." ~ Richard Bach.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land called New Zealand, a twenty-something artist called Cat was busily working on a magical piece of art. It was a large oil pastel painting of a Crimson Phoenix, raising up from ashes and flames, set against a graduated dark royal purple and bright aqua-turquoise background. 

After days of intense focus, this vast work was finally completed and she set about placing it under glass, inside a very clean-looking white wooden frame. This frame was a recycled one. It once contained an art print, quite a famous one actually, by an American artist called Mark Rothko entitled "Purple, White and Red".  [A rather lovely photo of it can be seen on The Art Institute of Chicago's site]

That framed print had been given as a gift to someone else upon leaving their accounting job in the City. They didn't really care for the Mark Rothko print, so that print was taken out and the frame left empty to be re-used. And so our Crimson Phoenix found it's way into that white frame, to be hung on the wall of Cat the artist's home for several happy years.

Some time later, Cat was leaving New Zealand to head out into the world to seek her fortune. She left the Crimson Phoenix in safe keeping at her Mother's house to be collected later. Her mother and sister didn't believe she would be gone for long, six months or so maybe at most, and then she'd come back home again after a "long holiday", so they didn't worry about going out to the airport to see her off and say goodbye. 

The artist travelled through Buenos Aires, and on again up to Rio de Janeiro, finally arriving in England where she settled in a tiny town in Somerset. Two years passed, and she decided it was time to pay a visit to her old homeland once more... So back to New Zealand she went one Christmas Eve. 

It felt like a good time on this visit, to collect the Crimson Phoenix and take it back with her to England. 

Only the oil pastel painting had gone! 

When she asked her Mother, it was finally revealed that the Crimson Phoenix had been sold! Oh dear. 
Never once had the Mother thought to check in and ask if this painting was still wanted, instead she had seen the sticker on the back-board of the painting saying 'Mark Rothko - Purple, White and Red' and proceeded to telephone around various Art Galleries in the City to enquire as to the value of this original Mark Rothko work of art. 

The Galleries were surprised indeed, that an original Mark Rothko painting, of a bird had been found in a sleepy (near to) seaside town in Auckland, New Zealand! They tried to explain to the Mother, to help her understand that this artist Mark Rothko didn't paint Phoenixes rising from the flames, and so it was rather unlikely that it could be a Rothko painting. But the Mother was adamant. After all there it was...right in front of her. She could see the artists strokes and marks of the pastels through the glass. It was definitely an original Mark Rothko!  

The Mother listed it for sale - a Mark Rothko original - in a City-wide newspaper... and a flamboyant gentleman who owned a hairdressing salon on Parnell Road (or perhaps Ponsonby Road) purchased the Crimson Phoenix to hang in his upmarket salon...

A case of mistaken identity!   

Unfortunately all questions as to the purchase price paid and presumed value of this Crimson Phoenix were brushed under a rather large magic carpet and it was never going to be openly discussed again. And so the artist Cat is still waiting to this day for any word of apology or financial recompense.  
And so it was it a faraway place called New Zealand... once upon a long time ago. 

The End. 

The moral of the story.... 
Well maybe it could be.... Things aren't always as they appear, even if there is a perfectly legit sticker attached.... or.... if you think you might know who the real artist is more likely to be, you can always flick them an email, or give them a quick call to ask them yourself, whether or not the name in their passport really is Mark Rothko! 

Have a beautiful Mid-Winter Solstice! 
Cat (the artist)  xo


  1. What a cool tale!! Thanks for telling it Cat! It would be so interesting to see if you ever hear from that buyer!!!

  2. What a beautifully sad tale. You did a wonderful job with your word expressive. I look forward to what 2014 will bring. Perhaps a lost painting? Perhaps words of regret from the seller. I hope that by now, the mother recognizes the beautiful work of her daughter when she sees it. The phoenix always rises. xo Kim


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