A three-member team, led by a senior IAS officer of the agriculture ministry, is all set to fly to London early next week in a bid to recover paintings of legendary Russian artist Nicholas Roerich that were stolen from a Delhi institute.
The ministry of agriculture issued an office order on November 30, 2011, saying the touring officials would be briefing lawyers in London on the legal aspects of Roerich's paintings that went missing some time back from the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, and is suspected to have been "given to M/s Sotheby" for "auction".
Interestingly, Sotheby's have denied selling the rare paintings, adding mystery to the foreign trip to track the missing artwork. In a written reply, Sotheby's communication representative Jamie Penaloza said: "I have searched online for news on this claim (Roerich paintings), but was unable to find more detailed information or any mention of Sothbey's. I'm afraid that unless you are able to provide me with specific details of the date of the sale, the lot numbers of the paintings, the name of the auction house implicated and the name of the paintings, I am not able to proceed further with your enquiry".
The team led by the secretary of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Rajiv Mehrishi, will be in London between Monday and Wednesday to meet lawyers and to work out modalities to bring the national heritage back home. Director IARI Dr H.S. Gupta and CBI SP Asif Jalal are also part of the delegation.
Two rare paintings of Roerich, depicting the Himalayas, were stolen from the IARI at Pusa and smuggled out of the country. The institute officials came to know about the theft only after it was auctioned in London two months back.
The stolen art work was painted by Roerich during his stay in India between 1923 and 1947 but the exact year and title of the paintings are not known. Media reports claimed the auction of the paintings reportedly fetched Rs.10.24 crore.
After the auction, the institute authorities lodged a complaint with the CBI in October, 2011, which in turn alerted Interpol. During the course of the investigation the institute could not give the exact details of the missing works prompting the CBI to interrogate both current and retired employees of the institute.
Yatish Yadav New Delhi, December 4, 2011