Art Recovery International is pleased to announce the successful recovery of an important Irish painting, stolen under mysterious circumstances from a private residence in Belfast in 2008.
Bringing in the Turf by William Conor is considered among the leading works in the Irish folk art movement, popularised by portrayals of working-class life in Ulster. It was purchased in 1948 by Frank and Turid Malpress and was displayed in their family home for 50 years.In 2003, the Malpress family received warning from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that thieves were known to be operating in their area and that the Malpress collection may be at risk. In an innovative plan, the PSNI arranged for copies of two paintings to be created and installed in place of the originals, acting as bait for potential thieves while the family were away. When no theft was attempted, the originals were replaced and the fakes destroyed.

In 2008, Turid Malpress, now 95 years old, fell victim to a home-invasion and two artworks were stolen. The thieves left a token sum of money in the family home: a method common to thieves known as ‘knockers’. Mrs Malpress immediately called her grandson and the PSNI to report the crime and complete an incident report. The location of the paintings remained a mystery for 5 years.

In May 2013, Bringing in the Turf was offered for sale at Whyte’s auction house in Dublin and, with no claim to the painting revealed by the saleroom’s due diligence processes, it was sold to a collector based in Chicago, USA.  In August 2013, Robin Thompson, the victim’s son-in-law, noticed the sale record for Bringing in the Turf listed on Whyte’s website and contacted his insurance company who turned to Art Recovery International to recover the painting.

Christopher A. Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery International, led recovery efforts by bringing together the saleroom’s owner, Ian Whyte, along with representatives from the PSNI, An Guarda Sionchana and the FBI. Following almost four years of negotiations, Ian Whyte agreed to return the stolen Conor to the Malpress family, over nine years after the theft.

Christopher A. Marinello said: “The recovery of this painting could not have happened without the extraordinary efforts of FBI Special Agent Luigi Mondini. A member of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, Agent Mondini went above and beyond the call of duty to aid two foreign police forces and the Belfast based victims in this extremely complex matter.  This case shows that auction houses need to perform due diligence, not only on the artwork consigned for sale, but on the consignors themselves.  Ian Whyte’s eventual cooperation was a welcome turn of events.”

Robin Thompson added, ‘We are absolutely delighted to have ‘Bringing in the Turf’ back in our family over 9 years after the original theft.  This would not have been possible without the professional expertise of Chris Marinello, and his team at Art Recovery International, and their persistence in the matter when all seemed to be lost. We are eternally grateful to them for their supreme efforts.”

The Malpress family are still seeking the other stolen painting by Daniel O’Neil, entitled The Prodigal Son. (Below)


For further information or comment, please contact:

Jerome Hasler
Media Liaison, Art Recovery International
0044 (0) 7824 553 795

Notes to editors:

About Art Recovery International

Art Recovery International provides research, dispute resolution and art recovery services, offering clients expert and ethical advice on the management, acquisition and return of cultural property. More information regarding art recovery services can be found at or follow our Twitter account @artrecovery for regular art crime and cultural heritage news and updates.

About William Conor

William Conor (1881-1968) was a Belfast born artist, celebrated for his warm and sympathetic portrayals of working-class life in Ulster. Conor studied at the Government School of Design in Belfast in the 1890s. He then worked as an apprentice poster designer. By 1912 William was in Paris and later exhibited in the Paris Salon.

In 1920 he moved to London and there met and socialised with such artists as Sir John Lavery and Augustus John. He was a member of the Chelsea Arts Club and exhibited at the Royal Academy, it was at this time that he painted the official opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament by the King and Queen. William Conor became the first member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and in 1952 he was awarded an OBE.

His work principally in watercolour and crayon is in practically all the Irish collections of note. More than 50 works of his are now in the permanent collections of the Ulster Museum.