Portrait Stolen in 2014 Napoleon Heist Winds Up on eBay

The painting is now back where it belongs

Napoleon Bonaparte
Long after his death, Napoleon can still command an audience.
Roger Veringmeier, CC BY 3.0

A 2014 heist at the Briars Homestead in Australia had a very particular target — a host of items related to the life and times of one Napoleon Bonaparte. The history of the Briars is entangled with that of the late French leader; it was the home of one Alexander Balcombe, who met Napoleon when he was a child growing up on St Helena. Dame Mabel Brookes, Balcombe’s granddaughter, went on to establish a collection of items from Napoleon’s life, including a lock of his hair. Then, eight years ago, thieves stole some of it.

And then someone sold a painting from the heist on eBay. We’re a long way from Ocean’s Eleven here, aren’t we?

Hyperallergic has more details on the unlikely heist-to-online-marketplace pipeline. Turns out a gallery owner named Leigh Capel was browsing through eBay looking for interesting objects and works of art. Capel noted a portrait of Josephine Bonaparte on sale for $250.

As it turns out, that was one of the objects stolen in 2014, along with a matching portrait of Napoleon himself by the same artist.

Capel subsequently returned the painting, believed to be the work of René Théodore Berthon, to the Briars. He told ABC Radio that “I feel a little bit like Indiana Jones” as result of recovering the portrait. Which seems entirely accurate — Capel found something that literally belongs in a museum and then made sure it got there.

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