Thursday, March 8, 2007 | 7:17 a.m.
As Jack Solomon walked around downtown Philadelphia during a business trip over the weekend, he spotted an electronic sign reporting that a Norman Rockwell painting that had been stolen in 1973 had finally been recovered. The painting, titled "Russian Schoolroom," had found its way into the hands of Oscar-winning film director Steven Spielberg.
Solomon read the crawl in disbelief. "Russian Schoolroom" belonged to him when it was stolen.
Solomon is the owner of S2 Art Group, which is headquartered in Las Vegas. For years he was the exclusive lithographer for Rockwell, and for decades has collected original Rockwell paintings. One of those was "Russian Schoolroom," a 1967 oil-on-canvas that depicts schoolkids seated at desks in a classroom staring at a bust of Vladimir Lenin. Solomon lent the painting to a gallery he owned, Circle Art Galleries in Clayton, Mo., for an exhibition of Rockwell lithographs and original paintings. The piece was stolen by "two guys," as Solomon remembers, during the night of June 25, 1973. "Russian Schoolroom" was the only piece taken during the heist.
"I owned several Rockwell paintings at the time, and I was trying to give a boost to the show at that gallery," Solomon said Wednesday morning. "This was 34 years ago. Talk about a cold case."
The painting's history is somewhat foggy. According to published reports, it went underground for about 15 years after the night it was stolen. Spielberg, who the FBI said is an innocent buyer, purchased the piece from New York art dealer Judy Goffman Cutler in 1989. He did not realize it had been pilfered until a member of his staff spotted the image last week on an FBI Web site displaying stolen artwork.
Spielberg has since turned the painting over to federal authorities but, as Solomon noted, the legendary director would like to have the painting as his own. Spielberg is one of the country's foremost Rockwell collectors and is a founder of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.
Solomon estimates the current value of the painting, which at the time of its theft was about $25,000, is in the millions. Over the past few days he has been in contact with the FBI, which is trying to track down the thieves, and with Spielberg's representatives. "It appears we'll work it out quietly between us," Solomon said. "I have no problem at all with Steven Spielberg. He's one of my idols."
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