- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

MARINA DEL REY, CALIF. (AP) - A stolen Rembrandt sketch was too hot to handle for thieves, and even the detective who held the 17th century artwork in white-gloved hands Tuesday admitted he was nervous.

After all, it was only days earlier that the 350-year-old artwork worth $250,000 was swiped from the lobby of a seaside hotel.

The 11-by-6-inch pen-and-ink drawing was found in an unlocked public area of an Encino church Monday evening after a caller recognized it from news accounts of its weekend theft, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

It was verified as being the stolen piece shortly after midnight, he said.

However, experts will be asked to authenticate the work as a Rembrandt, and until then it will remain in an evidence locker, Whitmore said.

“It’s going to stay under lock and key until the detectives determine where to send it next,” he said.

The frame holding it will be fingerprinted and investigators will try to determine whether the church has any surveillance video, detective Clarence Williams said Tuesday as he held up the recovered artwork in a dark-wood frame at a Marina del Rey news conference.

The Rembrandt was snatched from an easel on Saturday during a private art display in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey. A curator was momentarily distracted by someone who seemed interested in buying another piece.

The thieves apparently tore open brown paper covering the back of the frame, intending to remove the mounted sketch, but then got cold feet.

“They realized that … it’s going to be very hard to sell” because of the publicity and might not have had the knowhow and connections to sell the sketch, Williams said.

“It doesn’t appear to be damaged or touched.”

It was abandoned, “we believe, because there was so much publicity,” Whitmore said. “How do you sell it? What do you do with it?”

It was not immediately clear whether the thieves were professionals or amateur opportunists.

“I honestly can’t tell you if it was well thought-out, at this time,” Williams said.

Investigators had several leads, were reviewing hotel surveillance video and were working on a sketch of the suspects, Whitmore said.

Story Continues →