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An $18 Throw Pillow Helped an Art Collector Find a Stolen $10 Million Dutch Master Painting

Schorer used a reverse image search engine to find an image of a Hendrick Avercamp painting, stolen in 1978.

Exterior of the Worcester Art Museum Bill Greene/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Art collector Cliff Schorer recently located a missing painting by Dutch master Hendrick Avercamp after finding an image of it online on a $18 throw pillow.

Last year, Schorer used a reverse image search engine to find an image of Winter Landscape with Skater and Other Figures, stolen in 1978 and now worth around $10 million, on the print-on-demand website Pixels.com.

By looking at the metadata of Pixels.com image, Schorer was able to determine that it was taken years after the famous theft. Schorer traced the painting to a sale at a European art fair in 1995 under the name of Barent Avercamp, the artist’s nephew and student. The painting was sold to a Dutch couple, who have since died. Schorer reached out to the couple’s heirs, on behalf of the Worcester Art Museum, to inquire after an amicable return of the painting.

In 1978, Winter Landscape was stolen from the home of Robert Stoddard, a former trustee of the Worcester Art Museum, along with 11 other artworks. Stoddard was the former board president of the museum and many of the stolen artworks were promised as gifts to the institution. Only three of the works have been recovered, including Camille Pissarro’s Bassins Duquesne et Berrigny a Dieppe, Temps Gris.

Schorer has yet to receive a response from the heirs. This month, his lawyers sent a letter giving them 40 days to provide a response, as well as arrangements for the painting’s return in exchange for the sum the family paid for the work. Schorer told Boston Magazine that he would pursue criminal charges if the Dutch family fails to cooperate.

Jim Welu, the Worcester Art Museum’s director emeritus and an expert on Dutch art, said that he always hoped the Avercamp painting would be recovered.

“Avercamp is a big name and this is a real ice-skating winter scene,” he told Boston Magazine, which first reported the story last week. “We want the Avercamp back.

Avercamp’s paintings are on view at museums such as The National Gallery, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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