FBI offers $20,000 reward for recovery of stolen Maine paintings

Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston Division, Vincent Lisi (R), is joined by Portland, Maine Police Chief Michael Sauschuck at a news conference in Boston, Massachusetts, August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for tips leading to the recovery of two paintings by N.C. Wyeth stolen from a Maine collector two years ago in what officials on Tuesday called the most significant art theft in that state's history.

Six oil paintings by Wyeth, the patriarch of a line of painters known for Maine seascapes, were taken in May 2013 from the home of a prominent real estate developer in the state. The paintings were estimated to be worth up to tens of millions of dollars, officials said.

Four have been recovered in a Beverly Hills, California, pawn shop, Vincent Lisi, the special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Boston, told reporters.

"We're still continuing to look for the other two and we have reason to believe they are here in New England, possibly in the greater Boston area," Lisi said.

Three men have pleaded guilty in federal courts in Maine and California to charges of trafficking in stolen goods for transporting the paintings. Lisi declined to say if any of the three were regarded as suspects in the theft.

The paintings were stolen from a Portland, Maine, apartment that their owner had been using to store them, said Michael Sauschuck, Portland's chief of police.

Born in Needham, Massachusetts, in 1882, Wyeth got his start as an illustrator of books and magazines. He gained acclaim for painting seascapes after settling in Port Clyde, Maine, on the state's rugged mid-coast, where he lived until his death in 1945.

Three of Wyeth's five children, Andrew, Henriette and Carolyn, also became noted artists, as did his grandson, Jamie.

While the family is associated with Maine seascapes, the missing paintings are of other subjects. One, "The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff," features a swordsman dressed in Renassiance-style clothing standing over what appears to be a slain foe. The other, "Go, Dutton, and that right speedily," features men in medieval-looking attire peering out from a doorway.

It is not the only case of stolen artwork facing the Boston FBI office. The agency is still working to determine who stole $500 million worth of art from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in a 1990 theft that stands as the largest art heist in U.S. history.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham)