Calif. Museum Gives Up Stolen Painting

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 23, 2006; 11:35 PM

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Museum of Art relinquished an 18th-century painting to the Mexican government Wednesday after it was found to have been stolen from a rural Mexican church.

In July 2000, thieves slashed the canvas of "Expulsion from the Garden of Eden" from its wooden frame and removed it from a church in San Juan Tepemazalco in Hidalgo state, U.S. and Mexican authorities said. The museum bought the painting five months later from a private collector for $45,000.

The museum said it was fully reimbursed by the seller, identified by its spokesman as Rodrigo Rivero Lake. Rivero Lake did not immediately respond to a message at his Mexico City gallery Wednesday.

No one has been charged with a crime but U.S. authorities said they were investigating. Authorities said the museum voluntarily forfeited the painting, which was reported in good condition.

The museum has said it followed "existing professional guidelines" when it bought the work and that its staff first raised questions about the painting's provenance in 2002 when they were doing research for a catalog.

The 71-by-47-inch painting _ completed in 1728 by an unknown artist _ depicts five vignettes including Adam and Eve tasting the forbidden fruit and Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden.

Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History will take possession of the painting, said Luis Cabrera, Mexico's general consul in San Diego. It was unclear whether the painting will return to the church.

© 2006 The Associated Press