Detectives: $1 million Renoir painting stolen during home invasion may be on its way out of the country


Robbery detectives say while they have no real leads, they believe someone was familiar with the home near Woodway and Chimney Rock from which it was stolen. They also think the painting may be on its way out of the country.

While it is challenging, finding an expensive stolen work of art, it's not impossible. And one very famous Houstonian learned that first hand.

Joanne King Herring is known for her famous parties and powerful connections, but it took her resolve to recover a missing painting she had almost given up on.

"What you look for is a beautiful cravat," Herring said.

As an art collector, Herring notices every detail. It is what attracted her to Sir Henry Raeburn's portrait of a man in the first place. But she had only a copy to show us because the real thing is in storage.

"I am not taking any chances with it now," she joked.

Herring can laugh now but she remembers the day she felt violated.

"At first, you can't believe it," Herring said.

And it all came rushing back when she learned last week about the million dollar Renoir that was stolen from a home in Tanglewood.

"I felt so sad," Herring said.

Twenty-six years ago, Herring's pricey painting went missing from a framing shop.

It was about the same time she was helping the late Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson secretly fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, a role made famous on the big screen by Julia Roberts. Herring may have been focused on that work, but the loss of her painting was great.

"It was like losing a friend and it would make me sick," she said.

It took more than two decades for it to resurface at Sotheby's after consignment and another three years of legal battles to finally get it back. Last month, she and Attorney Mike Lowenberg uncrated the piece, which is now valued at $30,000.

"I said oh that's it; that really is it," Herring said.

There's no telling where the Renoir is. Houston police believe it may be on its way out of the country.

"I study the fiber, and I know exactly how old it is," Dr. Antonio Loro said.

Dr. Loro is one of the area's foremost authenticators and he has his theory for why it was stolen.

"The reason they steal an original because with the original they can make a lot of copies," he said.

The art world has been alerted about the Renoir heist, which has only reinforced Herring's decision to keep her painting stored away.

"It is in a box in a warehouse that is very secure," Herring said.

The man who consigned the painting to Sotheby's always maintained he legally bought it, but Herring was able to win it back because she had receipts, as well as a police report filed when it went missing. The art loss registry, a database of missing and stolen artwork, was the first to alert her when it resurfaced. The stolen Renoir is also listed on that site.

Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for any information called in to the 713-222-TIPS (8477) or submitted online at that leads to the filing of charges or arrest of the suspect(s) in this case. Tips can also be sent by text message. Text TIP610 plus your tip to CRIMES (274637). All tipsters remain anonymous.

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