National Gallery releases photographs of documents relating to the theft of Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington

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National Gallery releases photographs of documents relating to the theft of Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington
Third Ransom Note following the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery, addressed to Exchange Telegraph and postmarked 3 July 1962.

LONDON.- Photographs of documents relating to the dramatic theft on 21 August 1961 of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery have been released to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the crime this weekend.

A reward notice from the Metropolitan Police, a handwritten ransom note, and a statement on the Gallery’s position following the ransom demands, are among the newly-photographed papers held in the Gallery’s Research Centre.

The images are released ahead of next year’s UK premiere of the film The Duke directed by Roger Michell and starring Jim Broadbent and Dame Helen Mirren which tells the story of the theft and subsequent trial of Bunton.

In July 1965 Newcastle-upon-Tyne taxi driver Kempton Bunton confessed that he had taken the Gallery’s painting but following a high-profile trial, he was controversially found not guilty of stealing the picture.

Kempton Bunton (1904–76) had sent ransom notes saying that he would only return the painting on condition that the government invest more in care for the elderly, specifically bringing attention to his long-running campaign for pensioners to receive free television licenses.

The target of one of the 20th century’s most audacious museum heists, Francisco de Goya’s The Duke of Wellington had recently been acquired by the Gallery and had only been on display there since 2 August 1961, nineteen days prior to its theft.

The portrait, which was painted following Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Salamanca in 1812, had been acquired by the Gallery after it was put up for auction at Sotheby's in 1961 by John Osborne, 11th Duke of Leeds, whose family had owned the painting over several generations.

In the sale the New York collector Charles Wrightsman bid £140,000, but the Wolfson Foundation offered £100,000 and the government added a special Treasury grant of £40,000, matching Wrightsman's bid and obtaining the painting for the National Gallery.

The theft was referenced in the 1962 James Bond film Dr No in a scene in which the painting was on display at Dr Julius No's lair, suggesting the first Bond villain had stolen the work.

The portrait is currently on display in Room 45 of the Gallery, admission free.

Roger Michell, the director of the film The Duke, says: ‘It’s amazing to think this painting was once hidden at the back of a wardrobe in Newcastle. And perhaps even more amazing that 60 years later I got to make a film about how it ended up there! It’s a story that provides much laughter (and a few tears), boosted undoubtedly by the brilliance of Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. There’s also a delicious twist that I can’t wait to share with the public when the film is finally in cinemas next Spring. In the meantime, enjoy Goya’s painting as it was meant to be enjoyed: hanging on the wall of the National Gallery!’

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