Paintings stolen from Christ Church still missing – two years after Oxford art gallery robbery

Curator Jacqueline Thalmann’s team was on the scene minutes after being alerted by the Christ Church Picture Gallery’s alarm system, but it was too late.

A gang of brazen burglars had already managed to pull off Oxford’s biggest heist in decades.

It was around 11pm on March 14, 2020. Using ladders stolen from the meadows, they climbed onto the roof of the gallery, near the college’s Canterbury gate in Merton Street, and made their way to through a skylight.

They removed three paintings from their frames before returning the way they had come.

The heist was carefully planned. The stolen paintings – a landscape by Salvator Rosa, A Soldier on Horseback by Antony Van Dyck and A Boy Drinking by Annibale Carracci – were on opposite sides of the room.

‘A soldier on horseback’ by Antony Van Dyck, dated 1616 Photo: Christ Church/TVP

Oxford Mail: Annibale Carracci's 'A Boy Drinking', dated 1580, was a favorite with visitors to the Christ Church Picture Gallery Photo: Christ Church/TVP‘A Boy Drinking’ by Annibale Carracci, dated 1580, was a favorite with visitors to the Christ Church Picture Gallery Photo: Christ Church/TVP

Oxford Mail: 'A Rocky Coast, with Soliders Studying a Plan' by Salvator Rosa, dated late 1640s Photo: Christ Church/TVP“A Rocky Coast, with Soliders Studying a Plan” by Salvator Rosa, dated late 1640s Photo: Christ Church/TVP

Two years later, empty picture frames mark where old master paintings once hung – still missing.

“We found out more or less as we went along,” Ms Thalmann told the Oxford Mail.

“The alarm system worked as expected and within minutes we were there and found him.”

Gallery staff arrived too late. For Ms. Thalmann, there was disbelief.

Seeing the missing paintings, she wondered for a fraction of a second if there were workers who hadn’t cleaned up behind them.

“There’s that split second where you think it’s not something that would happen. Then you realize it’s not normal. You see the empty frames lying on the floor,” he said. she declared.

“I don’t think it sank. It’s still very amazing.

“We want to leave the frames blank as an idea that we think will come back to. They have to come back, they belong to this collection; they have been shared with the public for over 250 years.

The curator added: “Everyone involved was shocked, sad, angry – and still angry – that someone had the audacity to violate this. Yes, the paintings belong to Christ Church but Christ Church made them available to the public for 250 years. We shared them. We take care of them, we take care of them, we cure them.

“That’s, I think, where the anger comes from – that someone now, very selfishly, is giving them everything they [have done] with them – they could be under someone’s couch. Who knows?

“That’s what hurts. In the midst of all the drama the world is in, it’s still sad, these are the things we fight for.

Oxford Mail: Empty frames showing where the stolen paintings hung were left in the Christ Church GalleryThe empty frames showing where the stolen paintings once hung were left in the Christ Church Gallery

Oxford Mail: Christ Church's art collection has been open to the public for nearly 250 years.  The gallery is near the college's Canterbury GateThe Christ Church art collection has been open to the public for nearly 250 years. The gallery is near the college’s Canterbury Gate

Still on the run

The culprits are still at large. Thames Valley Police said earlier this month their investigation was still ongoing and there had been no “significant developments”.

Last year Oxford CID Detective Inspector James Mather said the thieves escaped through Christ Church Meadows, via Jubilee Bridge, to Iffley Road. However, officers also wondered if the burglars had left by the river.

Oxford Mail: Burglars may have reached Iffley Road via Jubilee Bridge – but could have left via the river Photo: GOOGLE/OMThe burglars may have reached Iffley Road via Jubilee Bridge – but could have left via the river Photo: GOOGLE/OM

In an appeal for evidence, he said: ‘As this happened just when the first lockdown was announced at the time, you may have blamed it on students packing for home them. However, I would ask that if you saw anything, no matter how insignificant you thought, please report it to us.

Mr Mather urged the gang to hand over the paintings: “People in the art world and beyond are aware that these paintings have been stolen and will therefore be extremely difficult to sell through legal channels.”

The case was featured on Crimewatch last year.

Oxford Mail: CCTV showed the thieves in the gallery Photo: TVP/BBC CRIMEWATCHCCTV showed the robbers in the gallery Photo: TVP/BBC CRIMEWATCH

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