Missing artworks were misfiled, library officials say
Boston Public Library prints discovered 80 feet from their proper place
Two valuable prints that went missing from the Boston Public Library, triggering a criminal investigation and the resignation of the institution’s president, were discovered Thursday on a shelf — a mere 80 feet from where they should have been filed, according to authorities.
“It’s a cloud lifted, a burden off our shoulders,” a jubilant Amy Ryan, the library president, said in a telephone interview. “Everyone is happy.”
She said the discovery, a day after she announced her resignation, doesn’t change her plans to step down. Yet she feels vindicated, she said, knowing that the prints — an Albrecht Dürer engraving valued at $600,000 and a Rembrandt etching worth up to $30,000 — are found.
“Someone just said this to me, and it’s true: Nothing is missing under my watch,” Ryan said. Other items reported missing, she said, “went missing years before I started at BPL.”
When pressed about whether someone could have taken the prints and returned them, Melina Schuler, a library spokeswoman, said library officials were confident that the prints had been in the library all along, misfiled a year ago in a simple case of “human error.”
The prints were discovered at the library’s Copley Square branch around 2 p.m., just as two Boston Police officers and a federal prosecutor investigating the missing artwork arrived for a tour of the massive room — the size of a city block — where the print collection is stored, according to a law enforcement official.
The Dürer and Rembrandt prints were found resting one on top of the other, along with a third unidentified print, on a metal shelf, more than 6 feet from the ground, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.
Despite the discovery, a criminal investigation into how the prints were handled is proceeding.
“The anticorruption unit will continue trying to determine if anything else is missing,’’ said Boston Police Commissioner William Evans. “We will be examining what they have there. The investigation is not over.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh received a phone call from Ryan on Thursday afternoon alerting him that the artwork had been found.
That news, he said, “was certainly a lot better than worrying about an inside job as far as stealing the art. I asked her if any of the other stuff that was missing was found, and she said no.”
Walsh said he would not speculate on whether the artwork had been removed and returned, or was in the same place throughout the investigation.
Walsh added, “I’m going to make sure we investigate the missing pieces that are left and come up with protocols so things like this don’t happen again.”
The FBI and the US Attorney’s office will continue to assist in the ongoing probe, according to spokeswomen for those agencies.
Dürer’s “Adam and Eve,” and Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait With Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre,” were found in the library’s storage room in Row 14B, Bay 3 on Shelf 2, about 80 feet from where they should have been filed, according to library officials.
“I was shocked to find the two prints, but it really was just luck of the draw,” said Lauren Schott, the library conservation officer who found the prints, in the statement.
“Any one of the team that’s been looking for the Dürer and Rembrandt could have found them.”
The items were found during an eight-week search of the stacks. Fourteen library workers searched through 180,000 of the print stacks’ 320,000 items — about 60 percent of the inventory, the statement said.
In addition to the search of the 8,300-square-foot room containing the stacks, employees also searched nine offices, work rooms, and reading rooms, library officials said.
Ryan said members of her staff knew the Dürer was missing in June 2014, but didn’t tell her until April 10. She said she launched a search, believing it may have been misfiled, then notified police on April 15 when it was discovered that the Rembrandt was also missing.
During a meeting of the library trustees on Wednesday, Ryan said the Dürer was last seen on April 2, 2014, when it was viewed by a group of students, and was discovered missing on June 10, 2014, when another class was supposed to view it.
The library placed Susan Glover, a longtime librarian who oversees the library’s special collections, on paid administrative leave in April.
Police launched an investigation April 29 and said they were looking into the possibility that the artwork had been stolen by employees.
On Thursday, Glover’s lawyer, Nicholas DiMauro, said Glover had cooperated fully with police and had always maintained the prints were misplaced.
“She felt, and I felt very strongly, that she would be vindicated,” said DiMauro, describing Glover as a person of high integrity who is well-regarded in the library community and among benefactors who have donated valuable pieces to the library.
“She, in her heart, believed at all times and said repeatedly that the prints had been misplaced, that it’s happened many times and they will be found,” DiMauro said.
The discovery that the valuable prints were missing brought intense scrutiny on the library’s security protocols and collection practices.
Ryan acknowledged that the library has no central inventory list of what it owns, and there is no catalog of each item.
During Wednesday’s trustees meeting she said she inherited a system in which her predecessors voraciously acquired collections for the library, but didn’t keep records to accompany them.
“The system is flawed and antiquated and it needs to be addressed immediately,” DiMauro said.
The Rembrandt print and the Dürer were supposed to be filed in separate boxes in the library.
Library officials believe the Rembrandt was likely viewed along with the Dürer, when it was last seen, then misfiled, according to Schuler.
“It is not unusual for two prints by two different artists to be shared in one sitting. It was not surprising that they were together,” Schuler said. “The prints were misfiled. This was a matter of human error. That’s how the library feels about this.”
The Dürer and Rembrandt have been put in their proper places.
The library said it received e-mails in recent weeks alleging that several scores of music donated 20 years ago by the family of Boston-area composer William Thomas McKinley were stolen “a few years later,” and gold coins that were once stored in a time capsule in the cornerstone of the McKim building have also vanished.