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Stolen Martinware Wally Bird pottery recovered and returned back to Ealing Council after 16 years

A Martinware sculptural pottery that was stolen from Pitzhanger Manor house in Ealing in 2007 has been returned back to the borough by Art Recovery International (ARI).

The Wally Bird pottery, which is estimated to be worth £30,000, was created by the Martin Brothers, who were based in Southall, between the 1870s and the early 1900s.

It was stolen on 22 March 2007 when they broke into the museum and made off with 24 Martinware sculptures worth over £250,000. The collection was given to Ealing Council in the 1980s by John and Anne Hull Grundy.

Previously in 2005, 13 Martinware sculptures were stolen from the former old Southall Library.

The art was returned on 8 September 2023 to Dr Jonathan David Oates, archivist for Ealing Council.

Martinware bird. Photo: Art Recovery International
Martinware bird. Photo: Art Recovery International

This is the third piece of Martinware pottery recovered by ARI over the past few years, some of which has appeared for sale in the UK and on eBay. This rare bird jar was set for sale through Kinghams Auctioneers in Moreton-in-Marsh in their July 2023 Fine and Decorative Arts Sale.

Christopher A Marinello, lawyer and Founder of Art Recovery International said: “This recovery was very much a team effort. We are extremely grateful for the expertise of British art pottery expert Nigel Wilson and to George Kingham, the director of Kinghams. Kinghams was at all times helpful and cooperative throughout the recovery process, something we don’t often find with provincial auction houses. We are also extremely grateful to the Zurich Insurance Group who were magnanimous in waiving the requirement for the original insurance settlement to be paid back as a gesture to the council and people of Ealing.”

Marinello adds “Our ability to recover stolen artworks decades after the theft depends largely on museums reporting thefts to the police as soon as possible despite the embarrassment over the loss. The other critical element is to disseminate a detailed list of the objects that were stolen so that they may be recorded on various art world databases. If anyone believes that they may be in possession of one of these stolen sculptures, please feel free to contact us on a confidential basis.”

Paul Redington, a regional major loss manager for Zurich UK said: “We’re delighted this Wally Bird is back in the council’s possession, and the community can once again appreciate this rare art piece. As with the other recently returned items, we have decided to waive the requirement for the council to return the insurance settlement.”

He added: “Wally Birds are an important part of the borough’s history, as many of the sculptures were crafted by the Martin brothers at their pottery in Southall. With Wally Birds now highly sought after by collectors worldwide, it’s wonderful to see this art piece back where it belongs. Many items of art are stolen to order, and never recovered, which is what makes this find all the more remarkable”

Dr Jonathan Oates, archivist for Ealing Council commented: “It is great that yet another Martinware piece has been restored to its rightful place.”

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