A man who was hired to wash windows for the late Scottish artist Alan Davie has been jailed for stealing £500,000 (about $623,000) worth of artwork from the artist’s home following his 2014 death.
Daniel Pressland, 42, from Billericay, Essex in the UK, had been Davie’s regular window washer since 2002. He stood accused of having burglarized the artist’s Hertford home several times in the months after he died, nicking a total of 31 paintings in the process. Only nine of the missing works have been recovered thus far.
Pressland claimed at a Monday hearing with St Albans Crown Court that he had been given two of the paintings as gifts from Davie, the BBC reported.
The window washer explains that he arrived one day at the artist’s house to find him in the front yard “just in his underpants and looking confused.” He brought Davie inside and helped “tidy up.” Some five or six weeks later, Davie thanked Pressland for his kindness with the gift.
“He said ‘This is for you.’ I appreciate what you did and I would appreciate if we could keep it between ourselves,” Mr Pressland asserts.
Titled Toothbrush and Message Sticks, the paintings sold at auction for £12,000 ($15,000), according to the BBC. The handyman says he had “no idea” how much the works were worth when he received them.
But Pressland was eventually sent to jail for returning to the artist’s home after his death and stealing more paintings. He reportedly considered using them as skateboard ramps, but a judge assumed more exploitative intentions.
“You happened on an opportunity to get rich quick by stealing from someone who you had been working for for years … You were like a vulture on a carcass and just helping yourself. You acted disgracefully,” said Judge John Plumstead in court.
Alan Davie rose to fame in the 1950s and 60s with a career launched by the support of Peggy Guggenheim, but was forgotten by the art world by the 70s, despite keeping up his incessant studio practice until the end of his life.
His work has been shown at the Tate, and had been admired by fellow painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and David Hockney. According to a text by Tate curator Helen Little, Davie “is celebrated for being one of the first British artists after the Second World War to develop an expressive form of abstraction.” He was 93 at the time of his death.
The current case is reminiscent of that of Picasso’s former electrician, in which 271 works were pilfered and then hidden in an electrician’s garage for four decades.
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