Tuesday, January 09, 2018

James Bond, Dr. No, and the Duke of Wellington

Portrait of the The Duke of Wellington

In the James Bond movie thriller, Dr. No, when Bond is taken to Dr. No’s palatial lair, he is amazed to see Goya's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. The painting had been stolen from the National Gallery in London in 1961 just before filming began. Ken Adam, a production designer, contacted the National Gallery in London and obtained a slide of the picture, painting the copy over the course of the weekend, prior to filming commencing on Monday.

So what is the rest of the story? The Portrait of the Duke of Wellington was painted by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya of the British general Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington in 1812 after the general’s triumphant entry into Madrid during the Peninsular War against Napoleon.  The painting remained in aristocratic hands until 1961, when it was auctioned off by the 11th Duke of Leeds.  An American collector, Charles Wrightsman, was about to take possession of the painting when the Wolfson Foundation with the help of a special British Treasury grant, obtained the painting for the National Gallery.

At this point all should have been well, but one Kempton Bunton, a disabled pensioner living on a modest fixed income and bitter with having to pay government imposed television licensing fees, saw red.  The government was handing out grants for la-di-da paintings while he struggled to come up with money to pay for television.  Bunton took direct action.

From conversations with guards at the National Gallery, Bunton learned that the elaborate electronic security system was deactivated in the early morning to allow for cleaning. In the early morning hours of 21 August 1961, Bunton entered the museum through a window he had previously loosened in a toilet. Bunton then made off with the painting undetected and escaped through the window.

The police initially thought the theft was the work of an expert professional art thief.  Subsequently, a letter was received requesting a donation of £140,000 to charity to pay for TV licenses for poorer people and demanding an amnesty for the thief.  The ransom demands were ignored by authorities.

In 1965, four years after the theft, Bunton returned the painting and surrendered to police. A jury convicted Bunton only of the theft of the frame, which had not been returned. Bunton was sentenced to three months in prison.

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