Google Alerts Helps British Family Retrieve Painting Stolen in 1971

An 18th-century oil painting of Real Admiral Charles Fanshawe that was stolen 50 years ago from a museum in London has been returned last week with the help of Google Alerts.

The painting was one of six family portraits looted during a burglary at Valence House in Dagenham in 1971. The Valence House Museum, situated in the East London borough of Barking and Dagenham, is the only surviving of the five manor houses of Dagenham.

Shortly after the incident, the police were able to recover two of the paintings and all six frames but the remaining four artworks were nowhere to be found. After years of searching, the Fanshawe family gave up on looking for them. Yet, they decided to set up a Google Alert to hopefully keep up with the whereabouts of their family portraits. 

In January 2019, the family got an alert telling them that one of the paintings was about to go on sale at an auction in Philadelphia at a value of about US$3,000. The painting is an 18th-century oil portrait of Charles Fanshawe, the 4th Viscount of Fanshawe (1643 - 1710) who was an Irish Peer and a member of the House of Commons.

The Valence House Museum is the only surviving of the five manor houses of Dagenham

Representatives from London’s Met Police Art and Antiques Unit, the FBI’s Art Team, the American Embassy and the Upper Dublin Police Department were involved to ensure the safe return of the long-lost work. The painting will be on display at Valence House Museum later this month.