A consignor in Canada began to grow suspicious when they stopped hearing back from the art dealer with whom they’d entrusted four artworks to sell. The gallery, based in Oak Bay on Vancouver Island, had also apparently closed. The works at stake? Three paintings by the highly acclaimed Canadian artist Emily Carr and another watercolor by David Blackwood.
The consignor lodged a complaint on April 11 with the local Saanich Police, who quickly discovered several other art owners who reported similar experiences with the dealer. Three search warrants were granted to the Major Crime Unit, which seized more than 1,000 works of art at three storage sites in Saanich, Oak Bay, and Langford.
Constable Markus Anastasiades said, “the dealer was taking art from people with the intention of consigning or appraising the art, later ceasing all contact, all the while selling the art without reimbursing the owners or artists.”
The estimated value of the art that has been seized is in the tens of millions of dollars. The works are now being stored in a secure location.
The implicated art dealer was arrested on April 21, but Saanich Police have declined to identify them until the charges have been sworn in court. The accused has since been released on several conditions. Meanwhile, investigators are preparing a report to Crown Counsel recommending criminal charges for multiple counts of fraud and false pretense.
Canada’s The Globe and Mail has, on the basis of publicly available court documents, speculated that the accused could be Calvin Lucyshyn of Winchester Galleries, against which several lawsuits have been filed alleging that he took artworks without giving compensation. CTV News has also found Winchester Galleries to be at the center of this investigation.
He had also been the subject of a civil lawsuit filed by the previous owners of the gallery, Gunther Heinrich and Anthony Sam, after underpaying for the property by $155,000. The pair was also liable to cover Lucyshyn’s overdue rent payments, to the tune of $233,000.
Detectives are currently in communication with the artists and owners of the seized artworks as they work to return them to their rightful owners. They encourage anyone still seeking to reclaim these works to get in touch.