How a Drunk Man Lost a $1.4 Million Corot Painting

2 september 2010

NEW YORK – Here’s a story, sad but true, about a man who took a coy-looking female to a hotel, then got drunk and lost her. Unfortunately for this man, an art courier named James Carl Haggarty, his lady friend was highly two-dimensional. In fact, she was contained within a painting — none other than "Portrait of a Girl," a 19th-century work by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot with an estimated value of $1.4 million, which Haggarty was taking to show to a potential buyer. In a lawsuit filed against Haggarty by Kristyn Trudgeon, the majority owner of the portrait, she states that Haggarty woke up to find that he "did not have the painting and could not recall its whereabouts, citing that he had too much to drink the previous evening." Whoops.

This is how the evening of July 28 went: Haggarty picked up a black light that London dealer Offer Waterman — who was considering purchasing the 1857-8 work — had requested for authentication purposes, along with the portrait, which was at this point starting its madcap night in style at restaurant Rue 57, where one of its co-owners was dining. Haggarty then zipped off to The Mark Hotel, where Waterman was staying. Surveillance camera show the courier leaving the work with the front desk ('can you just hold this for a sec?') at 11:34 p.m., after which he stops in at the bar for what must have been quite a few too many.

Haggarty can be seen leaving the bar at 12:50 a.m., nabbing the painting from the desk clerk on duty, and stumbling into the doorman, who considerately asks if he’d like a cab. Allegedly Haggarty replied, "No, I have a car," adding yet another disturbing element to this cringe-inducing tale of irresponsibility. He is next seen entering his apartment building at 2:30 a.m., sans the artwork (which was housed for many years at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, before being transferred to the Armand Hammer Foundation, when that organization split from the museum).

Surprisingly, this story gets even fishier. On August 9, Haggarty took a polygraph exam, which found that "deception was indicated" when he claimed that he was not concealing information about whether he had plotted with anyone to steal the painting.

"I think he’s a fumbling idiot," Trudgeon told the New York Post. She is suing Haggarty, who certainly will not be receiving the $25,000 to which he was entitled if the sale went through. "He’s just a complete asshole," she said.

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