Art theft fears at Edinburgh hospital after cleaner tucks valuable painting in cupboard for safekeeping

Cleaners at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh sparked fears of a great art heist after tidying a valuable painting away in a cupboard for safekeeping.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 4:55 am

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The artwork of the Madonna by John Bellany, CBE, who was born in Port Seton, was last seen hanging on a wall in a ground floor public corridor on Saturday night, but the following morning only the jagged fixtures which had been used to secure it to the wall remained.

The painting, worth thousands of pounds, is one of hundreds of works by a wide range of artists, including Britpop star Damien Hirst, which adorn the hospital's walls to boost patient and staff morale. Hundreds of other paintings are kept in storage.

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Valuable works: Artist John Bellany

The Evening News contacted NHS Lothian on Monday morning asking if they were aware of the exact whereabouts of the painting.

Officials were unable to confirm that the painting had not been stolen until nearly 6pm on Monday evening.

It is believed the artwork's brackets had been found to be unsafe and coming out the wall. Ceaners, noticing the painting had been taken down, had apparently put it in storage.

It appears this information was not passed on after a shift change.

Bellany painted a number of 'Madonna' artworks

A concerned visitor and keen art lover who noticed the Bellany painting, owned by the Edinburgh-based charity Art in Healthcare, had 'disappeared ' said: "It seemed to me to have been ripped off the wall and presumably stolen. I heard security guards were going to report it to the police.

"I've noticed that many of the paintings don't have don't Rawlplugs because the walls are so thin.They aren't behind a glass panel so anyone could just take go and haul one off the walls.

" It worries me that they are not being looked after properly and the light is getting to them. There are trolley beds being wheeled around and kids running about.

"One answer would be to put a glass panel in front of each painting.

Fears were voices over the fate of the Bellany work at the RIE

"I know we are in the middle of Covid but this is still important."

Another member of the public who contacted the Evening News said he had witnessed two instances of artworks being damaged.

"Guys were repainting a corridor on the second floor and a blob of white paint plopped down on a really large seascape. One of the workers poked his fingers in the paint and drew a jellyfish before wiping it off. No attempt had been made to protect the painting.

"Another time I saw that strips of paper which were glued to three separate squares in an abstract had been torn off once the paper started peeling."

In May 2020 a potential thief wearing a full-body protective hazmat suit and carrying a cordless drill was caught lingering by a £5million Banksy painting at Southampton General Hospital. 'Game Changer' had been donated to honour hospital workers during the Covid pandemic.

Vanessa Paynton, executive director of Art in Healthcare, insisted she had no concerns over artwork at the hospital.

"The artwork is part of our collection.

"We are satisfied that the systems that we, and our partners have in place, for installing and maintaining artworks in healthcare settings are appropriate."

Duncan Macmillan, FRSE, art critic for The Scotsman, called for a review of how the paintings were looked after, but said that this would have to wait until after Covid.

He added: "The health sector has so much on their minds at the moment that the security of paintings can't be a priority. But some sort of review would be sensible."

George Curley, director of facilities, NHS Lothian, said: “The fixing securing this piece of art was damaged over the weekend. The painting has been removed while maintenance work is carried out.”

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