Entertainment & Arts

Punk band find $250,000 stolen painting in New Orleans

Wendy and Me by George Rodrigue Image copyright George Rodrigue
Image caption The painting depicted artist George Rodrigue as a blue dog, alongside his wife-to-be, Wendy

Members of punk band Stereo Fire Empire have found and returned a $250,000 (£166,000) painting hours after it was stolen from a New Orleans gallery.

Bassist Elliot Newkirk and his bandmates had just finished a show at the House of Blues when they saw the artwork propped up against a wall.

"Our guitar player was actually talking about how he saw on Facebook that a painting was stolen," Newkirk said.

"Literally five minutes later" he found the canvas and "his jaw dropped".

The painting, entitled Wendy and Me, was by beloved New Orleans artist George Rodrigue.

It was stolen in broad daylight from New Orleans' George Rodrigue Studios at 15:00 on Tuesday, 6 January.

A thief walked into the gallery, lifted the picture from the wall and left. The entire incident lasted less than a minute, and was captured on security cameras.

Image copyright George Rodrigue Studios
Image caption The gallery released still images of the thief in action

Featuring the blue dog for which he is famous, Wendy and Me was used on the artist's wedding invitations when he married his second wife Wendy in 1997.

The band handed it in to police, along with another artwork - a print called Three Amigos, that is believed to have been sold to a local non-profit organisation through the George Rodrigue Foundation for the Arts several years ago.

"I collect discarded art and things like that," guitarist Evan Diez told a local news station.

"Even if it's just a frame, I'll pick it up. I saw those canvases and had to check them out."

Singer John Kennedy picked up the story: "His face was ghost white - jaw dropped, like, 'you don't understand - this is a $250,000 piece of artwork.'"

The band described the events that followed as a "Scooby Doo adventure", as they carried the paintings to a nearby police station.

"We're walking down the street with these quarter-million-dollar paintings in our hands, and they're facing out and I'm like, 'No! Turn that around! We don't want people seeing that'," Newkirk said.

Image copyright Stereo Fire Empire / Facebook
Image caption Stereo Fire Empire said they felt like "the Goonies but with more hair".

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, George Rodrigue's son Jacques said: "We're so thankful to the good Samaritans for bringing it back."

The band - who filmed themselves handing over the paintings - did not ask for a reward.

But "we joked that we're going to write a song about it, so we'll see what happens," said Newkirk.

George Rodrigue, who died in 2013, was catapulted to fame by his blue dog paintings, which were based on a Cajun legend called loup-garou.

Police say they will use DNA fingerprinting techniques to track down the thief, who is still at large.

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