Original Oil on Board
In 1972, John Durkin stole the painting by renowned Manchester artist LS Lowry, depicting St Hildas Church and Middlesbroughs old Town Hall and then demanded the Mayor raffle his underpants for charity to secure the paintings safe return. When he was arrested by police after the theft, he had a ransom letter calling for art galleries to be opened on Sundays to allow the working man to get some culture.
His son Sean, eight at the time, remembers the affair well and is now a successful painter in his own right. He said: I remember going downstairs one morning and on the mantelpiece there was this little painting depicting what looked to me like a big house, a church, and some matchstick people scurrying around.
I didnt know it at the time, but it was a painting by LS Lowry and my father had stolen it from Middlesbrough art gallery the previous evening.
He said he would hold the picture ransom until art galleries started opening at a weekend, so that the working man could enjoy some culture.
He went to court and it ended up in the Old Bailey, but he wasnt convicted with the theft. At the time it would have been worth around £5,000 which was a fortune then, considering we had bought a house for £2,500 that year! You couldnt buy a Lowry for less than £250,000 now.
Sean, 50, has been painting for friends and family for years but it was only when he took a piece to be framed at the Art House in Middlesbrough, that he realised he could go professional with his talent.
Dad-of-two Sean also leaves a special reminder of his dads caper in every picture he paints a stick man burglar running away from a stick policeman.
Seans dad John has now retired to Spain but the memory of that Lowry painting can still be seen in Seans work: That image and the atmosphere of it that I find so beguiling stayed in my head for many years until finally I built up the courage to paint myself. The atmosphere is something I constantly strive for in my own work. I dont do copies, I like to think of my paintings as the ones Lowry didnt get around to doing himself.