Stolen French painting returned to Hugh Lane Gallery

‘In the Omnibus’ was unscrewed from wall during children’s art class in 1992

A valuable drawing stolen from the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin 22 years ago is back on public display after being recovered by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The watercolour and gouache drawing by French artist Honoré Daumier, titled In the Omnibus, was unscrewed from the wall during a children’s art class in June 1992.

Although the gallery has declined to put an estimate on its current worth, it was valued at the time at about £250,000.

"It was stolen very quickly. It looked like it was done by somebody who knew how to do this sort of thing," explained gallery director Barbara Dawson.


“It was just ripped from the wall. It was such a shock at the time.”

The painting was recovered during a Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) inquiry into another crime last autumn, it is understood, but neither the gallery or CAB have released details of the investigation.

Detective chief superintendent Eugene Corcoran of CAB today paid tribute to detective Garda Philip Galvin, “whose investigative work led directly to the recovery of this piece of artwork”.

Dating from 1860, In the Omnibus shows three men, two women and a child travelling in a form of horse-drawn public transport common in Paris at the time.

It measures just 12cm by 22.2cm inside its gold embossed frame, and formed part of the original collection presented by Sir Hugh Lane to Dublin for the Gallery of Modern Art, which opened to the public in 1908.

" [In the Omnibus] is a marvellous piece of social commentary of a particular time. His powerful realism and social consciousness continues to be relevant today," Ms Dawson explained, comparing Daumier to Jack B Yeats in his observations of everyday life.

“While they are wearing top hats, you can tell by their dress that they are travelling to or from work. They are all in quiet contemplation... He has a marvellous way with pencil and line, which is very open and free. He is very effective and original in his use of light and shade.”

Daumier was considered one of France’s leading 19th century caricaturists, producing around 8,000 caricatures and lithographs in his career. He was imprisoned in 1832 for offending King Louis Philippe.

Dublin Corporation received an insurance payout for the stolen painting in 1992, and the companies involved have been informed of its recovery, Ms Dawson said.

In the Omnibus is now back on exhibition at the Hugh Lane Gallery.

“We are delighted it has been found, and we want to thank CAB for making that happen,” Ms Dawson said.

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny

Ciara Kenny, founding editor of Irish Times Abroad, a section for Irish-connected people around the world, is Editor of the Irish Times Magazine