A famous Churchill portrait swapped for a replica at an Ottawa hotel goes unnoticed by staff for months

A famous Churchill portrait swapped for a replica at an Ottawa hotel goes unnoticed by staff for months

A famous WWII-era portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill has been stolen from an Ottawa hotel and replaced with a copy without staff noticing for months.

It took officials at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel at least eight months to realize the photo, which may be worth more than $100,000, had been tampered with, CNN affiliate CTV reported.
“We are deeply saddened by this brazen act,” the hotel’s general manager Geneviève Dumas wrote on Facebook. “The hotel is incredibly proud to house this amazing Karsh collection, which was safely installed in 1998.”
Created by Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1941, the portrait is “one of the most reproduced images in the history of photography,” according to Karsh’s website. In 2016, the photograph became the face of the Bank of England five pound note.
The original hung at the Chateau Laurier Hotel until a date that officials said was likely between Dec. 25, 2021, and Jan. 6, 2022, the hotel’s general manager, Geneviève Dumas, told CTV.

Last weekend, hotel staff noticed the photo was hung incorrectly and the frame didn’t match others in the space, CTV reported. Hotel officials then used photos submitted by the public to help determine when the original portrait and frame had been replaced.

The marketing director of the Chateau Laurier hotel told CNN that the investigation into the portrait’s disappearance is ongoing.

The theft was likely an “inside job,” Robert Wittman, a former FBI art crime investigator, told CTV.

“So usually when a situation like this happens, it’s not shoplifting, it’s not just a break-in; it’s someone on the inside who had access, who knew what they were looking for, knew what security measures were protecting the piece and that (they) were able to to defeat these measures because they had confidential information,” Wittman told CTV.

The popular black-and-white photo shows Churchill scowling moments after Karsh ripped the cigar from the prime minister’s mouth to snap the picture.

“When I went back to the camera, it looked so combative it could have swallowed me. That’s when I took the picture,” Karsh wrote of the photo. “I knew it was an important image after I took it, but I could hardly have dreamed that it would become one of the most reproduced images in the history of photography.”
The photographer lived in the hotel and ran his studio for two decades, according to his estate, and when he moved out, Karsh left a collection of his photographs — including Churchill’s — at the hotel.

“His connection to the hotel was very deep and very warm,” Jerry Fielder, director of Karsh’s estate, told CTV. “It was a very special print for him and it was a really beautiful print. So it has a very special meaning.”

Fairmont Château Laurier urged anyone with information about the stolen photo to contact local authorities immediately.

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