A painting of a prominent Staten Island figure that was stolen 50 years ago has finally been returned to the Historic Richmond Town. The hand-painted portrait of Ann Totten, an influential matriarch of Staten Island’s history during the American Revolution, was stolen from the local Historical Museum on November 9, 1970. When a custodial worker arrived at the museum for his shift, he noticed the painting – along with several other artifacts, had gone missing. A window in one of the buildings was left open, leading investigators to believe that someone had broken in to swipe the valuable items.
News of the art theft appeared all over the mainstream media, as authorities continued the hunt for the missing painting. A few months later in 1970, a painting of Totten’s husband and some silver were discovered in a Brooklyn apartment and returned to Historic Richmond Town by authorities. Unfortunately, nobody was able to locate the portrait of Ann Totten, painted by John Bradley in 1834, for the next five decades.
In October 2021, a California-based art collector named Gordon Fine noticed the portrait of Totten listed on an art auction website. He had actually visited New York years prior and remembered reading about the Ann Totten had been stolen. Being familiar with the painting’s backstory, he emailed officials to inform them of the painting’s whereabouts. After following up on the lead, authorities confirmed that the painting was legitimate and had managed to make its way clear across the country. Officials intervened before the painting could be sold at auction, and with some assistance from the FBI, the artwork was returned back to Staten Island.
During the investigation, authorities were able to get a better understanding of where the painting has been for at least some of the years it was missing. Gregory Gromadzki, a retired art restorer, had the painting in his possession for close to 20 years. He claimed to have no knowledge that the painting had been stolen. Gromadzki told officials that a couple dropped the art off at his shop to be restored and simply never returned. “It was badly damaged. There was a big, big rip through the image of the lady in her face,” said Gromadzki. He also stated that after reaching out to the couple several times to pick up the painting, they stopped responding and he never heard from them again.
Historic Richmond Town CEO, Jessica Phillips was stunned to have the Ann Totten portrait back in Staten Island where it belongs. “It is rare to have stolen artwork returned, especially after 50 years,” she said. “Historic Richmond Town is deeply grateful for good Samaritans like Mr. Fine and Mr. Gromadzki who were critical in the return of this local treasure. We are truly satisfied to have more closure on the cold case of the Ann Totten portrait.”
The story of the Ann Totten portrait has a happy ending, as she has been reunited with her husband’s portrait at Staten Island’s Historical Museum. The Tottens are important to Staten Island’s history. “Tottenville is named after them,” said collections manager Carli DeFillo. “You see their names on streets, on buildings, they’re kind of everywhere.”