Months after she signed an agreed final judgment finding she is the “rightful owner” of a painting that has been missing for more than 25 years, Houston socialite Joanne King Herring got to touch and see the artwork again on Aug. 2. Herring and her attorney Michael Lowenberg (pictured left), removed the painting from a wooden crate and placed it on temporary display at the O’Quinn Law Firm. Lowenberg, a lawyer at the O’Quinn firm in Houston, took on the legal challenge of helping Herring retrieve the painting at the request of his boss, John O’Quinn, who was Herring’s friend. O’Quinn, a prominent plaintiffs lawyer, died in an auto accident on Oct. 29, 2009. The painting by Scottish painter Sir Henry Raeburn titled “Portrait of a Man” has been out of Herring’s possession for many years. In a petition she filed in 2009 in the 125th District Court in Harris County, Herring alleged she bought the painting in 1980 at an auction at Christie’s. She said in an affidavit filed in the suit that she paid $4,180 for the painting. She discovered the painting was missing from her house in 1985, after she thought it was delivered to a reframing shop in Houston. In 1986, she filed a theft report with the Art Loss Registry. Herring alleged she had given up hope she would ever see the painting again, until the Art Loss Registry notified her in 2009 that a man named Geoffrey Rice had submitted it for auction at Sotheby’s New York. In her petition in Joanne King Herring v. Geoffrey Rice, Herring alleged Rice, a New Yorker who alleged he bought the painting at an auction in Houston, refused to return it to her. In her petition, Herring brought a conversion cause of action against Rice, and sought a court order to prevent Rice from releasing the painting from Sotheby’s to anyone but her. Rice, who represented himself until days before a January 2011 trial setting, alleged in a letter to 125th District Judge Kyle Carter that he bought the painting at a gallery in Houston sometime between 1980 and 1987, and alleged Herring could not prove her claim of conversion. However, Herring and Rice agreed to the judgment on the eve of a Jan. 3 trial date. Stephen Mescall, a solo practitioner in Baytown who represents Rice, says his client did not learn the painting may have been stolen until Herring made her claim. “His position has always been he bought it lawfully,” Mescall says, noting that he advised Rice he would have difficulty winning the suit because he could not produce a receipt for the purchase, among other reasons. Herring – who was portrayed by actress Julia Roberts in the 2007 film “Charlie Wilson’s War” – says she’s glad to have the painting back, but she plans to sell it soon to raise money for the Marshall Plan Charities for Afghanistan Inc. Lowenberg says the artwork is worth between $16,000 to $30,000.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys