Dalí and Dash: A Thief Walked Into a San Francisco Gallery and Ran Off With a $20,000 Etching by the Spanish Surrealist

The thief was in and out of the gallery in 30 seconds. 

Spanish painter Salvador Dalí poses at Hotel Meurice in 1973, Paris. Photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images.

It was an act so audacious that Salvador Dalí himself might have been proud. This past Sunday, a man walked into a San Francisco gallery, grabbed a $20,000 etching by the late Spanish Surrealist off an easel in the gallery’s front window, and strode back onto the street—all in a matter of 30 seconds. 

Dennis Rae Fine Art had staged an exhibition of some 30 works by Dalí. The thief’s target was Burning Giraffe, a hand-colored, limited-edition etching done by the artist in 1967. 

Gallery director Rasjad Hopkins, who was the only staff member on site that day, said the theft likely happened while his back was turned. “He was in and out of there in a shot,” Hopkins told TIME. “He probably did it in less than a minute.” Hopkins noted that the work was insured. 

The gallery’s surveillance camera was off at the time, but security footage from a hotel across the street revealed a man dressed in a blue t-shirt and gym shorts walking away with the etching under his arm. A woman who is suspected to be the man’s accomplice loitered outside near the gallery’s front door. 

The lock and cable meant to secure the etching was also missing, suggesting that the thief may have cased the location earlier, though Hopkins also posits that it could have been removed for a showing the previous day and not replaced by gallery staff. “I think it was a theft of opportunity,” the director said.

The illustration, which depicts a sickly giraffe engulfed in flames, among other beguiling figures, is not the type of work that one could sell unnoticed, Hopkins said.  

“I think that people would know,” Angela Kellett, another director at the gallery, told ABC7 News. “It’s a very small edition of etchings, so the number, we know exactly what piece it is, so now it’s a very hot item.” 

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics