George Dawe was an English artist who hoped to become one of Britain’s answer to the Old Masters. He obsessed over figure drawings, studied anatomy, and even attended operations—there were no HIPAA laws in 18th-century England—to gain a better understanding of the human body and how it worked.
But his oil-and-canvas homages to his artistic heroes didn’t pay, or didn’t sell, or both, so he started a side hustle as a portrait artist. He was good at it, so good that Russian emperor Alexander I commissioned him to paint the portraits of his military officers. During one incredibly prolific five year period, he completed more than 320 portraits for a display at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.
Dawe still has a tiny bit of name recognition in Russia, but most of us are probably indirectly familiar with his work—especially his portraits of Christopher Walken, Bill Murray and, uh, Dog the Bounty Hunter. To clarify: Some dude who calls himself Replaceface has made his own career out of lopping the heads off of Dawe’s generals, swapping them for celebrities, and selling them online. And if you can’t find Replaceface’s webstore, you can always steal one of his canvases from your local pub.
Shortly after midnight on Saturday morning, a group of six people walked into the Hermitage Bar in Edinburgh, Scotland and helped themselves to the bar’s own elegant Christopher Walken portrait. (It’s a Photoshopped version of Dawe’s 1826 portrait of General Alexander F. Shcherbatov, just in case you want to do a weird flex by mentioning this to the bar staff.) How did the thieves know that the pub had such an impressive piece? Because two of them ate there just a few hours earlier.
“The [CCTV] footage [of the theft] clearly shows who you are and two of you were in on Friday night having dinner on a high top table and I spoke with you,” the bar’s manager, Rebecca Short, wrote on Facebook. “I'm giving you the opportunity to return the picture. You have until Wednesday morning before I involve the police.”
Short told Edinburgh Live that the Hermitage (which, weirdly enough, shares a name with the Russian museum where Dawe’s military portraits are housed) had just acquired the Walken canvas for a couple of months, tops. “We had ordered it online, it's going to be a pain to replace,” she said. “People often come in and comment on it because it's so weird."
Either the thieves changed their minds, sobered up, or didn’t want to go to jail for a picture they could order online, because less than a day later, Walken was back in the bar. “THE PICTURE HAS BEEN RETURNED AND IS BACK ON THE WALL,” the Hermitage added to its Facebook post on Sunday. “MISTAKES WERE MADE BUT IN THIS INSTANCE ALL IS GOOD AS WE GOT OUR BELOVED CHRISTOPHER BACK.”
Thank goodness. And welcome home, General Walken.
Or General Shcherbatov. Whoever.