'The right thing to do is return them'

Almost eight months after two Gottfried Lindauer paintings were stolen from a Parnell art centre, the centre's director has once again made a plea for their return.

Together, the paintings, depicting Chieftainess Ngatai-Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure, are believed to be worth about $1 million.

"The right thing to do is return them," says International Art Centre director Richard Thomson. "It would be nice to see, the nation wants them returned."

Mr Thomson is speaking out, after an anonymous seller recently posted a listing on the 'dark web', selling what they claim is one of the stolen Lindauer works.

The dark web is an untraceable part of the internet and special software is needed to access it.

But Mr Thomson believes what's been advertised on the listing is fake.

"I can tell by some of the photographs on it and the photoshopping," he says. "We know those paintings more than anyone.  

"Yes, it's the painting, but it's a copy of it - it's a printed copy."

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking the listing seriously and has asked officials for advice.

"I've referred queries to the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage, because I'm sure that there would be some way that they choose to respond to these kinds of issues - a policy on the way that they respond to stolen goods," she says.

"So I've left that for their advice. It seems pretty bold for someone to list a stolen item and actually state that it's a stolen item the way they have."

Art historian Penelope Jackson, the author of Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story, says whether the listing is authentic or not, it's brought the story back into the spotlight.

"Perhaps it might jog someone's memory about something they've seen or a conversation they've overheard that could ultimately provide the police with the information they need to find the culprits and the works," says Ms Jackson.

Mr Thomson says he's confident the paintings are still in New Zealand.