First, William M.V. Kingsland turned out to be less Edith Wharton and more Somerset Maugham. The society figure was really Melvyn Kohn who lived in a small apartment tucked away from the Beau Monde.
Now that art-filled apartment appears to have been stocked with stolen goods, as Eric Konigsberg explains in The New York Times:
He left no will, and the apartment turned out to be full of artworks — including a bust by Giacometti that has since been valued at $900,000 to $1.2 million and a small painting by Giorgio Morandi that would eventually be auctioned for about $600,000 — that turned out to be stolen. . . . [T]he F.B.I., brought in to sort through the trove, discovered that of the more than 300 pieces found in his apartment, — including stolen works by Picasso, Copley, Fairfield Porter and Odilon Redon — most anything of commercial significance was difficult, at best, to verify as his. . . . . In October, Mr. Stair sold more than 200 pieces in Mr. Kingsland’s collection, for about a total of $200,000. One painting, a 1790 Copley portrait of the Second Earl of Bessborough, sold to an art dealer for $85,000. The dealer, Alex Acevedo, quickly looked into the painting’s history and found that it had been stolen in 1971 from the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard.
The agent has specialized in art theft at the F.B.I. since 1987, and he said of a drawing in Mr. Kingsland’s collection that is listed as a Corot: “Well, you know what they say about Corot, don’t you? He did 500 pictures and there’s 2,000 of them in the United States.”
Many of the Kingsland artworks, Agent Wynne said, appeared to have last belonged to galleries in New York, but it was difficult to track down when they were last seen. “ . . . In the case of a painting by the French artist Boudin, Agent Wynne said he contacted the son of the owner listed in the artist’s catalogue raisonnée, “who said that in his recollection, the thing had been loaned to a museum in Florida and that it had disappeared.” . . . . With a third Fairfield Porter painting, he said, the last verified rightful owner sounded unenthused and asked if the agent would not mind e-mailing a picture first.
Two Years Later, the F.B.I. Still Seeks the Owners of a Trove of Artworks (The New York Times)
Pieces of Art Collection Were Somebody Else’s (The New York Times, 2006)
FBI Seeks Rightful Owners of Kingsland’s Artworks (New York Sun)