A $55,000 bronze gnome sculpture stolen from outside Gow Langsford Gallery has been found abandoned in West Auckland.
Anna Jackson, director of Gow Langsford Gallery, told the Herald the gnome was recovered this morning after it was dropped off at the Glen Eden Salvation Army with a note saying "Please return to Gow Langsford Art Gallery Auckland".
Jackson said the gallery received a call from police to report the statue had been found.
"Staff at the Salvation Army called police when they turned up to work about 9am," she said.
"When I got here the police were doing fingerprints and things. We are now allowed to take him home."
Jackson said the sculpture, named Thinker, by renowned artist Gregor Kregar, will now live safely inside the gallery.
"He is in pretty good condition. He will need a bit of a clean and a polish and then I think we will put him on show in our Lorne St gallery seeing as though he is a bit of a celebrity now so people will get the chance to see him," she said.
The sculpture was stolen about midnight on Christmas Eve by three thieves in high-vis vests.
The thieves spent an hour removing the 2m-tall bronze gnome from outside the gallery on the corner of Wellesley and Kitchener Sts in Auckland Central.
CCTV footage showed the men bending down and using an instrument to unbolt the 80-100kg statue from the concrete plinth.
Gallery director John Gow said they were seen rocking the gnome side to side, eventually wriggling it free.
They left the scene about 12.45am on Christmas Day, putting the statue into a vehicle parked outside the gallery's Kitchener St entrance.
It was unclear what vehicle was used but CCTV had captured a "very clear picture of a Caucasian male's face".
"They were mostly wearing hoodies but there was this one point where they weren't and our security camera which is trained on the sculpture picked up his face," Gow said.
Staff first discovered the statue was stolen on Saturday after a horrified director Gary Langsford drove past, noticing it missing.
"I came straight in and could see that the work had been removed forcibly, through the chips around the edge of the concrete where the bolts went through and realised that we had a problem.
"And then when I reviewed the security footage sure enough there it was. I couldn't believe it."
He said he phoned artist, Kregar, to tell him the news. He initially thought he was joking, unfortunately he wasn't.
Waitemata Police detective senior sergeant Roger Small said the theft was one of the more bizarre thefts he's heard of.
"It's not something that's exactly common, but we're very glad this artwork can now be returned to the gallery," he said.
Police will be assessing CCTV footage and examining the sculpture to try to find those who may have been responsible for taking it.