Stolen Matisse Painting Recovered 25 Years After Theft
2013 brought a pleasant surprise to the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, Sweden when a previously stolen Matisse valued at $1M was recovered by the Art Loss Register in London.
In the early hours of 11 May 1987, a burglar smashed his way into the museum with a sledgehammer, escaping with Henri Matisse's Le Jardin ("The Garden") just moments before museum security arrived on the scene. The theft was reported to both Interpol and the Art Loss Register ("ALR") who has been searching the art market for the last 22 years. The ALR is currently the world's largest international private database of stolen, missing and looted artwork.
According to reports at the time, several attempts were made to ransom the painting or sell it back to the museum for exorbitant sums. For the next two decades, the trail apparently went cold and the whereabouts of the painting remained a mystery.
A few weeks ago, the ALR received a search against its database from an art dealer named Charles Roberts, of Charles Fine Art in Essex, UK who was performing standard (and laudable) due diligence before handling the Matisse. Once the match was confirmed, the Art Loss Register successfully negotiated the return of the painting.
The ALR commented that Lars Nittive, the Museum Director in 1987 was absolutely correct when he told reporters that the painting was too well known to sell on the open market. "We commend the Museum for not giving in to ransom demands a quarter century ago. Stolen artwork has no real value in the legitimate marketplace and will eventually resurface...it's just a matter of waiting it out."
Museum officials congratulated the ALR on the recovery and were elated at the imminent return of this treasured work.