A bust of Matisse’s daughter, stolen from a Swiss museum 25 years ago, and now recovered

In 1906, the celebrated artist Henri Matisse created a bronze sculpture of his young daughter Marguerite, who was the subject of so many of his works. The piece is particularly interesting as it was made during the early years of his development in this medium.

The sculpture was donated to a Swiss museum in 1978 and on display until it was snatched from its plinth by thieves in the early 1990s. The thieves had somehow broken into the building during a public holiday. The following day, the museum staff discovered the theft and immediately alerted the police. Despite considerable publicity, it was not possible to track down the stolen sculpture or arrest the thieves at the time. The museum filed a claim to their insurer, and the valuable sculpture was registered on the Art Loss Register database in the hope that it could one day be found.

Nearly 30 years later, in January 2017, the Art Loss Register received an inquiry from a French auction house regarding a Matisse sculpture that had been consigned to them. The Art Loss Register’s research revealed that the sculpture was a match for the stolen one. Bronzes can be difficult to identify as they are usually made in multiples, however this one had an edition number which made it unique. Further investigation into the provenance showed that the consignor was from Switzerland and had acquired the sculpture shortly after the theft from a bric-a-brac store. The store was even located in the same city as the museum. The holder could not provide any documentation for his purchase, and admitted that he had only paid a fraction of the value of the sculpture, less than 1%.

Following swift negotiations led by the Art Loss Register on behalf of the insurer, the sculpture has now been recovered. The insurer expressed, ‘We are delighted with the Art Loss Register’s great efforts in securing the return of this touching portrayal of the artist’s daughter.’