THE HAGUE – A stolen Pablo Picasso painting that was so dear to the Spanish artist he never sold it has been recovered by the so-called Indiana Jones of the art world, the Dutch art detective told EFE on Tuesday.
The painting “Buste de Femme” (Female Bust) was stolen from Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik, a Saudi Sheikh, whilst it was on one of his yachts in southwestern France on March 11, 1999.
“I am very excited,” Arthur Brand told EFE in an interview. “We are talking about one the greatest artists of the 20th century and this was one of his most important works and his favorite because he didn’t sign it and never wanted to sell it.”
“He stored it in his house until he died,” the art detective added.
At the time of the theft, the painting was valued at four million euros ($4.5 million).
French authorities archived the case and assumed it had been destroyed.
“When a canvas totally disappears it is usually because thieves have been unable to sell it and choose to destroy it instead, in order to avoid problems,” Brand continued.
The owner had offered a 400,000 euros reward to whoever retrieved the artwork, however, once he lost any hope of recovering it he made a claim to his insurance company who gave him a four million euros payout.
The artwork is an abstract portrait of Dora Maar, a French artist who was Picasso’s lover and is a good example of Picasso’s cubism, an art movement the painter was at the forefront of.
The pair were a couple during the 1930s and Picasso painted the canvass a year after producing his most famed piece the “Guernica,” (1937) an epic canvass of huge proportions which depicts the bombing of the eponymous Basque town during the Spanish civil war (1936-1939).
Brand had been searching for the stolen Dora Maar since 2015, although the experienced art detective had assumed it was long lost.
When such a high profile artwork gets stolen there is, Brand said, a 10 percent chance of it surviving, with it usually being handed over to an organized criminal group, often, to settle debts.
According to Brand’s investigative work, he reckons the Picasso canvas has probably been handed around some 20 people.
In 2015 the detective heard the painting was doing the rounds on the Amsterdam black market and that in 2002 it had been handed over as insurance to a mafia that trafficked weapons and drugs.
Brand contacted both the French and Dutch authorities but because the case had been closed in France investigations did not progress any further.
“Because there are so many stolen Picassos, I wasn’t sure which one it might be and this was before the internet boom and it was difficult to keep up with the details,” the art sleuth added.
“I dug deeper and then knew which painting it was and how important it was for its painter,” Brand continued. “When he died his family sold it to a dealer who then sold it to an Arab sheik who stored it on his boat.”
Several weeks ago the investigator became aware that an art dealer had purchased the artwork without any knowledge of what he was handling.
When the new owner realized the painting could have been the long lost Picasso he reached out to try and pinpoint the origins of the work, somewhat cautiously as he was concerned of the legal implications of owning a stolen painting if it indeed was proven to be so.
“We knew he had nothing to do with the theft,” the art expert said. “Launching an investigation did not make much sense, we would never get to the thieves because the canvass changed hands many times during this time, so we reached a deal: he would hand over the painting to me and there would be no investigation.”
The Dora Maar painting has never been exhibited and few have had the pleasure of enjoying it, not Brand though.
The Dutch art sleuth admired the colorful cubist portrait in his home on Monday evening, the day he recovered it, whilst he waited for the insurance company to come and collect it first thing on Tuesday morning.
The Picasso artwork is now in the hands of Abdulmalik’s insurance company’s headquarters in Amsterdam.
An American expert is currently in the Dutch capital analyzing the Picasso in order to confirm the painting’s attribution and assess the condition of the canvass before returning it to Abdulmalik.
Once returned to its rightful owner it is thought the artwork would be valued at around 25 million euros if it were to be sold at auction.
This is not the first high profile artwork brand has retrieved.
Brand estimates the total value of cases solved by the Dutch art historian amounts to over 150 million euros, a statement on his website said.