ART HEIST

Recovery of stolen paintings a ‘special day,’ says culture minister

recovery-of-stolen-paintings-a-special-day-says-culture-minister

Greece’s minister of culture on Tuesday confirmed the recovery of two paintings by 20th century masters that had been stolen from the country’s National Gallery in January 2012.

“Today is a very special day, full of joy and emotion,” Lina Mendoni told a press conference with Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis in Athens, hailing the successful recovery of Pablo Picasso’s “Head of a Woman” and Piet Mondrian’s “Stammer Windmill.”

Mendoni said “Head of a Woman” would have been “impossible to sell or be exhibited” as it was donated to Greece in recognition of its resistance to Nazi Germany in World War II and bears a personal inscription in French on the back reading “For the Greek people, a tribute by Picasso.”

“This painting is of particular importance and sentimental value to the Greek people, because it was personally dedicated by the great painter to the Greek people for their fight against fascist and Nazi forces,” she said.

Police have arrested a 49-year-old-man in connection with the well-organized heist, which entailed circumventing the museum’s sub-standard security system and removing the paintings from their frames – all apparently within seven minutes. A drawing by Italian 16th century painter Guglielmo Caccia was also stolen.

According to official reports, the artworks were found carefully hidden away in a dry riverbed in Keratea, east of Athens, after the 49-year-old builder allegedly confessed to the theft following his arrest. 

The Picasso and Mondrian paintings were reportedly stored safely and recovered in good condition. “Their recovery is a major success,” said Chrysochoidis, adding that the works can now reclaim their “natural place” at the National Gallery which just opened following an extensive, years-long revamp that began after the heist in an initial bid to bolster security at the country’s biggest art museum.

The Caccia has not been retrieved. The suspect reportedly told police he damaged the drawing during its removal and flushed it down a toilet.