Picasso painting stolen 20 years ago is found by the ‘Indiana Jones of the Art World’


An amazing story of the recovery of a Picasso painting stolen nearly 20 years ago emerged on March 26, 2019. “Buste de Femme,” a portrait of French photographer and painter Dora Maar was one of Picasso’s favourite paintings and was part of his private collection until he died in 1973. He never signed the painting because he never sold it during his lifetime, but recorded the date it was completed as 26 April 1938.

What happened to the painting?

The painting whose estimated worth is $28 million was stolen in 1999 from Saudi billionaire Sheikh Abdul Mohsen’s yacht while it was being renovated in the French Riviera port of Antibes. Even though a reward of 400,000 euros was being offered at the time, no one came forward and the artwork was thought to be lost or destroyed. After being stolen, it was probably passed around over 10 times within the criminal underworld as part of deals and payments.

After 20 long years, Arthur Brand, a Dutch art historian known famously as the “Indiana Jones of the Art World” finally recovered it last month after years of trying. After verifying some rumours of a “Picasso stolen from a ship” Brand made it clear that he was interested in recovering the painting. Representatives of a Dutch businessman who claimed to possess the painting finally contacted him and eventually brought it to him wrapped in two garbage bags. Since the businessman offered to return it to the authorities and may not have known that it was stolen in the first place, he was not arrested or prosecuted by police.

In the past many forgeries had been offered up to collect the reward but had been rejected.  Brand explained that a forger never really knows how the back of a painting looks, and that when he saw the back of this one he knew it was the real thing. In cases of stolen art, experts can sometimes learn more from the back of a painting than the front! How so? Sometimes, it is as simple as checking to see that the back looks as old as the time the canvas is meant to be from, and should have the kind of framing and support that was used at that time. 

After recovering the valuable Picasso, Brand said he hung it up in his Amsterdam apartment for one night before handing it over to an insurance company.

Arthur Brand has been responsible for the recent recovery of several other high profile stolen art including a 1941 painting by Salvador Dali and a 1,600 year old Byzantine mosaic stolen from a church in Cyprus in the 1970s. Apart from advising collectors to prevent them from buying forgeries, part of his work involves helping Jewish families trace art that was stolen from them by the Nazis during World War 2.

Written by: Zarir De Vitre. Zarir is a Mumbai based sustainability consultant. He enjoys drinking tea, playing with Lego, and football and basketball.


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