A Henri Matisse masterpiece is back on display at Venezuela’s Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas Sofia Imber (MACCSI), alongside the inferior copy that was left behind by thieves, reports Reuters. The painting was returned to Venezuela over the summer, after missing for nearly 15 years – but the details of the return are shrouded in mystery.
The museum assumes the ‘Odalisque in Red Pants’ had been stolen ‘by’ 2001, and replaced with the forgery; but Marianela Balbi, a Venezuelan journalist who authored ‘The Kidnapping of the Odalisque’, a book about the theft, believes it was taken sometime after it was moved in anticipation of flooding in December 1999, but before mid-2000. The journalist’s book cites museum negligence, but it stops short of accusing corruption officials of being involved. The museum actually does not know the date on which the painting was replaced with its replica – a fact that will forever remain a mystery in the story of this work of art.
The £1.8 million Matisse was rescued by the FBI in 2012, more than a decade after it went missing; the mystery remains regarding who originally stole the masterpiece; as although the couple who were attempted to sell the painting have since been convicted of the attempted sale of the stolen work, no one has ever been charged with the original theft.
The painting was spotted in Florida in 2002, when a colonel in the Venezuelan National Guard tried to sell it to a gallery in Miami, during a period of unrest that briefly threatened Hugo Chávez’s rule. Word of the painting no longer being in the museum reached Venezuela-born dealer Genaro Ambrosino, whose attempts to contact the museum were initially ignored.
“I was furious, so I sent an email to everyone I knew in the art world.” Ambrosino told Reuters.
MACCSI was eventually forced to admit the original Odalique had indeed been stolen, and a fake version of the artwork left in its place. This realisation took ten years, before the FBI finally tracked down the real Matisse masterpiece.
The forgery, which was actually created with acrylic paint instead of oil, even has a large brown stain in the centre of the image, the key details of the work are also highly inaccurate, it seems that the forger even had issues with counting as the work has six horizontal green stripes; where the original has seven, Now, visitors to MACCSI finally have the chance to view the two works side-by-side.
“It’s a very bad copy, it doesn’t have the original’s design; it doesn’t have its elegance. I don’t understand how no one realised.” Venezuelan artist Elizabeth Cemborain told Reuters.