A stolen Picasso painting valued at up to £40m has been recovered by the Dutch art sleuth Arthur Brand.
The painting depicts Picasso’s lover and muse Dora Maar. It was stolen from a yacht moored in Antibes in the South of France twenty years ago. At the time the painting was valued at £4m. The question now is will the Saudi billionaire get his picture back or will the insurers own what is now a £40m masterpiece.
After putting out numerous feelers, Brand was contacted by an underworld figure
The portrait came from Picasso’s private collection, (one of Picasso’s Picassos) which illustrates how much Picasso rated the work. It was hanging in his studio until his death in 1973. The painting was dated but unsigned, as Picasso only signed work sold or for sale. The canvas was purchased by private arrangement from the Pace Gallery in New York and remained in Saudi billionaire Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh’s collection until it was stolen.
In March 1999, the wealthy Saudi Arabian brought his yacht into Antibes harbour to be refurbished. The portrait was hung in the ship’s main reception room which had a sophisticated alarm system fitted, but as the room was undergoing redecoration, the painting was moved to a lockup that was unalarmed.
The last person to see the portrait was the packing expert who came to pack up the entire collection. On the 6th of March, he wrapped up the painting and left it, unprotected, on the floor of the cabin along with an alarm-protected Matisse.
On March 11th, when he came to collect the works for storage, the Picasso had been stolen, but the Matisse was left, unharmed. Coincidentally, the video surveillance system on the dock had been out of service for three months. The police feel it was a “theft-to-order” for another private collector.
Arthur Brand has been searching for Buste de Femme (Dora Maar) (1938) since 2015. He had heard through the grapevine that the painting was circulated among the Netherlands’ criminal underworld for a number of years. The artwork had been used as collateral in several drug deals but was known to be too hot to handle in the artworld.
“Two representatives of a Dutch businessman contacted me, saying their client had the painting. He was at his wits’ end,” Brand told AFP. “He thought the Picasso was part of a legitimate deal. It turns out the deal was legitimate—the method of payment was not.”
After putting out numerous feelers, Brand was contacted by an underworld figure who agreed to return the painting. It was delivered to his Amsterdam flat covered in a sheet and protected by a black dustbin liner. Dutch and French police have agreed that they will not prosecute its last owner.
Arthur Brand has built a successful career returning artworks to their rightful owners. He successfully returned a Byzantine mosaic of St Mark that had been looted from Panaya Kanakaria church in Cyprus and tracked down two bronze horses created by Josef Thorak stolen from outside the Reichstag in Berlin.
Top Photo: Photo: courtesy of Arthur Brand