Stolen Picasso masterpiece found by art world’s ‘Indiana Jones’

Art detective Arthur Brand with stolen Picasso painting “Buste de Femme (Dora Maar)” - STRINGER / AFP

Arthur Brand recovered the Portrait of Dora Maar, worth 25 million euros, which was taken from a Saudi sheikh’s yacht on the French Riviera in 1999.

Also known as Buste de Femme (Dora Maar), the rare masterpiece was reportedly circulated in the Dutch criminal underworld for years after it was stolen.

The discovery ended a four-year investigation into the burglary on the luxury yacht Coral Island, which was anchored in Antibes.

Brand said he handed back the 1938 artwork, which was feared lost forever, to an insurance company earlier this month – after two intermediaries showed up at his Amsterdam home with the missing portrait wrapped in a sheet and garbage bags.

Dora Maar was one of Picasso’s one of most influential mistresses, and her portrait hung in his home until his death in 1973.

The theft

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the harbour at Antibes on the French Riviera has been a playground for the rich and famous; and for the past 50 years it has been home to some of the world’s most luxurious private yachts.  In March of 1999, a wealthy Saudi Arabian brought his yacht into the harbour to be refurbished.

The portrait usually hung in the ship’s main living room, which had a sophisticated alarm system.  Since the walls of the room were about to be repainted, the subcontractor had the portrait moved to a different room. The new room was under lock and key, but lacked an alarm system.  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.

Source: RFI, Artcops