THE HAGUE, Netherlands: A Dutch art detective dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the Art World” has struck again, finding a Picasso worth 25 million euros ($28 million) stolen from a Saudi sheikh’s yacht on the French Riviera in 1999. Arthur Brand said he had handed back the 1938 masterpiece, “Portrait of Dora Maar,” also known as “Buste de Femme (Dora Maar)” to an insurance company earlier this month.
The discovery of the rare portrait of Maar, one of Pablo Picasso’s most influential mistresses, is the culmination of a four-year investigation into the burglary on the luxury yacht Coral Island as she lay anchored in Antibes.
Two decades after its theft and with no clues to its whereabouts, the police were stumped – and the portrait, which once hung in the Spanish master’s home until his death in 1973, was feared lost forever.
After a four-year hunt through the Dutch criminal underworld, two intermediaries turned up on Brand’s Amsterdam doorstep 10 days ago with the missing picture.
“They had the Picasso,” Brand told AFP, “now valued at 25 million euros, wrapped in a sheet and black rubbish bags with them.
Brand hit the headlines last year for returning a stolen 1,600-year-old mosaic to Cyprus.
A new book, released earlier this month, recounts his famed 2015 discovery of “Hitler’s Horses,” two bronze statues made by Nazi sculptor Joseph Thorak.
The theft of the Picasso, valued at around $7 million dollars at the time, baffled French police, sent the superrich scurrying to update boat security and prompted the offer of a big reward.
In 2015, Brand first got wind that a “Picasso stolen from a ship” was doing the rounds in the Netherlands, although “at that stage I didn’t know which one exactly.”
It turned out the painting had entered the criminal circuit, where it circulated for many years, he said, “often being used as collateral, popping up in a drug deal here, four years later in an arms deal there.”
It took many years and a few dead ends before pinning down that it was actually the Picasso stolen from the yacht of Saudi billionaire Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik al-Sheikh, as it was being refurbished.
Brand put the word on the street that he was looking for “Buste de Femme (Dora Maar)” and struck gold in early March.
“Two representatives of a Dutch businessman contacted me, saying their client had the painting. He was at his wits’ end,” Brand said.
“He thought the Picasso was part of a legitimate deal. It turns out the deal was legitimate – the method of payment was not.”
Brand called the Dutch and French police, who said they would not prosecute the current owner.
“Since the original theft,” Brand said, “the painting must have changed hands at least 10 times,” adding that he’d had to act quickly.
“I told the intermediaries, it’s now or never, because the painting is probably in a very bad state. … We have to act as soon as we can.”
Just over a week ago, Brand’s doorbell rang at his Amsterdam apartment, and the intermediaries were there with the painting. After unwrapping it, “I hung the Picasso on my wall for a night,” Brand laughed, “making my apartment one of the most expensive in Amsterdam for a day.”
The following day, a Picasso expert from New York’s Pace Gallery flew in to verify its authenticity at a high-security warehouse.
Also present was retired British detective Dick Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad, representing the unnamed insurance company now holding “Buste de Femme.”
“There is no doubt that this is the stolen Picasso,” said Ellis, who now runs a London-based art risk consultancy business.
Ellis is himself famous for recovering many stolen artworks, including Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” lifted from the National Gallery of Norway in 1994.
“It’s not only the public interest to recover stolen works of art,” Ellis said. “You are also reducing the amount of collateral that is circling the black market and funds criminality.”
Lenny Kravitz: ‘I wore a red suede tunic suit – I knew I was taking a risk’. >>> salonhanan.com