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Culture

More than 10 years later, stolen Matisse returns home

© Photo: AFP, The stolen Matisse (left) shown next to the fake used by the thieves (right)

Video by Josh VARDEY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-08

A painting by French master Henri Matisse stolen more than a decade ago from a museum in Caracas, Venezuela finally arrived home on Monday.

“Odalisque in Red Trousers”, valued at around 2.2 million euros, arrived in Caracas by jet after being flown from the US, where it was recovered in an FBI sting two years ago.

In the type of arrival normally reserved for international celebrities, the painting was held aloft by its handlers at the top of the aircraft’s steps as the waiting crowd applauded and photographers snapped pictures.

Painted by Matisse in 1925 and depicting a topless woman sitting in front of a wall, the artwork was stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art sometime around 2000. The thieves replaced it with forgery – though it took the museum around two years to notice the switch.

It was found in July 2012 when a couple tried to sell it to undercover FBI agents for 54,000 euros at a hotel in Miami Beach. Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, a US citizen, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, a Mexican, were found guilty of trying to sell the stolen artwork and were imprisoned.

It then took another two years for the painting to be returned to Venezuela, where it will be returned to the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art.

“This piece is part of our heritage and should be here, among the Venezuelan people to be enjoyed by all Venezuelans,” said Venezuelan Minister of Culture Fidel Barbarito upon the painting’s arrival.

Fortunately the painting suffered little damage during its time away other than to its borders, which will need to be restored, Barbarito said.

“But it's still good news that in general the picture is in a good condition,” he added.

Earlier this year, works by two other French artists - Paul Gauguin's Fruits Sur Une Table and Pierre Bonnard's La Femme Aux Deux Fauteuils – were recovered 44 years after being stolen from a London home.

Both were found hanging in an Italian man's flat earlier after he paid around 22 euros for them at auction in 1975, unaware of their true value.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2014-07-08

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