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Stolen Picasso found in New Jersey back in Paris museum

AFP / Bertrand Guay | Picasso’s “La Coiffeuse” is unveiled at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where it was returned Thursday, September 25, 2015, after being stolen 14 years ago

A masterpiece of Cubist art by Pablo Picasso was returned Thursday to the Pompidou Centre in Paris from where it was stolen more than a decade ago, after being found in a shipment to the US last year.

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“La Coiffeuse” (or “The Hairdresser") valued at some $15 million (13.45 million euros), was reported stolen from Paris’s Pompidou Centre in 2001 when staff responded to a loan request and noticed it was missing from its archives.

For years nothing was known about the painting’s whereabouts until, in December 2014, it mysteriously showed up in a FedEx package sent from Belgium to Newark, New Jersey.

The shipping label described the package as a handicraft Christmas gift worth 30 euros ($37), but its true, much more valuable, contents was discovered after Newark customs agents opened it up following a lead.

"It was such a moment of joy when I was told that this painting was found again," said Olivier Picasso, a grandson of the painter, calling the discovery important for art history.

After the seizure, US authorities returned the small artwork, painted in 1911, to its home in Paris.

The investigation into who sent the package and how the painting was stolen is still underway.

Attending the returned painting’s unveiling at the Pompidou Centre on Thursday, France’s Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin compared the "happy event" with the darker side of most art theft - including the pillaging by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.

"The battle against trafficking in artwork ... also sees unfortunate events, dramatic ones even, such as the systematic and perfectly organised pillaging that the Islamic State group is committing in Iraq and Syria," she said.

"We (also) know that this terrorist group nourishes itself through the dismemberment and sale of objects taken from sites of antiquity such as that of Palmyra."

The president of the Pompidou Centre, Serge Lasvigne, said the painting will be displayed after three months of restoration at a secret Paris location, having sustained minor damage during its 14 years of absence.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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