Undercover Turkish Police Recover Stolen Picasso Painting

Questions linger over the work's authenticity.

Turkish police from the Istanbul Police Department Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Unit, hold-up an original painting by Pablo Picasso. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Turkish police from the Istanbul Police Department Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Unit, hold-up an original painting by Pablo Picasso. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Turkish police announced the recovery of a stolen Pablo Picasso painting in an undercover sting operation at an Istanbul press conference on Saturday, when officers unveiled the badly damaged canvas of Woman Dressing Her Hair (1940).

The painting shows a distorted portrait of Picasso’s muse and lover, Dora Maar, portrayed with a hollowed ribcage, pot-belly, and oversized feet and hands.

According to the Guardian, Turkish undercover cops posed as collectors in an elaborate investigation involving secret meetings at a hotel and on a yacht in an Istanbul marina.

The painting before the theft. The canvas has suffered significant degradation. Photo: MoMA, New York

The painting before the theft. The canvas has suffered significant degradation.
Photo: MoMA, New York

The alleged art thieves reportedly demanded $8 million for the picture, but after extensive negotiations with prospective sellers, the culprits agreed to sell the Picasso to police for $7 million.

On Friday, police finally arrested two men after successfully arranging a meeting at a café to finalize the transaction.

Citing the Turkish state news agency Anatolia, the Guardian reports that the work was stolen from the home of an unnamed New York collector. However, the Art Crime blog pointed out that the artwork is also listed as part of the New York Museum of Modern Art’s collection, raising questions over the recovered artwork’s authenticity.

The recovery in Turkey is indicative of the breadth of the black market for art. Photo: Moya Brenn via Fickr

The recovery in Istanbul is indicative of the breadth of the black market for art.
Photo: Moya Brenn via Fickr

According to MoMA’s website, the work was bequeathed to the museum by the renowned collector of modern art Louise Reinhardt Smith after her death in 1995. The website says that the work is currently not on view.

In 2012 the artwork was part of an exhibition that traveled to the National Galleries of Scotland, and the Tate Britain. It was also on display at the MoMA, New York.

The painting has now been sent to the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul for closer examination and authentication.

Art Crime writes that the back of the Istanbul canvas reportedly lists the name and seal of the collector and shows its collection history, although the results of the official examination must be awaited before the disputed painting’s provenance and authenticity can be confirmed.


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