Nearly a decade after they were stolen from Greece’s largest public museum, paintings by Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso have been found.
Greece’s Culture and Sports Ministry said the works were found in a forest after a 49-year-old man confessed to the theft on Monday. After his confession, he took police officers to a forest outside Athens, in the Attica region, where he had hidden the paintings.
The recovery of works by Picasso and Mondrian is a victory, but the occasion was not entirely joyous. Once he brought the police into the forest, he told them that a third work that had been taken during the robbery, a pen drawing by Mannerist artist Guglielmo Caccia, was destroyed on the day of the flight.
The works by Picasso, Mondrian and Caccia were taken from the National Gallery in Athens in 2012. Thieves had also tried to loot a fourth work, another painting by Mondrian, but they dropped it on their way out of the museum.
There had been few clues made public about the theft until earlier this year, when investigators told the Greek newspaper Proto Thema than the Picasso, a portrait called head of a woman (1939), may still be found within the country’s borders. Picasso’s painting was a gift from the artist to Greece to mark Athens’ resistance to the Nazis. Investigators said at the time they believed there had been efforts to sell it on the black market for up to $20 million, although it was difficult to find a buyer as the heist was very publicized.
The National Gallery of Greece reopened in March after a major renovation. The reopening marked the 200th anniversary of Greece’s War of Independence.
“Two and a half months later, the Gallery is healing its biggest wound, that of 2012,” said Lina Mendoni, Greek Minister of Culture and Sports, during a press conference. “The work of the great painter, a gift for the Greek people, returns to a new gallery that has nothing to envy to the respective museums of other European capitals.”