Authorities in Greece have recovered a pair of paintings that were stolen from a museum in Athens in 2012. The paintings were each priceless, with one being an original Pablo Picasso piece and the other a Piet Mondrian. Their theft nearly a decade ago was among the most notorious art heists in Greek history.
The two paintings were stolen during a highly coordinated art heist on January 9, 2012. They were each cut out of their frames in the National Art Gallery in a very speedy operation that took place at night. The thief or thieves in the case continuously tripped the museum alarms and hid out of sight, attempting to goad the guards into disabling the alarms by making them think they were malfunctioning.
The perpetrator then cut three paintings from their frames: “Landscape with a Farm” and “Stammer Windmill” by Mondrian, and “Head of Woman” by Picasso. The Picasso piece was extremely sentimental for the Greek people, as it was donated to Greece in 1949 by the painter in honor of their resistance of Nazi Germany during World War II. During a foot chase, the thief dropped “Landscape with a Farm,” but made off with the other two paintings.
Shortly after the theft, the National Art Gallery closed for renovations and has only recently reopened its doors. The museum has since overhauled its security with the knowledge it gained from the failures that allowed the 2012 heist to take place.
The paintings were recovered thanks to a tip given to Greek authorities. The police were informed that the Picasso could still be in the country, with its high profile and distinctive history making it very difficult to display or sell. Part of the tip included the revelation that the Picasso painting was up for sale on the black market. Unsurprisingly, the high-profile contraband had no takers.
The tip led investigators to a 49-year-old construction worker who authorities say has confessed to the crime. He went on to lead them to a crypt in Keratea, a town on the mainland, where the paintings were being held.
Police have stated that the paintings will both be returned to their rightful place in the gallery. The gallery only reopened a few months ago, making the timing of the painting’s recovery extremely fortunate. Greek officials have referred to the return of the paintings as a “gift” to the people of the country, given the important symbolic nature of the Picasso piece.