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Stolen Henri Matisse painting back in Sweden's Moderna Museet after 25 years
Christopher Marinello, Executive Director & General Council of The Art Loss Register, holds a Henri Matisse painting, "Le Jardin" 1920. Le Jardin, or The Garden, was taken from the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm during a robbery on May 11, 1987 and has been found by an art recovery specialist in London. AP Photo/Jeremy Young, HO.

By: Hugues Honore

STOCKHOLM (AFP).- A Matisse painting stolen 25 years ago has been returned to the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, its owner said Wednesday, after a dealer had tried to sell it in London.

"The painting 'Le Jardin' has been brought home from London. Right now the painting is in its transportation case," the museum said in a statement, adding that the artwork would need 24 hours to acclimatise to its new surroundings before being unpacked.

"It's a welcome return," Daniel Birnbaum, the museum's director, said in a statement.

Henri Matisse's oil on canvas from 1920, which is now worth about $1 million (750,000 euros), depicts a garden of white roses in the foreground and bushes and trees in the background.

It was found when an art dealer based outside London ran it through a global database of stolen art -- standard practice before a sale.

The team at the Art Loss Register quickly identified the painting as the one stolen from the Swedish museum on May 11, 1987, when thieves broke in with a sledgehammer and made off with the artwork in the early morning hours.

Media reports have claimed attempts were made to ransom the painting or sell it back to the museum for a huge sum, but a museum spokeswoman said no contact had been made.

"The Museum of Modern Art is a state-owned museum and it is absolutely out of the question for us to pay a ransom," Kerstin Ek told AFP in a recent interview.

The dealer, Charles Roberts, said he had been asked to sell the painting by an elderly man in Poland who had owned it since the 1990s and now wanted to raise money for his grandchildren.

"I didn't anticipate hearing that it had been stolen. It came as quite a shock to find that out," Roberts said earlier this month.

The Polish man had bought it "in good faith", he said, and when he told him it was stolen and could not be sold, the man "was bewildered, taken aback, although he did say, 'So it definitely is a real one?'"

It was unclear in what circumstances the man purchased the painting.

The director of the Swedish museum at the time of the theft had told reporters that the artwork was too well-known to sell on the open market, and this is likely why it had been missing for so long.

Christopher A. Marinello, an art recovery specialist and lawyer involved in the recovery of the Matisse painting, said: "Stolen artwork has no real value in the legitimate marketplace and will eventually resurface.... It's just a matter of waiting it out."

According to experts on art theft, a painting either surfaces on the market immediately after it is stolen, or it takes several years for it to happen.

Swedish police has said no investigation into the theft is underway since the statute of limitations has already expired.

The Museum of Modern Art will show the returned Matisse to the media at a press conference on Thursday at 10:00 am (0900 GMT).




© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse





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