The strange story of the disappearance and discovery of a female portrait by Gustav Klimt’s brush was complemented by another intriguing detail. The two men confessed to having stolen the painting and then ingeniously returned it to the Italian gallery. The work was recently discovered by gardeners in the outer wall of the same gallery from which it was stolen almost a quarter of a century ago.
An extraordinary series of events took place at the Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery in Piacenza, Italy. The police detained a couple of intruders after they sent a letter to the local newspaper Libertà confessing to a crime committed more than two decades ago. “We are the authors of the theft of Klimt’s Girl Portrait, and we gave the city a gift by returning the canvas,” wrote the men who are now over 60 years old.
The couple were part of a criminal chain whose members are responsible for a string of burglaries in this area of the country. The letter was addressed to one of the journalists of the newspaper Ermanno Mariani. He interviewed one of the gangsters when he was convicted of burglary a few years ago.
The painting was found by the gardeners on December 10, when they cleaned the outside wall of the gallery from ivy. The canvas was packed in a garbage bag and hidden in a niche behind a secret panel. Last Friday, experts invited by the Italian prosecutor’s office confirmed the authenticity of the work and the couple were questioned.
In fact, according to the lawyer of the attackers, Guido Gulieri, his defendants informed the police four years ago about the address of the house where they said the painting was kept. “Some details remain unclear, but these people have always claimed that the painting was not in a niche the whole time,” said the lawyer in an interview with the Guardian. – I am not a technical expert, but it would have been damaged if it had been stored in the wall all these years.
The story told by the suspects is confirmed by the findings of the conservative team, which stated that the portrait is in good condition. It is unlikely that the painting, which was kept in the wall alcove for 23 years, would have remained completely intact.
The thieves made their recent confession more than 20 years after the theft on February 22, 1997, when the statute of limitations expired. Since they are facing imprisonment for another burglary, they may have tried to use Klimt’s painting as a bargaining chip to shorten their sentence. In their confession, they wrote that they decided to inform the public only after “they are sure that they will not commit any further crimes”. And added that they “did not foresee the intervention of the gardener, who, however, only slightly ahead of us.
The confession coincided with the verdict of the Italian Supreme Court. According to Libertà, they will now have to serve seven years and two months, as well as four years and eight months for “theft and receipt of stolen” objects, including villas, apartments and companies.
The police have not yet completed their investigation of the crime, but the suspect’s lawyer says his client is not facing a sentence for stealing Klimt. “This is a very strange story,” said Gulieri. – They could have sold the painting or burned it … But the good news is that we found the painting”.