Burglars of Stolen 'Portrait of a Woman' by Klimt Confess to Art Theft

It seems that the mysterious tale of the stolen painting by Klimt in 1997, has taken yet another unexpected turn, after the pair of thieves have publicly confessed to stealing the painting decades after the crime in a letter to the local newspaper Libertá.  


Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘Portrait of a Woman’ was mysteriously stolen from the Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery in Piacenza, Italy 23 years ago. Fast forward to December 10th 2019 when the painting was miraculously discovered in an alcove on the external wall of the very same gallery it was stolen from decades earlier.


The revelation of the famously lost artwork was followed by more shockwaves after the apparent thieves of the artwork came forward to confess their involvement. Now a pair of sixty year old men, the burglars who were known to be part of a criminal group responsible for multiple burglaries in the area, confessed their involvement to the local newspaper, “we have given a gift to the city by returning its canvas”. 



The pair confessed to stealing and then returning the piece more than 23 years later, apparently timing this to come after the statute of limitations on the crime had expired, therefore avoiding any jail time. It is also understood that the pair kept the Klimt painting as a bargaining chip in order to get a reduced sentence for other burglary charges. There is also speculation that the pair were planning on finally disclosing the exact location of the painting when a gardener beat them to it! The defence lawyer of the pair, Guido Gulieri told the Guardian “that the painting was not in the cavity all of that time”, but that "they returned the painting four years ago". This has been supported by conservationists, who have reported the painting to be in good condition and therefore would unlikely have spent the entire 23 years in the external wall.   

 The painting was found inside this recess in a wall at the gallery


Before December, Klimt’s ‘Portrait of a Woman’ was considered the second most sought after stolen art-work in the world, after Caravaggio’s ‘Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence’, stolen in 1969 from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo. The 'Portrait of a Woman' is especially significant because it is a double portrait - the original portrait of a young lady, which had not been seen since 1912, was painted over by Klimt, a discovery made by an art student. 



Artist Nick Smith has reimagined Klimt’s now recovered painting in 'Klimt – Portrait of a Woman' from his 2019 series Pinched, a continuum of his exploration into the art market and specifically how the value of a work of art is influenced by its loss.


Artist Nick Smith says: “Each piece lost represents a partial loss of our heritage and art history. My fascination is not with the images themselves, but the stories behind the thefts. What is the motivation? And how does the theft influence the artwork’s place in our current cultural landscape?”


Nick's work can bee seen at the London Art Fair in Islington, from 22nd-26th January, booth G03 where you can find ‘Rembrandt – The Storm on the Sea of Galilee’, from the Pinched series as well as other works. 


For more information about Nick’s work and to get London Art Fair tickets for the remaining dates, please get in touch by emailing the gallery at info@rhodescontemporaryart.com.

January 23, 2020