A two decade long mystery involving Italy, a famous symbolist painter, a lost piece of art, and the inner workings of a gallery has finally been solved with quite the twist ending.
‘Portrait of a Lady’ by Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt was stolen from the Ricci Oddi modern art gallery in Piacenza, Italy back in 1997 (on February 22nd to be specific). The painting was originally created back in 1917, and it’s still unknown who the original thief was, especially considering the way in which the painting was found.
A gardener for the Ricci Oddi gallery claimed to be clearing some overgrown ivy outside of the gallery back in December (2019). While he was clearing away the vines he noticed a major gap in the walls that were behind the ivy, and inside the gap there was a large bag. Inside of that large bag was the ‘Portrait of a Lady’ left miraculously undamaged and in pristine condition.
“It’s with no small emotion that I can tell you the work is authentic. The only major sign of wear is a small mark on the side of the painting where it may have been hurriedly removed from its frame,” Piacenza prosecutor Ornella Chicca said during a press conference.
The painting itself is a portrait of a young woman giving a sultry gaze over her shoulder. The geometric, yet subtle, pattern on her coat holds Klimt’s signature symbolic style, accompanied by light colors and a background of multiple green shades. The painting was initially created a year before Klimt died, and the Ricci Oddi gallery acquired the piece in 1925 where it stayed until it was inevitably stolen in 1997.
After the gardener’s initial discovery in December, federal agents and art curators alike worked to thoroughly, and delicately, determine the validity of the painting. They used infrared radiation inside of a vault of an Italian bank to ensure the painting was kept under constant protection, unlike last time. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the portrait was, indeed, real.
Now, 23 years since the painting was stolen and over 100 years since it was originally created, art researchers have made some new discoveries regarding the portrait itself; and Klimt as an artist. Since curators were closely analyzing every detail of the painting to confirm its authenticity, they were able to draw connections to this particular Klimt piece, and a few others as well.
One expert recalled back in 1996, one year before the painting was missing, a student of theirs drew observations over some “striking similarities” between the ‘Portrait of a Lady’ and another Klimt painting that depicted a woman with a practically identical stare and posture, but in this painting the woman was wearing a hat and scarf.
Once this expert recalled that memory as they were observing the details on the new found portrait, the entire team decided to take a much closer look at the galleries entire Klimt collection from the time period that the portraits were created. They then discovered that the portrait of the woman wearing a hat and scarf was indeed the same woman in the ‘Portrait of a Lady’ that Klimt had just painted over.
With the help of the infrared technology, and a few X-rays, Italian authorities were able to make the connection, and now local police are trying to piece together what exactly happened. There are currently no real leads, as the painting was “stolen” over two decades ago, and now this new evidence could prove that the painting may have never left the gallery grounds in the first place.
One theory states that at the time of the robbery, Klimt paintings were in extremely high demand, causing prices to skyrocket. Someone could have simply moved the painting to inside of the wall for safekeeping until they could sneak it off the grounds, however, due to how in demand Klimt’s work was, they may have gotten cold-feet in terms of actually stealing the painting fully. For now though, it’s extremely unclear as to what actually happened 23 years ago, but at least art experts have some greater insight into Klimt’s process.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.