A painting found hidden in an Italian gallery in December is an authentic piece of Gustav Klimt stolen almost 23 years ago, experts confirmed.
The Portrait of a Lady was one of the world’s most sought-after stolen works of art before being found hidden in a wall of the modern art gallery Ricci Oddi, the same gallery from where it disappeared in the northern city of Piacenza.
Ornella Chicca, the prosecutor of Piacenza, said at a press conference: “It is not a small emotion that I can tell you that the work is authentic.”
The painting was discovered by two gardeners when they cleaned ivy on an exterior wall of the gallery on 10December. The couple discovered a metal panel that, when opened, revealed a cavity with a paint in a bag. An initial inspection indicated that the painting was the 1917 work of the Austrian art nouveau painter before the prosecutor appointed two experts to confirm its authenticity.
On another turn, Ermanno Mariani, a journalist for the Piacenza La Libertà newspaper, received a letter from two people who claimed to have stolen the painting before hiding it in the wall.
“A mystery about a mystery for which investigations are ongoing,” La Libertà reported Friday. “The certification of its authenticity opens the door to the work of the investigators and it cannot be ruled out that the name of a suspect soon appears.”
The theft of a Lady’s Portrait was discovered on the morning of February 22, 1997, but police believed it had been removed three days earlier. The researchers at that time suspected internal work. The investigation was reopened in 2016 after the discovery of DNA traces of a thief in the abandoned frame of the painting.
Police believe thieves used a fishing line to hook the masterpiece of the wall and climb it through an open skylight to the ceiling of the gallery, where the frame was discarded.
The Klimt is considered particularly important because, shortly before his disappearance, an art student realized that he had been painted on another work that was previously believed lost, a portrait of a young woman who had not been seen since 1912, making it the only “double” Klimt known for the world of art.
Patrizia Barbieri, mayor of Piacenza, said the news of its authenticity “is of historical importance for the artistic and cultural community and for the city of Piacenza.”
Jonathan Papamerenghi, the city’s chief of culture, said in December that if the authenticity of the painting was confirmed, they would be ready to exhibit it in the gallery as soon as in January. At that time, he said the piece was the most wanted stolen painting in the world after Caravaggio’s Nativity with San Francisco and San Lorenzo.
Caravaggio’s painting was stolen in 1969 from the San Lorenzo Oratory in Palermo and its theft is considered one of the greatest mysteries in the history of art.