Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady had been missing since 1997. Whoever stole the painting didn’t get very far with it.
Some find quarters in their cushions; others find paintings worth $66 million in the wall.
This Friday, officials in the Italian city of Piacenza authenticated a discovery made last December by gardeners at the Ricci Oddi Gallery of Modern Art. The painting found stuffed inside a black garbage bag and hidden within an exterior wall is, in fact, Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady, which has been missing since 1997. The gardeners were clearing ivy when they came across a small access door and opened it.
The Austrian painter, who died in 1918, created the work between 1916 and 1917. It was acquired by the Ricci Oddi Gallery in 1925 and was included in their inauguration, in 1931.
In 1996, X-ray analysis showed that it was an overpainted version of one of Klimt’s earlier lost works, Portrait of a Young Lady. Ironically enough, this painting would also remain lost for more than two decades.
On October 22, 1997, Portrait of a Lady was declared stolen. It was to have been moved to another building, to be the centerpiece for a temporary exhibition. It became one of Italy’s highest-profile cases of art theft.
Presumably to perplex investigators, the thieves left the work’s large frame on the gallery’s roof, perhaps to suggest they had entered through the skylight. However, the opening itself proved to be too narrow. As the case grew in legend, others falsely confessed to the crime (perhaps as performance art, who knows?).
One need not be a screenwriter to speculate about how the painting ended up where it did for so long. Maybe a group of robbers stashed it there, planning to return once the heat died down, but began knifing each other in the backs in a series of double-crosses. You can practically hear the Italian dialogue.
Should this saga be adapted into a movie, it wouldn’t be the first time a missing Klimt had inspired a cinematic adaptation. In 2015 Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds co-starred in Woman in Gold, about the restitution of a Klimt painting stolen from a Jewish family during World War II. Here’s hoping the case gets solved so we can start fantasy-casting in earnest.