More than three decades after thieves made off with a valuable painting from the University of Arizona Museum of Art, officials say they have recovered the long sought piece from an antique dealer in New Mexico.
Curators at the museum that was home to Willem de Kooning’s Woman-Ochre spent years hoping to get it back after two people stole the painting the day after American Thanksgiving in 1985.
That dream finally came true when furniture and antique dealer David Van Auker called the museum from Silver City, N.M.
Estate sale discovery
Marketing Manager Gina Compitello-Moore said Auker bought the painting at an estate sale and later began researching it when he read an article about the heist that depicted an identical looking piece.
“When I got the phone call, this is literally the phone call I’ve been dreaming of — is somebody calling my phone and saying I think I have your stolen painting and that’s what he said,” museum curator Olivia Miller said.
Miller said it really stood out to her when Van Auker mentioned damaging lines across the canvas that made it look as if it had been rolled up.
Miller said a former museum curator was in utter disbelief and elated when she told her the painting was recovered.
The oil painting by the Dutch-American abstract expressionist is one in an iconic series by de Kooning that explores the figure of a woman.
The piece features de Kooning’s signature broad paint strokes, depicting various colours across the female body.
Painting cut out of frame in heist
Police have said a man and woman were the sole visitors the day the painting was stolen. They say the woman distracted a security officer by making small talk while the man cut the painting from the large frame, leaving the edges of the canvas attached.
The FBI said its agents continue to investigate the theft.
Nancy Odegaard, a conservator with the university, said she used a tool kit, magnifying glass and an ultra violet lamp to meticulously examine the…