Painting recovered 15 years after theft

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Theives had taken advantage of a local Bastille Day parade to distract local police from the burglary

By Victoria Stapley-Brown. Web only
Published online: 21 March 2014

A curator at the Draguignan museum in 1999 points to the spot where the Rembrandt used to hang. Photo: © Pascal Guyot AFP

A work attributed to Rembrandt has been found almost 15 years after it was stolen from a provincial French museum. L’enfant à la bulle de savon (child with soap bubble), an undated painting measuring 60cm x 49cm, was recovered on 18 March in Nice through a joint effort by the city’s criminal police and the central bureau charged with investigating traffic of cultural goods (OCBC). Two men, who were trying to sell the painting, were arrested.

The painting is owned by the state and entered into the collection of the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Draguignan, a small city about 80km from Nice. It was stolen on 14 July 1999, when the local Bastille Day parade served as a diversion, and the theives gained access to the museum through the municipal library next door. Though the alarm went off, the police arrived too late to catch the burglars.

At the time of the theft, the painting’s value was estimated at 20 million francs, or around €4m today. The museum’s curator was called in by police to identify the work.

It is known that the painting was seized from the château de Valbelle in Tourves (Alpes Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeast France) during the Revolution, but its attribution to Rembrandt is debated. It is currently thought to most likely be an 18th-century work in the style of the Dutch master, but now that it has been recovered, it could be the subject of further study.

Rembrandt’s L’enfant à la bulle de savon (child with soap bubble)

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