Stolen Matisse painting returned to Venezuela after more than a decade

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But question marks still hang over the theft from a Caracas museum

Venezuelan officials bring home the stolen Odalisque in Red Pants after it was found and returned by the FBI (Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

A painting by Henri Matisse that was stolen from a museum in Caracas more than a decade ago was returned to Venezuela yesterday, 7 July.Odalisque in Red Pants, 1925, which is valued at $3m, is believed to have been stolen from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas in 2000, although the museum did not discover it had been replaced with a fake until 2002.

The painting was retrieved by undercover FBI agents after two people tried to sell the painting in a Miami Beach hotel in July 2012. Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo were arrested and given prison sentences after pleading guilty on charges of the transportation, possession and attempted sale of the painting.

The Art Newspaper reported last October that the US authorities began repatriation proceedings after the work was certified by a Venezuelan authentication committee and later confirmed by the director of the Henri Matisse Archives in Paris, Wanda de Guébriant.

Representing the Venezuelan state, Joel Espinoza, the director general of procedural action, travelled to South Florida to receive the work. However, according to the Miami newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, the journalist Marianela Balbi says that while it is positive news that Venezuela has recovered the work, the case is not closed because the authorities have not been able to clarify how the work was stolen from the Venezuelan capital.

The Associated Press asked the Venezuelan ministry of culture to comment on the recovery of the work, but a spokeswoman said officials are waiting for the work to be returned to the Venezuelan government’s hands before making any announcements about the case.

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