A $3 million missing Matisse painting that had been stolen nearly 10 years ago and swapped for a fake at a Venezuelan museum has reportedly been recovered by FBI agents posing as art collectors at the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach Tuesday.
A man and a woman allegedly tried to sell Henri Matisse's 1925 "Odalisque in Red Pants" to undercover agents for $1.5 million.
The original painting of the dark-haired woman kneeling topless in red pants had been on display at the Sofia Imber Contemporary Art Museum in Caracas since 1981, save when it was loaned to a Spanish exhibition in 1997.
But an email correspondence in 2002 between the museum's director, Rita Salvestrini, and Miami art collector Genaro Ambrosino regarding a rumour that the painting was for sale led to the realization that the Matisse hanging in the museum was a forgery.
"The person who made the fake is quite intelligent," said Todd Cronan, a professor of art history at Emory University in Atlanta.
Cronan said that what made the counterfeit different from the original was the shadow on the woman's left arm.
"It merges the body with the background," he said. "That's something Matisse refused to do in this period."
Even though critics are divided over Matisse's works in the 1920s, which has resulted in their sometimes being priced lower than some of his other paintings, Cronan said that the $1.5 million asking price for "Odalisque in Red Pants" was very low.
The Caracas newspaper El Mundo speculated that the Matisse may have been swapped during the 1997 Spanish exhibition loan.
Source: ABC News