"Odalisque in Red Pants", Henri Matisse, 1925
Florida FBI agents have reportedly uncovered a stolen Henri Matisse painting, after they arrested two suspects who had been trying to sell the painting, titled "Odalisque in Red Pants."
The painting was stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art in 2002, and has been missing ever since. The two suspects, Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo have been charged with transporting and possessing the stolen painting. If found guilty, the pair could face up to 10 years in prison.
Details which have surfaced regarding the circumstances of the arrest suggest that Guzman told the undercover FBI agents that he knew the painting was stolen, and asked them to pay $740,000 for it.
Shortly after, Lazo arrived at Miami International Airport carrying the painting in a red tube. A day later, the undercover agents met with Guzman and Lazo and subsequently arrested them.
"Upon inspection by the undercover agents, the painting appeared consistent with the original Henri Matisse painting reported stolen from the MACCSI museum," an FBI released statement read
The painting in question is worth approximately US$3 million and depicts a bare-chested woman sitting on the floor and wearing a pair of red pants. Although it was stolen in 2002, it wasn’t until a year later that the museum discovered that the painting had been replaced with a forgery.
At the time, director of the Caracas museum Rita Salvestrini suggested that the replacement of the painting with a fake must have been an inside job.
"There had to be inside complicity. You can't just make the switch freely inside the museum," she said
It is still unknown who initiated the switch, how they did it or even when it occurred. Some believe it may have occurred in 1997, when it was transported to Spain on an exhibition loan. But the most common belief is that it was stolen in the early 2000’s, after Miami art collector Genaro Ambrosino received news that the painting was up for sale and contacted the museum. That was when experts examined the painting and discovered it had been replaced by a fake.
This work by Matisse is just one of five other paintings thought to have been stolen, according to the FBI’s National Stolen Art File database. One of the artist’s most famous works, the 1904 painting "Luxembourg Gardens", is still missing after being stolen from a Rio de Janeiro museum in 2006.
Guzman and Lazo have already made their first court appearance, and a pre-trial hearing date has been set for July 20.