ROME (Reuters) – A painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, stolen in 1997, could have been discovered, hidden in a wall of the Italian gallery from which it was taken, officials said on Wednesday.
Italian police stand next to what they say is a masterpiece by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt's "Portrait of a Lady", stolen in 1997 and found hidden on the outside wall of an Italian gallery in Piazcenza, Italy. December 10, 2019 Still image taken from a video. State Policy / Disclosure via REUTERS
Workers discovered the painting, a portrait of a young woman who was completed in 1917, when she took the ivy off the outer wall of the Ricci Oddi gallery in the northern city of Piacenza and found a small trapdoor.
Inside was a plastic trash bag that contained the artwork.
"This is amazing," Jonathan Papamarengh, head of culture at Piacenza City Hall, told Capital Radio.
The police took charge of the discovery and experts will now examine it to verify its authenticity.
The painting disappeared in February 1997. Police said at the time they believed the thieves used a fishing line to attach the masterpiece to the wall and drag it across a skylight to the gallery ceiling where the frame was discarded. .
A skillful falsification of the painting, wrapped and sent to a disgraced politician, was seized by the authorities a month later, adding to the mystery.
Papamarengh said it was hard to believe the original had been hidden in the gallery wall since his disappearance, saying the building was carefully searched after the theft.
"The condition of the painting is excellent. It seems strange to believe that it has been hidden in a wall, near the ground and vegetation for 22 years," he added.
Papamarengh said the Klimt is second on Italy's most valuable art list, right behind a painting by Caravaggio stolen from a church in Sicily in 1969.
The Klimt is considered particularly important because, shortly before its disappearance, an art student realized that it had been painted on another work believed to be lost – a portrait of a young woman who had not been seen since 1912 – making it the only "double". "Klimt known to the art world.
Crispian Balmer report; Editing by Andrew Heavens
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