Restoration. Homecoming. Beauty recovered. This is a story of what was lost, now found.
According to AP News, “More than 30 years after it was brazenly stolen from an Arizona museum, a painting by Willem de Kooning reportedly worth $100 million is going on display back where it all began.”
The University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson celebrates the homecoming of “Woman-Ochre.”
“Woman-Ochre” is an abstract expressionist oil painting done in 1955 as part of the artist’s Woman series. There will be a welcoming event combined with a fundraiser before the art piece is hidden away for months of restoration and a well-earned recovery from its thirty-seven year adventure.
The heist took only fifteen minutes. Just like in all the art-thief movies, it was well-planned and executed with breathtaking speed.
On the morning after Thanksgiving, with only a few students and a security guard in the museum, a couple arrived. The woman distracted the guard while the man sliced the painting right out of its frame.
At the time, there were no security cameras at the museum. An investigation took place and through the years, the museum would get an occasional caller stating they knew the whereabouts of the valuable piece, but nothing ever resulted in the painting’s return.
Until, one caller, that is.
“On the theft’s 30th anniversary, the museum displayed the empty frame at a news conference in hopes of generating tips.”
“Then in 2017, a furniture and antiques dealer in Silver City, New Mexico, bought the painting at an estate sale of a deceased couple.”
“When researching the piece, the dealer discovered an article about the theft. He notified the museum. A conservator with the university found it to be a perfect match.”
David Van Auker, the dealer in possession of the extremely valuable painting, was pretty overwhelmed at the discovery.
He told AP News he was terrified about keeping the painting safe. “I sat up all night with three guns and the painting behind a sofa. I thought somebody would end up coming and killing us for this painting.”
Fortunately, everyone lived in this true life art heist story that has as much mystery and charm as any movie Hollywood has created.
The Arizona Republic ran a story explaining that the painting “went hidden for years in a dusty bedroom in rural New Mexico.”
The report explains that the Dutch/American artist, Willem De Kooning, was a “prolific painter.” His work spanned seven decades and demonstrated a distinctive brush stroke. These paintings “over the years have just exploded in value.”
The AP reports, “the estate the painting came from belonged to Jerry and Rita Alter. The art work had been hanging behind a bedroom door. Relatives also discovered a photo that showed the couple had been in Tucson on Thanksgiving Day in 1985. Jerry Alter died in 2012 and his wife in 2017. Authorities never publicly called them suspects.”
Stolen treasure, hidden for decades, recovered. Beauty, resolution, and restoration, home, at last.