Baku, February 27, AZERTAC
A Picasso painting missing from Paris for more than a decade resurfaced in the United States, where it had been shipped under false pretenses as a $37 holiday-themed “art craft.”
The 1911 painting, “La Coiffeuse,” which translates to “The Hairdresser,” was unearthed in December in a FedEx shipment from Belgium to Newark. The canvas had been smuggled out of a storeroom of the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Paris museum and arts center, and its whereabouts had not been known.
On Thursday, Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, filed a civil complaint to forfeit the Picasso and return it to France.
Its shipping papers described it as a $37 “art craft/toy” and also read “Joyeux Noel,” French for “Merry Christmas.” When federal Customs and Border Protection officials examined the shipment, though, they found the master artist’s work. Department of Homeland Security officials working from Long Island City, Queens, which is within the Eastern District of New York’s jurisdiction, then took over.
The oil painting is owned by the French government; it had been bequeathed to the National Museums of France by one of its former directors. It was last exhibited in Munich in 1998, and then returned to Paris, where it was stored at the Pompidou. Officials there thought it was safe and sound until they received a loan request for it in 2001, searched the storerooms and could not find it. They declared the painting, then valued more than $2.5 million, stolen.
On Dec. 17, someone going by “Robert” with an address in Belgium shipped the painting to a climate-controlled warehouse in Long Island City. The next day, the painting arrived at the Port of Newark and was seized.
French museum officials came to New York last month to examine the painting in person alongside historical records and photographs, and they confirmed that it was “La Coiffeuse.”
Under federal law, imported merchandise can be seized by the government if it was stolen or smuggled.
“The market to sell stolen antiquities in the United States is drying up,” Anthony Scandiffio, deputy special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, which seized the painting after border officials flagged it, said in a statement.