A Greek worker has turned out to be the mastermind of a movie theft in which he chose almost randomly his loot, a painting by Picasso entitled ‘Head of a Woman’, which has been recovered by the police nine years later. It could have been a perfect crime. Enter the National Gallery of Athens and catch several works of art without being intercepted, without leaving traces, in a few minutes. However, time and the difficulty of selling such a valuable painting on the black market have allowed the authorities to recover, albeit late, two of the stolen works.
For love at art
“I did not want to sell the painting, I did it out of passion for art,” said the man after being taken to the police station. Although the local media claim that he is not a regular collector, the alleged thief has claimed that the only motivation for carrying out the robbery of one of the main museums in Athens was to be able to own a great work of art.
Precisely when, a few months ago, the Greek Police gave the first indications in years. They claimed to have found a new lead, the agents highlighted that ‘Cabeza de Mujer’ was conspicuous by its absence on the black market, which could indicate that it was still in the country. From the moment of the robbery, the experts have already pointed out the great difficulty of transporting abroad or being able to sell a highly sought-after work, by an extremely well-known and recognizable author.
Thrown in a ravine
Instead of within a prominent frame and on the wall of a picture gallery, the Greek Police have recovered ‘Head of a Woman’ and ‘Mill’, painted by the Dutch Piet Mondrian in 1905, hidden in a ravine among bushes and undergrowth, near from Porto Rafti, about 50 kilometers from Athens. The 49-year-old man, who has confessed to the crime after being detained by the police, led them there.
The paintings, wrapped in a package to protect them, were, according to the defendant, two months hidden in the open. Until then, he had kept them in a warehouse of his property, but when he felt that the investigation could point to him, the fear of being arrested led him to look for another hiding place.
Worse luck was a sketch from the early seventeenth century, attributed to the Italian mannerist Guglielmo Caccia, known as il Moncalvo, also stolen on the same occasion. The drawing was damaged when it was torn from its frame for what, as it has recognized, the defendant made a drastic decision: to destroy it. He cut it into small pieces and flushed it down the toilet shortly after the robbery.
A puzzling robbery
Despite the fact that it was apparently passion that led him to perpetrate a robbery of this level, the man has acknowledged that he did not plan to steal a specific painting, but took the works that were closest to him at the moment of truth. For half a year he planned the coup, he went almost daily to the gallery, both to visit the facilities and to monitor the exteriors, where he controlled the movements of the security guards until he was sure of the procedure to follow.
In the early morning of January 9, 2012, the man managed to enter through a balcony that was not locked and drove the security guards away from his location by setting off alarms in different parts of the museum. Although until now there has been talk of two thieves, the man assures that he carried out the coup alone. In a few minutes he tore the works off their frames and, by the time security arrived, it was just a silhouette walking away. During the chase, a fourth canvas, another Mondrian landscape, fell off.
A tribute to Greece
‘Cabeza de Mujer’, a cubist representation of Dora Maar, photographer, painter and muse of the Spanish artist, in front of a blue background was painted by Picasso in 1939 and donated by him years later to the National Gallery, as a tribute to the resistance of the Greek people against the Nazi invasion. Behind the canvas he handwritten “For the Greek people, a tribute to Picasso.”
During the work’s absence, the gallery has been closed to the public. It was founded in 1900, but over the last decade it has been renovated and expanded, doubling its exhibition capacity and, most likely, improving its security systems.