Greek police found a Picasso stolen nearly a decade ago in a 7-minute art heist

Business Insider US
Police investigators search for evidence at the Athens' National Gallery on January 9, 2012.
  • Greek police announced they located two paintings that were stolen in an art heist in 2012.
  • The Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian paintings were found in a forest outside Athens.
  • A man confessed to stealing the paintings and led authorities to their location, police say.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

Greek authorities say they have located stolen artwork by Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian that had been missing for more than nine years, Reuters reports.

Thieves stole Picasso's "Head of a Woman" (1939) and a Mondrian painting of a mill - which various publications have identified as a 1905 painting entitled "Mill," "Stammer Mill," "Windstammer Mill," or "Stammer Mill with Summer House" - during a heist at the National Gallery in Athens in January 2012, as CNN reported at the time. Representatives for the National Gallery in Athens did not immediately respond when reached by Insider to clarify the title of the Mondrian painting.

On Tuesday, police said they arrested a 49-year-old Greek man who confessed to stealing the paintings, Reuters reports. The man led authorities to a forest where he had hidden the paintings, the Ministry of Citizen Protection told Reuters.

A video posted on Twitter by the Ministry of Citizen Protection shows the location where the paintings were found, in the underbrush of a dry riverbed. According to The Guardian, police said the suspect moved the art from a warehouse to a riverbed southeast of Athens in fear that authorities were tracing him. The pieces were found covered in protective wrapping, The Guardian reported.

During the heist, a 16th-century sketch by Guglielmo Caccia was also stolen, which the suspect said had been destroyed, Reuters reports.

Representatives for the Ministry of Citizen Protection did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The pieces had been missing until the police received a "stunning tip" earlier this year in February, ArtNet News reported at the time. Police believed that the Picasso painting was possibly listed for sale for the equivalent of nearly R300 million in the Greek illicit art market but did not sell due to the recognition of the painting and artist, according to ArtNews.

During the heist, it took the thieves seven minutes to steal the paintings from the National Gallery in Athens, the BBC reported in 2012.

As CNN reported at the time, officers said that the thieves set off the museum alarms a number of times until they were disabled. Then, at 04:30, they broke into the museum through a balcony and removed the Mondrian painting, "Head of a Woman," the sketch by Caccia, and "Landscape With a Farm" - also by Mondrian - from their frames, CNN reported.

As they were exiting the museum, the thieves set off an alarm, and during a chase with guards, they dropped the "Landscape With a Farm" painting, the BBC reported. Following the heist, ArtNet news reported that the museum revamped its security systems.

The stolen paintings were mourned across the country, particularly Picasso's "Head of a Woman."

According to Reuters, Picasso had presented the art to the National Gallery of Athens in 1949 to honour the nation's resistance against the Nazis and left a note in French inscribed on the back of the art: "For the Greek people, a tribute from Picasso."

Th recovered paintings will reportedly be exhibited once again in the National Gallery in Athens, though it's unclear when this will be. Representatives for the museum did not respond to Insider's request for further information by the time of publication.

Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.

Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo