What was first thought to be a lost and found Pablo Picasso painting is now being dismissed as a fake.
Romanian officials said they may have recovered a Picasso painting stolen in a 2012 heist, after two men handed an unidentified artwork to the Dutch embassy in Bucharest.
But a novelist, who claims to have found the painting beneath a tree, now claims the work’s reappearance is part of an elaborate hoax.
“Tete d’Arlequin” was one of seven artworks snatched from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, six years ago. Romania’s anti-organized crime agency said in a statement Sunday that it was “investigating the circumstances in which a Picasso-signed painting worth about 800,000 euros ($913,000) was found Saturday evening in Tulcea County.”
However, writer Mira Feticu, who has previously penned a novel about the Kunsthal heist, described the alleged discovery as a “publicity stunt.”
The novelist told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that she received an anonymous letter alerting her to the painting’s whereabouts around 10 days ago. She claims to have subsequently unearthed a canvas in a forest in eastern Romania.
But Feticu said Sunday that she then received an email from two Belgian directors who admitted to tipping her off as part of a project called “True Copy,” according to reports. Images retweeted by Feticu appear to show her with what she at first believed to be the original Picasso canvas.
A website apparently connected to the Belgian pair describes the project as a “performance” created “with a view to bringing back Picasso’s ‘Tête d’Arlequin.’” It references infamous Dutch forger, Geert Jan Jansen, explaining that the project “revolves around the life of a forger and the inherent question of the value of truth.”
The site goes on to list a number of news stories reporting the alleged discovery. A representative for the duo declined CNN’s request for comment.
The Kunsthal raid shook the art world in 2012, and Romanian prosecutors valued the total haul at 18 million euros ($21 million). The thieves are believed to have entered through a back door, with security camera footage appearing to show them carrying out the paintings minutes later.
Other items stolen in the heist included Henri Matisse’s “La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune” and Monet’s paintings “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London.” Works by Paul Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meijer de Haan also went missing in the raid.
A statement from the museum at the time said the artworks belonged to a private collection.
In 2013, four Romanians were convicted in connection with heist and ordered to reimburse insurers the full 18 million euros. Ringleader Radu Dogaru was also sentenced to six years in prison, although none of the missing paintings were ever recovered.
Dogaru’s mother, who was handed a two-year sentence for her role in the raid, claimed that she had burned the paintings to protect her son when police searched her village. Museum officials in Romania appeared to support her version of events, announcing that traces of paint and canvas had been found in the woman’s oven.
She later denied her initial claims in court, giving rise to hopes that some of the paintings may yet be recovered.
Sunday’s statement by Romanian authorities said that efforts to authenticate the artwork are underway. Director of the Kunsthal, Emily Ansenk, said that the museum was still waiting for news on the investigation, though she expressed support for the Belgian duo.
“We are firm believers in artistic freedom, even when it concerns such a sensitive subject for us, and we hope that the (directors) reached their intended goal with this initiative,” she said in an email to CNN. “That said, we would have found it even better if the work by Picasso had actually been found undamaged.”
Mira Feticu and Romania’s anti-organized crime agency did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.