Belgian authorities have recovered two stolen paintings by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall in an Antwerp basement. The pair of works — Picasso’s abstract portrait “Tête” (1971) and Chagall’s depiction of a praying man “L’homme en prière” (1970) — were taken from a Tel Aviv home 14 years ago. Both were found in good condition, according to a police statement issued Tuesday, January 16.
In 2010, thieves entered the residence of an unnamed art collector in Israel, disarming the alarm system and stealing the Picasso, the Chagall, and $680,000 worth of jewelry, which has yet to be recovered. The stolen artworks were valued at a combined $900,000 at the time of their disappearance.
“Although the collector’s home was equipped with an efficient and sophisticated alarm system, the thieves managed to neutralize it and enter the empty home without being detected,” the police statement said.
Over a decade later in 2022, Belgian authorities learned that a man living in the French-speaking central city of Namur was attempting to sell the missing paintings. Details about the planned sale were not released.
Namur police launched a calculated surveillance operation. For months, the authorities observed “[the man’s] habits, his relationships and contacts, his movements, his activities, and the places he frequents.”
Police conducted a raid on the suspect’s home on January 10, finding a “large sum of cash” but no Picasso or Chagall. The suspect and his wife were taken into custody, admitting that they possessed the artworks but refusing to disclose where the paintings were held.
A subsequent raid on the Antwerp basement revealed the two artworks in perfect condition, stored in sealed wooden boxes and still displayed in their original frames.
A judge charged the suspect with concealment of the works and issued a warrant for his arrest.