Art historian featured in news report about stolen Matisse

Aug. 16, 2012

Todd CronanA Matisse painting worth an estimated $3 million was recovered by FBI agents ten years after it was stolen. The 1925 painting, “Odalisque in Red Pants,” had been swapped for a fake at a Venezuelan museum, according to ABC News. An Emory art historian was featured in the report with his observations that the forgery was quite clever.

Todd Cronan, assistant professor of art history at Emory, told ABC that “the person who made the fake is quite intelligent.” He explained that what made the counterfeit different from the original was the shadow on the woman’s left arm. “It merges the body with the background. “That’s something Matisse refused to do in this period.”

During a sting operation at the Lowes Hotel in Miami Beach in July, undercover agents posing as art collectors arrested a  man and woman who were allegedly trying to sell the painting to them for $1.5 million.

A 2002 email correspondence between the director of the Sofia Imber Contemporary Art Museum in Caracas and a Miami art collector discussing the rumor that the painting was for sale aroused suspicions that the Matisse hanging in the museum was a forgery.

An administrator at the Sofia Imber Contemporary Art Museum confirmed to ABC News that the painting had been stolen. The Caracas newspaper El Mundo speculated that the Matisse may have been swapped during the 1997 Spanish exhibition loan.

ABC also reported that the undercover agents worked for the FBI’s Art Crime Team. The unit was created in 2004 to work with foreign law enforcement agencies and the FBI’s legal attaché offices in art-related investigations. The FBI Website says that, since its inception, the Art Crime Team has recovered more than 2,650 items valued at over $150 million.

To view the ABC report and images of both the original and the forgery, click here.

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