Police 'not very interested' in stolen $1 million Matisse painting found in Essex

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A Henri Matisse painting worth $1m (£620,000) stolen from a Swedish art gallery 22 years ago has been recovered in Essex.

The oil painting, Le Jardin (1920), was taken by thieves in the early hours of 11 May 1987 from the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. A burglar smashed his way into the museum with a sledgehammer and escaped just moments before security arrived on the scene.

According to reports at the time, several attempts were made to ransom the painting or sell it back to the museum for large amounts of money. The whereabouts of the painting remained a mystery for more than two decades.

But just before Christmas art dealer Charles Roberts of Charles Fine Art in Essex was offered the painting by a Polish collector. He made a search of the painting by the famous French Impressionist in the Art Loss Register (ARL), a database which holds information about stolen artworks.

Once the painting was identified ARL’s executive director and general counsel Christopher A. Marinello negotiated the artwork's recovery.

It is now locked in a safe in ARL's offices pending its return to Sweden.

“Mr Roberts was offered the Matisse and was hoping to sell it,” Marinello told The Independent online. “He has only recently become an art dealer so it was unfortunate for him that one of the first pieces he was interested in turned out to have been stolen. “

“We know that the piece made its way from Poland via a collector but do not believe that this collector or Mr Roberts had anything to do with its theft. Stolen artworks that are recognisable change hands often so there is no knowing where it has been in the intervening two decades.”

Marinello continued: “We have contacted the authorities with information about the artwork’s recovery but unfortunately the police don’t seem to be very interested in the criminal aspect because of the time that has passed.”

He said that Lars Nittive, Museum of Modern Art’s director in 1987, was absolutely correct when he told reporters that the painting was too well known to sell on the open market.

"I commend the Museum for not giving in to ransom demands a quarter century ago. Stolen artwork has no real value in the legitimate marketplace and will eventually resurface...it's just a matter of waiting it out."

Over the past seven years Marinello has been responsible for recovering or negotiating settlements in art theft or title dispute cases involving over £160m in stolen and looted artwork.