An artwork by Pablo Picasso that was stolen during a heist at a Greek gallery nine years ago has been found after a builder acknowledged taking the masterpiece and two other artworks from the National Gallery in Athens about a decade ago. Picasso’s 1939 painting “Woman’s Head,” presented by the Spanish artist in 1949, and Dutch painter Piet Mondrian’s 1905 painting “Mill” were stolen when thieves broke into the gallery. A 49-year-old builder has been charged with stealing Picasso’s Head of a Woman and a second work by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, according to police. The former was given by the Spanish artist as a personal gift in honor of Greece’s resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II.
According to the criminal’s confession, he activated the gallery’s alarm system multiple times before breaking in in the early morning of January 12, 2012, to mislead security guards to different portions of the building. Security measures were almost non-existent at the time, according to police. During the heist, which lasted only seven minutes, the artworks were removed from their frames and smuggled out of the gallery through a smashed balcony door after the alarm system was rigged to send the gallery’s only guard, who was on duty at the time, in a different direction. Fearing that police would track him down, the robber moved the valuables to a warehouse before covering them in protective wrapping and hiding them in a gorge south of the capital in the spring. Police discovered the two artworks in good condition in a gorge in Keratea, a rural area outside Athens, after receiving the latest tips. Authorities stated Tuesday that they apprehended a 49-year-old Greek man who worked as a house painter and construction worker, and he confessed, detailed the crime.
In Athens, the return was hailed with joy. The National Gallery, Greece’s largest public collection, reopened only recently after years of renovations. Lina Mendoni, the cultural minister, hailed the unveiling of the rediscovered masterpieces as a remarkable day full of immense delight and emotion. She said that five years after Hitler’s troops departed from Greece, Pablo Picasso personally gifted the Cubist painting to the country, inscribing the words “for the Greek people, an homage. Picasso” on the back of the canvas. The artwork holds special significance for the Greek people because the great artist dedicated it to the Greek people’s struggle against the fascist axis. The inscription explains why the paintings were kept hidden for such a long time.