Greek construction worker arrested for Picasso work theft

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ATHENS – A painting donated to Greece by Pablo Picasso will be on display again at the newly renovated National Gallery in Athens after it was recovered more than nine years after its theft and the arrest of a 49-year-old construction worker as a suspect .

Authorities said Tuesday that Picasso’s “Head of a Woman” and a work by Dutch master Piet Mondrian, “The Stuttering Mill with the Summer House”, were stolen in January 2012 from the National Gallery in Athens.

They were recovered, wrapped in plastic sheeting and hidden in a dry river bed outside Athens after the suspect was arrested for questioning.

Picasso’s work of a Cubist-style woman was presented to Greece in 1949 with a dedication “in homage to the Greek people” for their resistance against the German-led occupation during World War II.

“This painting is of particular importance and emotional value because the great painter personally dedicated it to the Greek people for their struggle against the fascist and Nazi (occupying) forces and bears his handwritten dedication,” said the Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni.

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“This is why this painting was impossible not only to sell but even to display as it would immediately be identified as being stolen from the National Gallery.” the national gallery recently reopened after a major renovation that took nine years and was delayed for several months due to the pandemic. Mendoni did not say when the recovered works would be exhibited again.

The suspect is a Greek who allegedly acted alone, police said. They were investigating his claim that a third stolen work, a drawing of a religious scene by 16th-century Italian painter Guglielmo Caccia, was damaged and discarded shortly after the 2012 burglary.

Police did not give details of the whereabouts of the suspect and the paintings, but noted that they had recently been moved to the dry riverbed, apparently following reports in Greek media that the authorities were about to make an arrest.

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“Collecting the works of Picasso and Mondrian is a major success,” said Minister of Public Order Michalis Chrisochoidis. “The police have worked systematically, collaboratively and creatively, and they are to be commended for that. In the new National Gallery, (paintings) will have the place they deserve.

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