Arthur Brand has done it again. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Dutch art detective turned Picasso’s 1938 painting Buste de Femme (Dora Maar) over to an insurance company, which has remained anonymous. The painting, which was stolen two decades ago, eluded Brand for four years but earlier this March, he got his break.
Let’s start from the beginning, though. Dora Maar, the subject of the painting, was a French photographer, painter, poet, and, from about 1936 to 1943, Maar was one of Picasso’s lovers. After he painted the artwork in 1938, he kept it in his own collection and it remained there until his death in 1973. The painting was eventually sold to Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh, a Saudi billionaire. He kept the painting on his yacht, Coral Island, until 1999 when it was stolen from the ship while docked in France.
For the next 16 years, the whereabouts of Buste de Femme were completely unknown – many feared that the painting may have been destroyed. However, in 2015 Brand heard rumors that a Picasso, once stolen from a boat, was being used on the Dutch black market as collateral and Brand thought he might be onto something. Brand told the New York Times that he believed the painting was most likely used as ‘payment for drugs or for arms deals.’ Then, earlier this month, Brand said he was contacted by ‘two persons with good contacts in the underworld’ who knew the painting was in fact in the Netherlands. ‘They told me, “It’s in the hands of a businessman who got it as payment, and he doesn’t know what to do with it,”’ said Brand in an interview. ‘I talked to the two guys and we made a plan to get it out of his hands.’ The men, who Brand has not named, made arrangements with Brand to return the painting. A few days later, Brand had a knock at the door to his flat and there it was. The painting, wrapped in a sheet and then black garbage bags was hand-delivered to Brand by the men.
The three men then toasted the painting, now valued at around €25 million, and Brand hung the painting on his wall saying, ‘The urge was too great; I couldn’t resist.’ Brand then had the painting examined by an expert from New York’s Pace Gallery who authenticated the work. Soon after, he handed the painting over to Dick Ellis, a retired British detective who started Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad. Upon seeing the painting, Ellis told the Agence France-Presse that he had ‘no doubt that this [was] the stolen Picasso.’
Finding the Picasso comes soon after Brand recovered and returned two Visigoth carvings in January, which were stolen from a church in 2004. Having helped return a number of other artworks including paintings by Salvador Dalí and Tamara de Lempicka, Brand has become known as ‘the Indiana Jones of art.’ This artwork proved to be particularly difficult, though, as there wasn’t a lot of literature or information on it. ‘It was never published, there were almost no pictures of it, and it had never been in a museum,’ said Brand, he then added ‘Picasso is one of the most stolen artists,’ which made the hunt even harder.
In this case, Brand says he most likely won’t receive any payment for the find but it seems having the Picasso for a night might be payment enough. ‘At the time there was a reward offered of 400,000 euros and I don’t know if the reward will be paid,’ he said. ‘My reward was to have a Picasso on my wall for one night. I can tell you, it was great.’