Painting found hidden in Italian gallery wall confirmed as long-lost Klimt

This image taken from a video distributed Wednesday Dec. 11 2019 by Italian police shows two forensic police officers approaching a metal panel in which a painting was found in Piacenza northern Italy. A gardener at the Ricci Oddi modern art

A stolen painting has been discovered hidden inside the walls of an Italian art gallery 23 years after it disappeared, it was confirmed on Friday.

The century-old painting was discovered concealed in an external wall by gardeners at the Ricci Oddi Gallery of Modern Art in Piacenza, northeast Italy, last month.

Since the gardener's discovery, the canvas had been kept in a vault of a local branch of Italy's central bank while experts used infrared radiation and other non-invasive techniques to determine if it was the original "Portrait of a Lady".

Portrait of a Lady, which depicts a young woman sensually glancing over her shoulder against a dreamy moss green background, is a later work by Klimt, dating from 1916-17.

"I can finally announce to all people from Piacenza, to all scholars, to all friends that the work "Portrait of a Lady" produced by Gustav Klimt and owned by the #GaleriaRicciOddi is authentic!", tweeted Laura Bonfanti, the vice president of the gallery.

This image taken from a video distributed December 11, 2019, by Italian police shows two forensic police officers approaching a metal panel in which a painting was found, in Piacenza, northern Italy.

The painting's disappearance in 1997 was somewhat of a mystery as its frame was found near the gallery's skylight shortly after the work disappeared, leading to speculation that the thieves could have entered and left through it. Reuters news agency also reported that a forgery of the painting, wrapped up and posted to a disgraced politician, was seized by authorities a month later at the time.

It was stolen on 22 February 1997 as the gallery was preparing a special exhibition.

When the workers found the real painting, Papamarenghi said he was impressed by its excellent condition after decades lying in a wall.

Papamarengh said the Klimt was second on the list of most valuable art missing in Italy, just behind a painting by Caravaggio stolen from a church in Sicily in 1969.

Experts studying the recovered work in recent weeks, with the aid of X-rays, saw the earlier portrait. Chicca said police were studying some organic traces found on the canvas in hopes it might lead investigators to the culprits.

"It would have been hard to sell it to a private buyer" on the so-called gray market, O'Connor noted in a phone interview from London.

This was a portrait of a young lady that had not been seen since 1912 - making it the only "double" Klimt known to the art world.

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