Missing for Two Decades, Klimt’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ Will Soon Be Back on View

After being stolen in 1997, the painting disappeared for over two decades before it was surreptitiously returned by the thieves.

Portrait of a lady, by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). DeAgostini/Getty Images

Last December, a Gustav Klimt painting called Portrait of a Lady that had been missing since 1997 miraculously turned up in the very same gallery from which it had been presumably stolen 22 years previously. The painting was found when a gardener disposing of ivy covering the Ricci-Oddi Modern Art Gallery in Piacenza, Italy discovered a metal panel in the wall, behind which the canvas had been stowed. Now, as a conclusion to the saga, Portrait of a Lady is scheduled to be exhibited (under high security measures) at the Ricci-Oddi gallery beginning on November 28, 2020, as part of a procession of shows dedicated to Klimt. Additionally, the painting is reported to be worth a staggering $70.8 million.

After the gardener made the extraordinary discovery of the painting in 2019, in January of this year, two men wrote a letter to Ermanno Mariani, a journalist for the Italian newspaper Libertà, in which they confessed that they had been the ones who stole and subsequently returned the Klimt painting in 1997. The letter reportedly elaborated that the two men had returned the painting after stealing it “as a gift to the city.” Members of the Italian police force subsequently questioned the men, who were believed to be part of a prolific gang known for burglaries and thefts in the immediate area.

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“They have been obscure about the details but have always maintained that the painting was not in the cavity all of that time,” Mariani told The Guardian in January. “I’m not a technical expert, but it would have been damaged if it had been there for all those years.” According to the lawyer representing the two alleged thieves, the two men claimed that they had returned the painting to the cavity in the gallery wall four years ago, in approximately 2016. How the painting was even stolen in the first place is still unclear, but at the very least, it’s still intact.

Missing for Two Decades, Klimt’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ Will Soon Be Back on View