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Portrait found in Italian gallery's walls verified as stolen work by Klimt
PIACENZA, Italy — Art experts have confirmed that a painting discovered hidden inside an Italian art gallery's walls last month is Gustav Klimt's "Portrait of a Lady," which was reported stolen from the gallery nearly 23 years ago.
The authentication of the painting announced Friday solved one of the art world's enduring mysteries – where did the missing work end up? – but left several questions unanswered, including who had taken it and whether it ever left the museum's property.
In December, a gardener at the Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery in the northern city of Piacenza who was clearing away ivy noticed a small panel door on a wall outside and opened it. Inside the space, he found a plastic bag containing a painting that appeared to be the missing masterpiece.
"It's with no small emotion that I can tell you the work is authentic," Piacenza Prosecutor Ornella Chicca told reporters Friday.
The portrait, of a young woman sensually glancing over her shoulder against a dreamy moss green background, was displayed on an easel and flanked by two police officers at a news conference.
The painting is a later work by Klimt. The Austrian art nouveau master. painted it in 1916-17.
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."
Experts said the painting was in remarkable good condition. One of the few signs of damage was a scratch near the edge of the canvas that may have resulted from a clumsy effort to remove the portrait from its frame.
Shortly before its disappearance, during work at the gallery to prepare for an exhibit, an Italian art student thought the portrait resembled another work. Experts discovered that Klimt painted "Portrait of a Lady" on top of an earlier portrait of a woman.
Those studying the work in recent weeks, with the aid of X-rays, saw the earlier portrait, further confirmation of the work's authenticity.
So who stole the painting? Chicca said police were studying some organic traces found on the canvas in hopes it might lead investigators to the culprits.