August 14, 2017

Stolen de Kooning Painting Returned to University of Arizona Museum of Art

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Thirty-one years after it was stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre” was discovered in a Silver City, New Mexico furniture and antiques shop, reports Sophie Haigney for the New York Times. The painting was purchased by the owners of the antiques store as part of an estate sale, and after visitors to the store asked if the painting might be a de Kooning, store owners Buck Burns and David Van Auker compared photographs of the stolen de Kooning with the painting in their store. Recognizing the match, Burns and Van Auker alerted the museum and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

“Woman-Ochre” was taken from UAMA in 1985 on the Friday following Thanksgiving by a man and a woman who had followed a museum staff member into the museum. There was no surveillance video of the theft, but investigators determined that the woman distracted the museum staff member while the man cut the de Kooning from its frame. The recovered painting was authenticated by Nancy Odegaard of the Arizona State Museum based on canvas remnants and the painting’s original frame.

Interim director Meg Hagyard said in a statement, “This is a monumental moment for the museum. We are thrilled at the possibility that this work could once again be on exhibit in our galleries. This is an especially poignant moment, as ‘Woman-Ochre’ was donated by Edward Joseph Gallagher Jr. as a part of one of the largest gifts in the museum’s history. Having both the collection and that gift complete once again is something that we’ve always hoped for.” The de Kooning painting joins works from other twentith centrury modernists, including Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Mark Rothko.

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