You can’t believe everything you read. This week’s headline in The Art Newspaper heralded the recovery of a $70 million painting stolen in 1997 from an exhibit wall by way of a hook fished through a skylight. The artwork, Portrait of a Lady, painted in 1916 by Gustav Klimt, goes on view next month in the same art center from where it was taken - the Ricci Oddi Gallery in Piacenza, Italy.

Under suspicion

But wait. Is this the simple story of lost and found that The Art Newspaper points to? Questions tear it apart. For one thing, the portrait may never have left the gallery. A gardener found it in an alcove wrapped in a garbage bag.

Some people associated with the gallery had come under suspicion. But according to the Italian art journal Finestre sull’Art, the robbery has remained unsolved.

Details, details

Last January, the Daily Beast told a contradicting story headlined “Guilty Thieves Explain Why They Gave Back Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady.” In this version, one of the robbers called a reporter in Rome, Ermanno Mariani, confessed to the theft and to stashing it in the gallery wall four years earlier in the hope that someone would find it.

Breaking free

Are you dizzy yet? Here’s another question. In all the coverage of the robbery, nothing is said of the work robbed. Unmentioned is how Portrait of a Lady is atypical for Klimt.

He liked to picture his erotic feelings and was even accused of painting porn. He even seemed to invite the criticism by famously saying, “Enough of censorship. I want to break free.” Comparing the passive portrait that was stolen to say, the blazing clinch in Klimt’s The Kiss makes evident why the portrait is not a recognizable Klimt.

Man or beast

A first-person account of someone who posed for Klimt, Friederike Beer, reinforces his reputation as libidinous.

“The most striking quality about him was perhaps his animalism,” she told Alessandra Comini in her 1979 biography of Egon Schiele, “He was actually animalisch; he even smelled like an animal.”

The difference between Klimt’s trademark work and Portrait of a Lady might have been reconciled in 1996 when it was discovered that the work was painted over a likeness of a lover who died.

Reportedly, obliterating the original picture was done out of grief.

Number two

Here’s another question. The Daily Beast notes that the stolen Portrait of a Lady was second on Italy’s list of most-wanted artworks – out of more than a million artworks stolen! Only Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, stolen in 1969, heads the list. Why is Portrait of a Lady so prized? It looks to be just a pretty face that is not all that remarkable. To be fair, I have the same complaint about Mona Lisa who blocks out the view of a better painting - the landscape in the background.

Maybe Mona’s husband, Francesco del Gioconda, felt as I do about the portrait of his wife. How else to explain why Da Vinci, who completed the painting in 1507, still had it in his possession when he died 10 years later.

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