Authorities in the Italian town of Piacenza on Friday confirmed a painting found hidden in a wall of the local art gallery was by the Austrian master Gustav Klimt, ending doubts over its authenticity.
Workers discovered the painting in December in a plastic bag concealed inside the wall of the Ricci Oddi Gallery from which it was stolen in 1997. They came across a little door which revealed the masterpiece, while clearing the ivy off the outside wall.
The mayor of Piacenza, Patrizia Barbieri, and the head of culture, Jonathan Papamarenghi, hailed the “historic” news and vowed to make the 1917 portrait of a young woman a centrepiece of the city’s heritage.
“After the joy of the find … the conflicting rumours of these days have furled even more suspense over a story that has mysterious aspects,” the two local officials wrote in a statement.
“It’s a great, great moment for the city, and for the art community,” he said.
“It will be an opportunity to demonstrate once again how the artistic disciplines in their diversity can contribute to bringing all people closer to the culture and history of our country and our city,” the Ricci Oddi Gallery said in a statement.
When the painting vanished 23 years ago police said they believed thieves had used a fishing line to hook it off the wall and haul it up through an open skylight to the gallery roof where the frame was discarded.
A skilled forgery of the painting, wrapped up and posted to a disgraced politician, was seized by authorities a month later, adding to the mystery.
When the workers found the real painting, Papamarenghi said he was impressed by its excellent condition after decades lying in a wall.
He said it was second on the list of the most valuable artworks missing in Italy, behind a work by Caravaggio stolen from a church in Sicily in 1969.
The Klimt is considered particularly important because shortly before its disappearance an art student realized it was painted over another work previously believed lost — a portrait of a young lady that had not been seen since 1912 — making it the only “double” Klimt known to the art world.
— With files from Emerald Bensadoun.