Matisses Le Jardin was stolen from a Stockholm museum in 1987. Picture: Reuters

STOCKHOLM: A British art sleuth has recovered a painting by French artist Matisse that was stolen from a Stockholm museum 25 years ago.

Matisse’s Le Jardin, valued at about 6 million Swedish krona (R7.9m), was recovered by Christopher Marinello, an art recovery specialist at the Art Loss Register (ALR) in London.

“It is fantastic that the painting has turned up again,” said Kristin Ek, a spokeswoman for the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

“It was stolen so long ago that really we had almost given up hope.”

The painting was stolen in May 1987 by a thief who smashed his way into the museum with a sledgehammer at night.

The theft was reported to Interpol and the ALR, the largest international private database of stolen, missing and looted artwork.

The painting was recovered after an art dealer in Britain checked with the ALR before selling the Matisse.

“We are happy the painting seems to be okay and in good condition,” Ek said. “It was a good start to the New Year.”

Marinello would not give details of how he got hold of the Matisse, but said “no arms were broken and no payments were made”. The painting would be returned to the museum through Sweden’s ministry of culture.

The Moderna Museet has yet to recover a Georges Braque painting stolen in 1993.

Art theft is lucrative, with between $6 billion (R51bn) and $7bn in work a year being stolen. The global economic downturn had led to a surge in such crimes, according to Marinello.

Last year thieves made off with paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and other prominent modern artists from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal. The haul was worth tens of millions of dollars.

If thieves cannot collect a ransom from insurers or owners, the art is sold on the black market, often for a fraction of its worth, or exchanged for drugs or guns.

Of the 360 000 objects on the ALR’s database, Marinello said there were several he particularly wanted to find. First is a $300m hoard that includes paintings by Vermeer, Degas and Rembrandt that was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. There is a $5m reward for the recovery of the paintings.

Marinello will have his work cut out. He says only 5 percent to 10 percent of stolen art is recovered. – Reuters