It is unknown exactly when the woman in red pants was stolen, but this week, with the help of an F.B.I. sting, she was found. The woman in question is the painter Henri Matisse’s “Odalisque in Red Pants.” It is speculated that the painting was stolen from The Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas over ten years ago, however the exact date is unknown. The discovery of the theft occurred in 2002 when a Miami-based art gallery owner contacted the Venezuelan museum stating that someone had come in looking to sell the impressionist painting. This caused experts to examine the work they had displayed in their museum, and upon inspection, it was proven to be a fake. This means that someone stole the real Matisse, swapped it with a replica and no one was the wiser. After a decade of being lost, the F.B.I. learned from an affidavit, that had been filed in Miami federal court that Pedro Antonio Marcuello was the man trying to shop around “Odalisque on Red Pants.” This sparked agents to contact Marcuello and his partner Maria Martha Ornelas, acting as interested buyers, and arrange a meeting to purchase the item where the duo would be arrested. The New York Times reported that Ornelas had insight into how the theft originally took place:
“According to court papers, Ms. Ornelas told F.B.I. agents before her arrest that the painting had been stolen by museum employees, who had replaced it with the fake. She said, without disclosing details, that the painting had been in her possession for years.”
It seems like art theft is actually a pretty common occurrence, however the reasons seem to be different around the globe. Just this month in Rio de Janeiro, an art thief who is serving 12 years for stealing and falsifying artwork was caught running a ring from prison. The thieves were found to be stealing works of art, based on the requests of collectors. There was also a Parisian robbery that took place in The Museum of Modern Art in Paris where a bundle of five paintings were burgled overnight. It is speculated that these pieces were taken to be used as collateral in place of actual currency as a way of laundering money. No matter what the reason, burglary of pieces of fine art seem to be amongst the most controversial types of thievery, mostly because it is the act of stealing something of such cultural and educational significance and using it for such mercenary needs. The need for a Matisse also goes beyond personal gain. The rash of thefts is a part of pop culture, inspiring a joke on Family Guy.