A Matisse Painting, Stolen Thomas Crown-Style, Recovered in Miami

Connor Simpson
A Matisse Painting, Stolen Thomas Crown-Style, Recovered in Miami

F.B.I. agents arrested two people in Miami on Tuesday in connection with an art heist that sounds exactly like it was executed by Thomas Crown. 

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The New York Times reports the F.B.I. arrested Pedro Antonio Marcuello and María Martha Ornelas in connection with the theft of the Henri Matisse painting "Odalisque in Red Pants." The painting, right, is of a topless women sitting in red pants. (Times headline: "Topless Woman Found. Details Sketchy." Bravo, Times editors.) The F.B.I. learned last year that Marcuello was trying to sell the painting to a Matisse collector in Miami who passed along the tip. Agents contacted Marcuello posing as collectors and bargained a $747,000 price for the painting, valued around $3 million. Ornelas travelled from Mexico City, where the painting was being stored according to CBS News, to Miami and met with Marcuello and undercover F.B.I. agents on Tuesday. They were arrested after the "deal" went down.

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The best part of this story is how the painting went missing from a gallery in Caraces, Venezuela sometime before 2002. We say sometime, because no one really knows when or how it disappeared. The Times explains: 

The theft of the painting was first discovered in late 2002, when the Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas was contacted by a Miami gallery owner saying that someone had offered to sell it to him. Experts at the museum inspected the likeness and were shocked to find that it was a fake, and not a very good one, at that.

Someone had removed the original painting from its frame and put the fake in its place, leaving it to be exhibited as if it were the real thing. And no one noticed.

According to Marianela Balbi, who wrote a book about the heist, the earliest recorded evidence of a fake is in a picture of Hugo Chavez standing in front of the painting in 2000. No one's really sure how long before that the switch took place. One theory says it was switched during a 1997 loan in Spain. Ornelas apparently told the undercover F.B.I. agents the painting was stolen by museum employees, but had been in her possession for some time. If Marcuello and Ornelas escape custody at some point over the next week we're ready to call this the real life Thomas Crown caper.

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This is the ABC News report on the arrest: 

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