Friday 13 December 2019

€800,000 painting stolen eight years ago found on bus

Les Choristes (1877)
Les Choristes (1877)

Rory Mulholland

French customs officers making a random check on a bus at a motorway lay-by found a painting by Edgar Degas, the 19th-century impressionist master, that was stolen just over eight years ago from a museum in Marseille.

Les Choristes (1877) was found in a suitcase in the vehicle's luggage compartment during a stopover in Marne-la-Vallee to the east of Paris. Its value is estimated at €800,000.

But when the officers asked passengers who the case belonged to, they were met with a stony silence, the culture ministry said in a statement.

"Its disappearance represented a heavy loss to the French impressionist heritage," said Francoise Nyssen, the culture minister, who said she was delighted at "the happy rediscovery of a precious work".

The colourful pastel (right), measuring 13in by 10in, was on loan to the Musee Cantin in Marseille from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris for an exhibition featuring some 20 works by Degas when it was stolen in 2009.

When the customs officers opened the suitcase on Friday of last week, they were surprised to find a work of art bearing the signature "Degas".

They handed it over to art experts who said preliminary examinations showed it was the Degas painting that depicts a line of men singing in a scene from Don Juan, the opera.

The inquiry into how it came to be on the bus has been handed over to OCBC, the French agency that investigates art theft.

Les Choristes went missing on the night of December 31, 2009, from the museum in the southern port city. There were no signs of a break-in, leading police to believe it was an inside job or that a museum visitor had hidden and waited until the venue was shut before unscrewing the work from the wall.

Maurice Di Nocera, the city councillor responsible for organising major events in Marseille at the time, called the theft "a disaster for the museum".

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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