The art find of the century could be just a publicity stunt to promote a theater project, a performance group revealed Monday.
An anonymous tip had initially led Netherlands-based writer Mira Feticu to look for and find, buried in a Romanian forest, what she believed was Pablo Picasso's stolen masterpiece "Tete d'Arlequin" (“Harlequin's Head”).
"Two years ago BERLIN started working on a project called True Copy, a performance about Dutch master forger Geert Jan Jansen. ‘True Copy’ premiered last Thursday in deSingel in Antwerp, Belgium," the theater group BERLIN said in a statement. "The performance revolves around the life of a forger and the inherent question of the value of truth."
The original Picasso painting was stolen from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery museum in a spectacular heist perpetrated in 2012 by a group of Romanian nationals who were then caught, tried and convicted of the robbery.
The seven paintings and drawings which were taken in the audacious midnight raid were valued at between 18-100 million euros and signed by Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meyer de Haan.
Although three people were arrested and convicted, the artworks, including the Picasso, were never found and one of the convicts, Olga Dogaru, told police she had burned the canvasses in a bid to protect her son, Radu Dogaru, the alleged ringleader.
"I received a letter in Romanian with instructions regarding the place where the painting was hidden," Feticu told journalists.
She traveled to Romania, the country of her birth, with Dutch journalist Frank Westerman, where they set about trying to find the canvass in an eastern forest.
The two then dug up an artwork that looked like the stolen Picasso and triggered a media storm in what initially looked like a hugely important find, until BERLIN's statement.
"Part of this performance was prepared in silence in the course of the past few months, with a view to bringing back Picasso’s ‘Tête d’Arlequin'," the theater group said. "BERLIN currently wishes to abstain from any comment because it wants to speak to Ms Feticu and Mr Westerman first, who discovered the work on Saturday," the statement added.
"We will be back with more details on this issue within the next few days."