The Miami Herald has reported that FBI agents have nabbed two individuals in a sting at the Loews Hotel in Miami as they were trying to sell a Matisse painting that was stolen from the Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas in Venezuela sometime around 2000. Matisse’s Odalisque in Red Pants done in 1925 was purchased by the museum, formerly called the Sofia Imber Contemporary Art Museum, in 1981 from the Marlborough Gallery for $400,000. The painting was lent to an exhibition in Spain in 1997 and after it returned to Caracas, at some point around 2000, someone pulled a switcheroo, exchanging the original Matisse for a copy. It is believed that the exchange occurred before 2000 and was not discovered until 2002. The case had gone cold until a few months ago. The New York Times writes,
According to an affidavit filed in federal court in Miami, the F.B.I. learned last year that a Miami man named Pedro Antonio Marcuello was trying to sell the painting. Agents posing as buyers began negotiating with Mr. Marcuello, ultimately agreeing to buy the stolen artwork for $740,000.
This week, a woman named María Martha Ornelas flew to Miami from Mexico City, carrying the painting rolled up in a red tube. She and Mr. Marcuello met with the agents at a hotel, where the agents inspected the painting and then arrested the two.
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.
14 other paintings are still missing from the museum.