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Stockholm museum to display recovered painting by Matisse

STOCKHOLM -- Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art said Thursday it will put on display this weekend “Le Jardin,” a Matisse painting stolen 25 years ago and returned to Sweden this week.

“We're going to put it on display for two weeks,” as of Saturday and then take it into the studio for closer examination, museum director Daniel Birnbaum told journalists at an unveiling of the work.

An oil on canvas from 1920 now worth about US$1 million (750,000 euros), “Le Jardin” was stolen from the museum on May 11, 1987, when a thief or thieves broke in with a sledgehammer and made off with the painting in the early morning hours.

It depicts a garden of white roses in the foreground and bushes and trees in the background.

“We wanted to put it on display right away because it's so fantastic that it's back,” Birnbaum told AFP.

The painting was returned from London, where it was recovered, in a crate which was opened in front of the media.

The frame, the same one from 1987, was visibly damaged.

The painting itself appeared to be in good condition, but the museum's chief curator, Lars Bystroem, pointed out that a corner of a church tower in the background had been marred.

The work was found when an art dealer based in Britain ran it through the Art Loss Register (ALR), a global database of stolen art, which was standard practice before a sale. He was selling the work on behalf of an elderly man in Poland who had owned it since the 1990s.

The ALR identified the painting as the one stolen from the Swedish museum, and together with the dealer helped secure its return home.

The painting's whereabouts since 1987 remain shrouded in mystery. The Polish man has requested confidentiality and has not disclosed how he acquired it.

But the dealer, Charles Roberts, said the man had bought it “in good faith” and “for a substantial sum.”

According to Bystroem, the painting “has most probably been moved around a lot.” He said the painting had been in Germany for a while, but provided no further details.

He said it must have been in a climate similar to that in Sweden.

“If it had been in a warmer and more humid climate, it would have been affected,” he said.

His more detailed study of the canvas could shed light on its whereabouts since 1987.

In May, “Le Jardin” will go on display as part of an exhibit on French premodernist painters, Birnbaum said.

The statute of limitations on the theft expired in 1997.

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This image shows the “Le Jardin,” painted in 1920 by French artist Henri Matisse, at the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, Thursday, Jan. 24. The oil on canvas painting, now worth about US$1 million (750,000 euros), was stolen on May 11, 1987 and has been returned now to the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. (AFP)

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