After 14 years, authorities have finally recovered two valuable paintings by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall in a basement in Antwerp, Belgium—but how did they get there, and who was the mastermind behind the theft?
Thefts are, unfortunately, nothing new in the world of art. Numerous works from some of the greatest artists have taken authorities years to find, while many remain missing today. Thankfully, there are people out there who are constantly at work trying to recover these significant pieces of culture. These include local authorities and even specialized art detectives like Arthur Brand, who’s found several valuable works of art over the years—his most recent one being a Van Gogh worth $6 million. Now, there’s more good news in the world of stolen art, as Belgian authorities have found two paintings by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall worth $900,000 after they went missing for 14 years, reports Charlotte Van Campenhout of Reuters.
The Namur Public Prosecutor’s Office and Namur Federal Judicial Police stated that they had found the valuable paintings in a basement in Antwerp through an official press release (which has been translated from its original French). The pair consisted of Picasso’s Tête (1970) and Chagall’s L’homme en prière, shared the Namur authorities. The wonderful discovery was the result of an arduous covert search that lasted for several months, according to Philip Oltermann of The Guardian.
The two paintings originally belonged to the home of an art collector in Tel Aviv, Israel, as per Van Campenhout of Reuters. Though the press statement from the Belgian authorities didn’t specify the names of the victims, Oltermann of The Guardian identifies the targeted villa as the one belonging to the Herzikovich family.
The official statement from Namur authorities explains that the house was unoccupied at the time of the theft. Though the family had installed a “powerful and sophisticated alarm system,” the thieves still managed to neutralize it, entering the house undetected. The Picasso and Chagall paintings were not the only items the thieves stole, as they also grabbed jewelry worth more than $680,000 (which authorities haven’t found yet).
According to Oltermann in his feature for The Guardian, it wasn’t until the end of 2022 when authorities got a tip about a dealer in Namur who was selling the paintings. They proceeded to track the suspect over several months, observing “his habits, his relationships and contacts, his movements, his activities, and the places frequented,” as per the local authorities’ official statement. By 2023, the Belgian law enforcement officials confirmed that the suspect did have the paintings in his possession, either in his home or that of someone he knew.
The Mastermind Behind the Theft
On January 10, an investigating judge ordered authorities to conduct two searches in the suspect’s home in Namur, as per the press release. It was during this time when authorities detained the alleged thief and his wife for questioning. Namur’s Prosecutor’s Office and Federal Judicial Police added that they found large sums of money in the suspect’s home, though the paintings remained missing.
The guilty party is a 68-year-old Israeli luxury watch dealer, whom the Belgian police identify as “Daniel Z,” according to Oltermann’s feature for The Guardian. Authorities say that he confessed to owning the paintings, but still refused to reveal their whereabouts.
The suspect and his wife underwent a court hearing, which led to the man’s arrest on January 11. Finally, after a third search in the city of Antwerp on January 12, authorities discovered the stolen paintings in a cellar. The thief had stored them in wooden boxes with their lids screwed on; thankfully, after opening the storage containers, authorities found the coveted works in good condition and still in their original frames.
Banner photo from the Parquet de Namur website.