Stolen Magritte painting on display for first time in ten years

Stolen Magritte painting on display for first time in ten years
Magritte's wife, Georgette Berger, was the model for his work 'Olympia'. Credit: Kunstuur/ Dominique Provost

Surrealist painter René Magritte’s work “Olympia”, which made headlines across the world when it was stolen from a museum in Belgium in 2009, will be displayed for the first time in more than a decade.

The painting shrouded in mystery will go on show in Mechelen during the third edition of Het Kunstuur, an exhibition of mostly privately owned paintings dating from the period between 1850-1950, and will be displayed alongside works by Belgian artist Paul Delvaux and James Ensor.

Magritte’s work, created in 1948 but not publically displayed until more than 30 years later, is estimated to be worth between €700,000 and over €2 million.

The painting was stolen in broad daylight in 2009 from the René Magritte museum in Jette, located in the house where the surrealist artist lived with his wife Georgette from 1930 to 1954.

It resurfaced in 2012, and even though the thieves were never found, the judicial investigation was completed two years later. This led to rumours being spread about who stole the painting.

Linked to terrorism?

As part of the exhibition held in the Heilige Geestkapel in Mechelen, one of the theories regarding who was involved in the robbery will be told by Martin Van Steenbrugge, an ex-undercover agent who specialised in art thefts.

At one point, Khalid El Bakraoui, the Isis-terrorist who blew himself up in Maelbeek metro station during the 2016 terrorist attacks in Belgium, was suspected by the police for his involvement as an intermediary.

In a recent Vanity Fair article, it was suggested that the ransom for the stolen painting financed the terrorist attacks in Brussels. But this theory lacked sufficient proof.

Eventually, the thieves themselves returned the work, which reportedly became unsellable due to the press attention it received, in exchange for a “ransom” or finder’s fee. According to Van Steenbrugge, the insurance company paid around €50,000.

Although the mystery surrounding the crime remains, the painting itself is now coming out of the shadows for the first time after being stored in a safe in Brussels for ten years.


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