Posing as Collectors, FBI Agents Nab Duo Hawking Purloined Venezuelan Matisse in Miami Beach

Posing as Collectors, FBI Agents Nab Duo Hawking Purloined Venezuelan Matisse in Miami Beach
Henri Matisse's "Odalisque in Red Pants," 1925 (detail)
(Courtesy Sofía Imber Contemporary Art Museum)

FBI agents recovered "Odalisque in Red Pants," a painting by Henri Matisse that had been missing for nearly a decade, in an elaborate sting on Tuesday. The Daily Mail reports that two suspects attempted to sell the painting to agents posing as art collectors at the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach. Currently valued at £2 million ($3.1 million), the canvas had originally been bought by the Sofía Imber Contemporary Art Museum in Caracas, Venezuela for $400,000 in 1981, and was included in exhibitions at prestigious museums around the world.

It was during one of these tours that suspicions began to arise over whether painting had been swapped with a forgery. These reached a peak in 2002 when Miami-based art collector Genaro Ambrosino approached Sofía Imber director Rita Salvestrini after hearing the painting was up for sale. When the painting failed an authentication test, agents from Interpol, Europe, and Latin America were soon recruited to track down the missing Matisse original.

 

Since the discovery, many have wondered how the painting could have been replaced by a fake so easily distinguishable from the original to the naked eye. Speaking to the Mail, Salvestrini openly referred to "inside complicity" when asked to explain the switch. In other words, it may have been an inside job. We shall see if the bust of the Miami couple yields any further details about the mystery.

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