Stolen painting found in gallery wall verified as missing Klimt

Portrait of a Lady, the painting by Gustav Klimt found last month in the garden wall of the modern art museum it had been stolen from 22 years earlier, has been authenticated. The Ricci Oddi Gallery of Modern Art in Piacenza announced Friday that art experts engaged by the city prosecutor’s office verified that the painting was the original completed by Klimt in 1917.

Since the gardener’s discovery on Dec. 10, the canvas had been kept in a vault of a local branch of Italy’s central bank while experts used infrared radiation and other non-invasive techniques to determine if it was the original “Portrait of a Lady.”

Experts said the painting was in remarkably good condition. One of the few signs of damage was a scratch near the edge of the canvas that may have resulted “from a clumsy effort to remove the portrait from its frame,” said Anna Selleri, an art restorer from the National Gallery in Bologna.

X-rays revealed the earlier work — 1912’s Portrait of a Young Lady — that Klimt had painted over to create the current portrait, making this work his only known double portrait. X-rays also found that Klimt had largely reused the whitish skin of the earlier portrait’s face for the second portrait, keeping the head in the same position and location.

The mystery of who stole Portrait of a Lady in 1997 is no closer to being solved. Police can’t even tell at this point if the painting ever left the gallery grounds or if it’s been whiling away a couple of decades in a niche in the wall behind a metal door. Traces of organic material found on the canvas may lead investigators to new information.