BUCHAREST, Romania — Six years after thieves made off with seven priceless works of art in a brazen nighttime raid at a Dutch museum, an author who wrote a book about the heist said she received an anonymous tip.
The Picasso was buried under a rock in Romania, the letter said.
Mira Feticu, a Dutch-Romanian author based in the Netherlands, said she quickly informed the Dutch police about the November letter pointing to Picasso’s “Tête d’Arlequin” (“Harlequin Head”). But she said she did not hear back from them.
So she and a colleague, Frank Westerman, flew to Romania to find out for themselves if the letter’s claim was genuine. The two landed in Bucharest, the capital, and then drove for more than three hours to a spot near a village, Carcaliu, early Saturday to find the missing Picasso.
“It was buried in a woods not far away from the village of Carcaliu, where the thieves were from,” she said in an interview. “I was told to walk 450 meters down a path and find some markings on a tree. And then a second tree nearby has a red symbol on it. There, under a rock, we found the painting, wrapped in plastic just under the soil. I cried when I saw it.”
It was the latest twist in the strange saga of the stolen paintings and drawings said to be worth 18 million to 100 million euros and signed by Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meyer de Haan.
The Dutch news media labeled it “the theft of the century.”
The 2012 heist from a Rotterdam museum in the Netherlands raised questions about the security of museums in Europe. Suspects were arrested in rural Romania, and four men were convicted in 2013 of the crime.
During the investigation, the mother of the ringleader, Radu Dogaru, said she had incinerated all seven paintings in a wood-burning stove at her house in the tiny village of Carcaliu in order to protect her son — an act one Romanian museum official called a “barbarian crime against humanity.” She later retracted her claim before a panel of judges.
But the artworks remained missing, and receded from the news. Then, Ms. Feticu said, she received the letter on Nov. 6.
She and Mr. Westerman returned to Bucharest with the unearthed painting and sought the help of the Dutch Embassy to turn it over to the Romanian authorities, she said.
Annemijn van den Broek, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, said on Sunday, “I can confirm that the piece was handed over by a third party to the Romanian authorities, and that this happened in the residence of the Dutch ambassador in Bucharest.”
The Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism released its own statement, which said it was “investigating the circumstances in which a Picasso painting with an estimated value of €800,000 was found on Saturday evening in Tulcea County.”
“The painting, which is part of a batch of seven paintings stolen in 2012 from a Dutch museum, is in the custody of the Romanian authorities and will be authenticated,” the statement added.
The next step, the authorities said, was to authenticate that the stolen work of art had been recovered at last. The painting was set to be delivered to the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest on Monday in order to be examined by experts, according to local news reports.
The recovery of even one of the paintings would be a stunning break in a long-running mystery. But what were the odds that the thieves — they were in and out of the museum in less than three minutes — or any accomplices would leave a Picasso under a rock? And why choose Ms. Feticu to unveil its recovery?
The stolen paintings had been part of a collection amassed by the Dutch investor Willem Cordia, and had been on display for one week at the Kunsthal Museum when they were taken.
In 2013, the Dutch foundation that owned the artworks collected $24 million in insurance and surrendered ownership rights on the missing pieces.
When asked about the authenticity of the discovery, Peter van Beveren, who curated the collection from 2007 to 2011, said bluntly by telephone from The Hague: “I have my doubts.”
“I have studied some of the images put on the net, and I see very big differences,” he said. “I see lines that are different in thickness, ease of drawing, lines of the shoulder.”
“My feeling now is that there are really different types of lines,” he added, even accounting for damage because of poor storage conditions.
Ms. Feticu said she thought she had been chosen because of her book, as well as a Romanian-language interview she gave in May, which received a lot of coverage in Romania.
Ms. Feticu also said she believed that the painting was the real thing, but admitted that it could easily be a fake. “I have no idea who sent the letter to me, and maybe it is just a bad joke,” she said earlier on Sunday. “We will see.”
It did not take long for another narrative to emerge. Hours after word of the Picasso’s “recovery” ricocheted around the globe, Ms. Feticu and her companion said they received another message about the missing Picasso — this time from a performance art group in Flanders, Belgium, called Berlin.
The group took credit for placing the artwork in the woods as part of an ongoing project, Ms. Feticu said. The group did not immediately respond to requests for comments by phone or email. But on its Facebook page, a message said:
“Two years ago, BERLIN started working on a project called ‘True Copy,’ a performance about Dutch master forger Geert Jan Jansen. ‘True Copy’ premiered last Thursday in deSingel in Antwerp (BE). The performance revolves around the life of a forger and the inherent question of the value of truth.
“Part of this performance was prepared in silence in the course of the past few months, with a view to bringing back Picasso’s ‘Tête d’Arlequin.’ BERLIN currently wishes to abstain from any comment because it wants to speak to Ms. Feticu and Mr. Westerman first, who discovered the work on Saturday.”
Romanian and Dutch officials declined to comment on Sunday night about the latest revelations, and about the possibility that they did not have a genuine stolen Picasso in their possession.
As for Ms. Feticu, she said Sunday night: “We don’t know much. Maybe we will know more tomorrow. I feel angry and sad if this is true.”