Stolen $1 million painting found in an unlikely place


By Alex Horton, (c) 2018, The Washington Post

Edgar Degas’ 1877 “Les Choristes” (The Chorus Singers) is distinctive for at least two reasons.

First, it’s  the French impressionist’s only operatic scene that does not include dancers.

Second, it was stolen in a mysterious December 2009 heist in which thieves unscrewed it from the wall one night at Musée Cantini in Marseille.

The trail of the crime — investigators speculated it was an inside job — had grown cold over the years, as French investigators tried in vain to find the artwork, valued at more than $1 million.

Last week, it was found in a suitcase in the back of a bus at a highway stop near Paris.

Customs officials at Ferrières-en-Brie were conducting a random search of the bus luggage compartment on Feb. 16 when they found the work.

None of the passengers claimed the suitcase as their own, according to France’s Ministry of Culture. A customs spokesperson said the find was not based on a tip, the New York Times reported. Long-distance buses in many countries, including France, are often searched for possible drug transit.

The painting was confirmed authentic by Musée d’Orsay, the museum that had lent it to Cantini. Minister of Culture Françoise Nyssen called its recovery a “happy rediscovery” of the work. Its disappearance “represented a heavy loss for the French impressionist heritage,” Nyssen said.

The work is of a process known as a monotype. The artist paints or draws with ink on a glass or metal plate that is then pressed onto paper.

 The find comes during a serendipitous moment, the ministry notes. Degas died a century ago this past September, and an exhibit featuring the friendship between Degas and the French poet Paul Valery wraps up on Sunday at Musée D’Orsay. The monotype will also be featured at a Degas exhibit opening next year.