There have been countless instances of paintings by the Masters getting stolen and, worse, later being found to be not genuine. So, what was first thought to be a lost-and-found Pablo Picasso painting is now being dismissed by several as a fake. Romanian officials said they had recovered a Picasso painting stolen in a 2012 heist. But a novelist, who claims to have found the painting beneath a tree, now claims the work's reappearance is part of an elaborate hoax. "Tete d'Arlequin" was one of seven artworks snatched from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam six years ago. Romania's anti-organised crime agency said in a statement that it was "investigating the circumstances in which a Picasso-signed painting worth about 800,000 euros ($913,000) was found in Tulcea County." However, writer Mira Feticu, who has previously penned a novel about the Kunsthal heist, described the alleged discovery as a "publicity stunt." The novelist told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that she received an anonymous letter alerting her to the painting's whereabouts around 10 days ago. She claims to have subsequently unearthed a canvas in a forest in eastern Romania. But Feticu said that she then received an email from two Belgian directors who admitted to tipping her off as part of a project called "True Copy." Images retweeted by Feticu appear to show her with what she at first believed to be the original Picasso canvas.
A website apparently connected to the Belgian pair describes the project as a "performance" created "with a view to bringing back Picasso's 'Tête d'Arlequin.'" It references infamous Dutch forger, Geert Jan Jansen, explaining that the project "revolves around the life of a forger and the inherent question of the value of truth." The site goes on to list a number of news stories reporting the alleged discovery. The Kunsthal raid shook the art world in 2012, and Romanian prosecutors valued the total haul at 18 million euros ($21 million). The thieves are believed to have entered through a back door, with security camera footage appearing to show them carrying out the paintings minutes later. Other items stolen in the heist included Henri Matisse's "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune" and Monet's paintings "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London." Works by Paul Gauguin, Lucian Freud and Meijer de Haan also went missing in the raid. In 2013, four Romanians were convicted in connection with the heist and ordered to reimburse insurers the full 18 million euros. Sunday's statement by Romanian authorities said that efforts to authenticate the artwork are underway. Director of the Kunsthal, Emily Ansenk, said that the museum was still waiting for news on the investigation. "We would have found it even better if the work by Picasso had actually been found undamaged."