A painting worth $1 million by Impressionist artist from the 19th century, Edgar Degas, was finally retrieved by the French customs officers after a random bus inspection on the motorway. France’s minister of culture is overjoyed to finally find the painting which had been stolen from a museum in Marseille, eight years ago.

A Stolen Painting

French policeman holding Edgar Degas’ ‘Les Choristes’  after retrieving it back

Eight years ago, a precious painting called ‘Les Choristes’ by Edgar Degas, a famous Impressionist master of the 19th century, was stolen from an exhibition in Marseille’s Cantini museum. The French police said that the small frame depicting a colorful pastel was worth $1.15 million and it was only reported missing by the security guard a few days after it had been unscrewed from the wall and stolen.

The theft incident was extremely bizarre since the cameras didn’t catch any break-ins and nothing else was missing from the museum. The painting had originally belonged to Paris’ Musée d’Orsay and had been loaned to Cantini museum for the exhibition. The police suspected that the theft was an inside job which is why the cameras were unable to pick up any unusual activity.

Looking in the Wrong Places

The painting had been missing for eight years until it was recently discovered by the French custom officers in a highly unusual place: a moving bus. The distinctive portrait was famed for many different reasons including the fact that it was the only work which depicted an operatic scene describing the impressionist’s love for dancing.

The leading investigators who had speculated that the theft could have been an inside job declared that it could be impossible to find the thief due to the lack of evidence on the crime scene. The trail went cold after a few years and the investigators gave up on trying to find the million-dollar painting.

The French custom officers were looking for the missing art piece everywhere from suspicious auction houses to the vaults of infamous art thieves – but in the end, the small painting resurfaced from a suitcase left behind by someone in the back of a Parisian bus.

“The Entrance of the Masked Dancers” by Edgar Degas, finished in 1879

Retrieved After Eight Years

The custom officers boarded the bus on a random highway stop 18 miles outside of Paris to look into the luggage compartment but none of them were expecting to find a painting worth a million dollars tucked away in a suitcase in the back. When the suitcase was opened to reveal the bright colors of the operatic scene of ‘Don Juan’, the officers quickly recognized the painting.

But how did it get inside the bus and to whom did the suitcase belong? The officers asked around in the bus but none of the passengers claimed ownership of the suitcase.

According to the report by New York Times, the bus inspection was completely random and the police had not received any tip about the stolen painting on board. Buses that are traveling for a longer distance are often checked by the custom officers in France to prevent drug transits.

After retrieving the painting, it was sent off to Musée d’Orsay, the museum where it had originally belonged, to check its authenticity. The museum confirmed that is was indeed the same portrait that had been lent to Cantini for the exhibition almost nine years ago. Françoise Nyssen, the French minister of culture expressed his joy upon hearing the news of the painting’s discovery which was an invaluable representation of the French impressionist heritage.

Nyssen says that Degas was one of his favorite artists due to the different techniques he used in his paintings. The impressionist used brushing and pressing in his work to create monotypes that were somewhere between an engraving and a painting. The retrieved the art will be shown at the Degas exhibit next year to mark 100 years since the death of the famed impressionist.

“Before the mirror” by Edgar Degas

More Stolen Artwork Retrieved

This is not the first time a stolen painting of extreme value has resurfaced in an unconventional location. In 2015, a missing artwork was found in New Orleans by a punk band, only hours after it was stolen. In 2009, a man reported that he had seen a stolen painting by Róbert Berény in the background of a film called Stuart Little.

In 2007, an artwork worth £500,000 was found lying on a pile of rubbish outside a New York apartment building. The painting had gone missing two decades ago but was sold at an auction after its retrieval.

What would you do if you ever found an expensive piece of stolen artwork?

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