Recovered Matisse artwork shown in Venezuela after mystery theft

Authorities show the box containing a painting of French master Henri Matisse, known as Odalisque In Red Pants (Odalisque a la Culotte Rouge), to the media at Maiquetia International Airport in Caracas on July 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Authorities show the box containing a painting of French master Henri Matisse, known as Odalisque In Red Pants (Odalisque a la Culotte Rouge), to the media at Maiquetia International Airport in Caracas on July 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS (AFP) - A painting by Henri Matisse stolen more than a decade ago in Caracas and later recovered in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sting is on display again in the Venezuelan capital.

The Odalisque In Red Pants, worth around US$3 million (S$3.7 million), was exhibited on Tuesday for the first time in more than a decade at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

It had been replaced with a fake sometime between 1999 and 2002 and it was only in 2003 that Venezuelan authorities realised the original had been stolen.

The artwork was recovered in Miami Beach in 2012 in an FBI undercover operation.

US citizen Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, a Mexican, were convicted for attempting to sell the stolen painting.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz told an opening ceremony that his office would pursue an investigation of the theft.

"I want to give my word to all lovers of the arts that our office is going to lead an investigation to determine liability for those who conspired to steal this painting," she said.

US and Venezuelan authorities cooperated on the case despite tense bilateral relations .

Painted in 1925 by the French Impressionist master, the work shows a dark-haired woman sitting on her heels, topless and wearing red pants.