Writer claims she was duped into tracking down stolen Picasso painting

Picasso's Harlequin Head was one of seven paintings snatched from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam in 2012.
Picasso's Harlequin Head was one of seven paintings snatched from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam in 2012.PHOTO: AP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - A writer who thought she had found a painting by Pablo Picasso stolen in an infamous art heist six years ago said on Sunday (Nov 18) that she was the victim of a "publicity stunt", Dutch media reported.

Picasso's Harlequin Head (Tete d'Arlequin) was one of seven paintings snatched from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam in 2012.

The artworks by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud have not been seen since.

But Dutch writer Mira Feticu, who wrote a novel based on the heist, thought she had uncovered the piece after she was sent an anonymous letter around 10 days ago "with instructions regarding the place where the painting was hidden" in Romania.

Feticu, who is of Romanian origin, told AFP the tip-off led her to a forest in the east of the country, where she dug up an artwork wrapped in plastic.

Romanian authorities, who were handed the canvas last Saturday night, said it "might be" a Picasso painting, which is estimated to be worth US$915,000 (S$1.3 million).

However, on Sunday night, Feticu told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that she was the victim of a "performance" by two Belgian directors in Antwerp.

She had received an e-mail from the duo explaining that the letter was part of a project called True Copy, dedicated to notorious Dutch forger Geert Jan Jansen, whose fakes flooded the art collections of Europe and beyond until he was caught in 1994.

"Part of this performance was prepared in silence in the course of the past few months, with a view to bringing back Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin," Bart Baele and Yves Degryse wrote on their website.

Their production company "currently wishes to abstain from any comment" because it first wants to speak to Feticu, the statement said.

Four Romanians were jailed in 2014 for the heist.

Investigators have previously said the paintings were destroyed after the thieves failed to find a buyer.

The thieves had slipped into the Dutch museum during the night of Oct 15-16, 2012, and got away with the works which were not protected by alarms.