Stolen Cezanne Masterpiece Worth $131 Million Believe Recovered

Painting stolen in 2008 was found in Belgrade.

ByABC News
April 12, 2012, 11:49 AM

BELGRADE, Serbia April 12, 2012— -- A Cezanne masterpiece worth at least $131 million that was the yanked from the wall of a Zurich art gallery in 2008 has been recovered, Serbian police said today.

Four arrests were made overnight in connection with the theft, which was one of the biggest art heists in recent history.

Police, working from several European countries, focused their two-year investigation on the potential sale of the painting to a rich Serb buyer who was prepared to purchase it for $4.6 million.

The painting, "Boy In A Red Waistcoat" by Paul Cezanne, was discovered in the roof upholstery of a suspects car in Belgrade. During the arrests police said in addition to finding the painting, they also seized 1.5 million euros ($2 million) and a large quantity of arms and ammunition.

"We were relieved not only by the painting's recovery, but also by the lack of damage," Miljko Radisavljevic, Serbia's organized crime prosecutor told ABC News.

The work, painted around 1888, depicts a young boy in traditional Italian waistcoat with a blue handkerchief and belt.

Police said scientific techniques were used to certify that the painting is genuine.

The masterpiece was taken from Zurich gallery Emil Georg Buehrle, a private collection founded by a World War II arms dealer and businessman.

Masked thieves rushed in just before the private museum closed, drew weapons and ordered frightened patrons to lay down on the ground. They stole "Boy" and three other paintings during the heist.

Two works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were recovered a few days later and Degas' "Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter" was found in 2009, but the Cezanne had not been retrieved.

"There is reason for Swiss to open champagne tonight," Nikola Kusovac, leading art expert in Serbia, told ABC News. "This is a cult masterpiece, one of Switzerland's most treasured artworks."