Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports said that the works had been found in a forest after a 49-year-old man confessed to the theft on Monday. After his confession, he brought police officers to a forest outside Athens, in the country’s Attica region, where he had hidden the paintings.
The recovery of the Picasso and Mondrian works is a victory, but the occasion was not entirely a joyous one. Once he brought police to the forest, he told them at a third work that had been taken during the heist, a pen-and-ink drawing by the Mannerist artist Guglielmo Caccia, was destroyed on the day of the theft.
The Picasso, Mondrian, and Caccia works were taken from Athens’s National Gallery in 2012. Thieves had also made an attempt to plunder a fourth work, another painting by Mondrian, but they dropped it on their way out of the museum.
There had been few publicly released clues about the theft until earlier this year, when investigators told the Greek newspaper Proto Thema that the Picasso, a portrait called Head of a Woman (1939), might still be within the country’s borders. The Picasso painting was a gift from the artist to Greece to mark Athens’s resistance to the Nazis. Investigators said at the time that they believed there had been efforts to sell it on the black market for as much as $20 million, though it was difficult to find a buyer because the heist was so high-profile.
Greece’s National Gallery reopened in March after an extensive renovation. The reopening marked the 200th anniversary of Greece’s War of Independence.
“Two and a half months later, the Gallery heals its greatest wound, the wound of 2012,” Lina Mendoni, Greece’s Minister of Culture and Sports, said at a press conference. “The work of the great painter, a gift to the Greek people, returns to a new Gallery that has nothing to envy from the respective museums of other European capitals.”