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Stolen Picasso painting's discovery is probably a hoax

The real "Tête d’Arlequin" was stolen from an exhibition in Rotterdam in one of the art world's most dramatic heists.

AMSTERDAM — A painting that Romanian prosecutors said might be a stolen Pablo Picasso painting is more likely to be a forgery created as a publicity stunt, according the people who found it.

Novelist Mira Feticu said an anonymous tip led her to the work, which was found under a tree in eastern Romania on Saturday. She handed it in to officials at the Dutch Embassy.

Image: The painting 'Harlequin Head' by Pablo Picasso, one of seven paintings stolen from a museum in the Netherlands.
The 1971 painting 'Harlequin Head' by Pablo Picasso. Dutch police say seven paintings stolen from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.Rotterdam Police via AP file

Frank Westerman, a journalist who accompanied Feticu to Romania, later wrote on Facebook that the pair had been hoodwinked, referring to the work as "the supposed lost Picasso."

He told Dutch state broadcaster NOS that the painting he recovered appears to have been a forgery hidden as part of an elaborate hoax.

Separately a former curator of the museum that owned the real "Tête d’Arlequin," told Dutch television that based on photos he had seen of the painting that was found, it appeared to be a forgery.

Romanian prosecutors had said Sunday they were trying to verify the work's authenticity.

The country's Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism, which confirmed Sunday it was examining the circumstances of the discovery, declined to comment further on Monday.

Westerman told NOS that he had received an email from a Belgian theater company, which is staging a play about a famed art forger.

The BERLIN theater company in Antwerp, Belgium, which is putting on the play, said in a carefully worded tweet that it had "brought back" the painting in a new frame.

On its website it said it would "be back with more details on this issue within the next few days" and listed links to reports of the discovery of the painting.

The real Picasso was stolen from an exhibition in Rotterdam in 2012, one of the art world's most dramatic heists.

Image: Stolen art
The empty space where Henri Matisse' painting "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune" was hanging, right, is seen next to a painting by Maurice Denis, center, and Pierre Bonnard, left, at Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam on Oct. 16, 2012.Peter Dejong / AP

Security camera footage released at the time of the theft showed a gang entering through a back door of the museum and disappearing from view. Seconds later they reappeared carrying bulky objects.

The other paintings taken were Matisse's "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune," Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London," Gauguin's "Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte," Meijer De Haan's "Autoportrait" and Lucian Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed."

A Romanian man and several accomplices were convicted of the theft in 2013, but none of the artworks have been recovered.

Experts believed at least three of them were burned in an attempt to destroy evidence.