TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Its been a long journey for a very expensive piece of art. The story begins in 1985 when a couple entered the UArizona Museum of Art. As the woman distracted the security guard, the man sliced “Woman Ochre” from its frame. The couple had a quick getaway and the FBI did not have very many clues to go off of.
“So there were no fingerprints left behind, they weren’t able to get a license plate number. And so the case went cold shortly after that,” said Olivia Miller, the curator of exhibitions at UArizona Museum of Art.
Fast forward to 2015, the Museum of Art had an event to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the painting’s theft. Two years later, the news coverage of that reached a man who had the painting.
“He said he had purchased it at an estate and he had found an article from 2015, and that was how he was able to recognize the painting and he said wanted to immediately return it to the museum,” said Miller.
After the painting was back at UArizona, the museum sent it off to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for its extensive conservation and restoration process. The painting’s future homecoming, after it is restored, will be a full-circle moment for Miller.
“You know, it’ll be my first time ever seeing this painting in person as one piece. Everything I’ve known about this painting, its existed in two separate pieces. You know, the remnants that were left behind and then of course the main part of the painting that ended up being rediscovered in 2017,” said Miller.
It's a highly technical conservation process to restore the painting to its original glory, as much as possible; fixing tears and paint loss.
“During the theft, the man had pulled the canvas from its wax backing, so that caused a lot of cracking in the paint. The paint was also rolled up, so that caused a lot of cracking. This past year, conservators have been staring into a microscope replacing all of these tiny flakes of paint that have been sort of hovering on the surface,” said Miller.
The painting will first go on display at the Getty next summer. It will return to the UArizona Museum of Art by the Fall of 2022.