Stolen painting decorated couple’s bedroom for decades

A stolen painting by Willem de Kooning made headlines on 11 August when it re-emerged after 30 years. Now it has been revealed that ‘Woman-Ochre’ was hanging in the bedroom of a couple’s home in New Mexico since it was burgled from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson in 1985.

The £136 million abstract-impressionist work by the Dutch-American artist  resurfaced in a furniture and antiques shop in New Mexico last week. Buck Burns and David Van Auker of Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques purchased the painting in an estate contents sale earlier this month. While they thought it was a “cool and unique” abstract painting of a nude, it wasn’t until visitors to their shop suggested it was a De Kooning that their suspicions were raised.

Searching for clues online, they discovered the story of the missing work, compared the two pieces, realised they had a match and phoned the Museum of Art immediately. “For us, it was the equivalent of finding a lost wallet and returning it. It was a no-brainer”, Burns told The New York Times. Museum experts confirmed it was an authentic De Kooning and it was brought back to Tucson on 7 August.

While an FBI investigation into the 1985 theft is ongoing, on Monday (14 August) local paper Silver City Daily Press identified the owners of the home where the De Kooning hung until the recent estate sale. Jerry and Rita Alter were said to have been “very adventuresome” and travelled often but those close to them voiced doubts that the couple would have known the painting was stolen.

Their nephew and executor declined to speak to reporters having “been informed by the authorities not to discuss the estate”.


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