When customs officials opened the luggage compartment of a bus on a highway just outside Paris they never expected to find a stolen masterpiece on board.
Edgar Degas’ ‘Les Choristes’ (The Chorus Singers) went missing one night in December 2009 after thieves unscrewed it from a wall in the Musée Cantini in Marseille. French investigators had all but given up hope of ever finding the pastel painting valued at approximately £700,000. Imagine their surprise when it was found on 16 February 2018 inside a suitcase in the luggage compartment of a bus stopped in a motorway service station in Ferrières-en-Brie.
Customs officials were performing a random search of the luggage compartment when the painting was discovered. None of the passengers aboard the bus claimed the suitcase as their own and no arrests were made. A customs spokesman insisted officials were not working off a tip. Police in several countries including France often perform random drug searches of long-distance buses.
Specialists from Paris’ Musée d’Orsay confirmed the work is an authentic Degas. The Musée d’Orsay had loaned the painting to the Musée Cantini in 2009 when it went missing. At the time, investigators believed the heist was an inside job as authorities reported there were no signs of a break-in.
Degas’ is celebrated for his French Impressionist depictions of ballet dancers. ‘Les Choristes’ (1877) is said to be the artist’s only work to omit dancers, focussing instead on the singers who comprise the operatic scene. It is also what is known as a monotype, a kind of hybrid of a painting and and engraving in which the artist created an ink composition and brushed it on a metal plate before pressing it.
French Cultural Minister, Françoise Nyssen, shared her joy at the “happy rediscovery” of the lost work, “whose disappearance represented a heavy loss for the French impressionist heritage.”