The artwork may have never left the building.

By Cailey Rizzo
December 13, 2019
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A frame grab taken from a handout video made available by the Italian police shows the painting seized in Piacenza, Italy, 11 December 2019. Police said Gustav Klimt's 'Portrait of a Lady', stolen from Piacenza's Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery in 1997, may have been recovered.
ITALIAN POLICE/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A Gustav Klimt painting that was considered stolen from an Italian gallery in 1997 may have been hiding in the gallery’s walls for more than 20 years.

"I was returning from my lunch break and they called me, 'Come, there's an artwork here,'" a gallery worker told German press agency dpa. "I thought it was a prank."

This image taken from a video distributed by Italian police shows an unidentified man showing a police officer a metal panel in which a painting was found, in Piacenza, northern Italy. A gardener at the Ricci Oddi modern art gallery in the northern city of Piacenza told Italian state TV on Tuesday that he was clearing ivy from the gallery's walls when he noticed a metal panel in which he found a bag inside a space within the walls. When the bag was opened it contained a painting that might be Klimt's "Portrait of a Lady," which disappeared from the gallery during renovations in February 1997.
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A gardener was clearing ivy from around the building of the Ricci Oddi modern art gallery in Piacenza, Italy when he came across a hidden cavity in the wall covered by a metal panel. Inside the hideaway was a large plastic garbage bag with the painting inside.

The gardener alerted gallery staff who took the painting to gallery security who then took it to the police. It is reported to be “in excellent condition” with no missing parts. Its authenticity is currently being evaluated.

“We are not excluding the possibility that the painting has been there the whole time,” Carabinieri General Robert Riccardi, head of the Italian force’s cultural patrimony unit, told ArtNet News.

The work, titled “Portrait of a Lady” is considered particularly important since it was discovered that Klimt had painted this portrait over another one previously considered “lost.” It is believed to be the only “double” Klimt painting in the world and is currently valued at $66 million.

It dates between 1916-17 and was acquired by the gallery in 1925, less than a decade after Klimt's 1918 death.

In 1997, the painting went missing from the gallery under mysterious circumstances. Authorities believed the thieves used fishing line to hook the painting off the wall and lift it through a skylight in the ceiling. Months after it went missing, a skilled forgery of the painting was wrapped up and sent to a disgraced Italian politician.

The mystery led to several art world conspiracy theories, including that it was an inside job by gallery staff.

The painting is currently in police custody.