Art | September 18, 2022 2:33 pm

Stolen Willem de Kooning Painting Set to Return to Museum

A documentary was made about the theft

Willem de Kooning
Portrait of Dutch-born painter Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) standing in his studio next to one of his paintings with his hand in his jacket pocket, holding a cigarette.
Henry Bowden/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Most of the time, when you hear about an art heist, it’s relatively clear what the motivation is — money, power or some combination of the two. Generally, you’d think that a priceless painting that’s stolen would end up in a high-end art collection, never to be seen again. That a stolen painting could wind up hidden away from the world and disposed of as part of an estate sale — well, that seems too strange to be true.

Nevertheless, that’s precisely what happened with Willem de Kooning’s painting Woman-Ochre, which was stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1985. The theft and its aftermath, which were discussed in a recent documentary, are surreal enough before getting to the case of the man tasked with selling off an estate that turned out to have a purloined work of modern art within it.

An article at CNBC covers what happened next. David Van Auker, who’d purchased a number of items from the estate of Jerry and Rita Alter, began to get a sense that one of the paintings within was a bit more valuable than anything else. When he learned of the circumstances under which Women-Ochre was stolen, he reached out to the museum — which began the long process of restoring the painting.

The J. Paul Getty Museum ended up handling the restoration, and the de Kooning painting is set to return to Arizona next month. As round trips go, this one was a particularly scenic version.