In 1987, when a burglar armed with a sledgehammer smashed his way into the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm and made a daring getaway with a $1m (£620,000) Henri Matisse painting under his arm, few would have expected it would take more than two decades to recover.

But 25 years later 'Le Jardin', the French impressionist's 1920 masterpiece, has been recovered in the unlikely location of Essex.

Art dealer Charles Roberts of Charles Fine Art in Essex sounded the alarm bell when he was offered the painting by a Polish collector. A quick search on the Art Loss Register revealed the painting's dramatic past, and the ALR stepped in to negotiate its safe passage home.

matisse Le Jardin, by Henri Matisse: home again


Lars Nittive, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in 1987, claimed at the time that he and the curators had resisted several attempts by the thieves to ransom 'Le Jardin' back to the museum.

Where the painting has been since is one of modern art's great mysteries.

Christopher A. Marinello, ARL's executive director who helped return 'Le Jardin', told the Independent: "We know that the piece made its way from Poland via a collector but do not believe that this collector or Mr Roberts had anything to do with its theft.

"Stolen artworks that are recognisable change hands often so there is no knowing where it has been in the intervening two decades."

He added that ARL have notified the police authorities but they "don't seem to be very interested" in investigating what happened to the painting because the crime is too old.

The Art Loss Register - the world's largest international private database of stolen, missing and looted artwork - also commented on the folly of art theft, saying Nittive and his team had been vindicated for not giving in to thieves all those years ago.

Marinello said: "Stolen artwork has no real value in the legitimate marketplace and will eventually resurface...it's just a matter of waiting it out."

Even if it takes a quarter of a decade.

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  • The United States: February 1988

    18 paintings including two by Fra Angelico, were stolen from New York art dealer Colnaghi's. The thieves broke in through a skylight, a manourve that could have gone very wrong, sending the thieves flying down the stairwell. Once inside, the thieves trod on canvases and failed to choose the most valuable paintings, but still made off with enough to be worth $6 million. Only 14 of the works were recovered. PICTURE: <a href="Credit: Fra Angelico [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" target="_hplink">Wikimedia </a>

  • Mexico: December 1985

    140 objects, including Maya and Aztec Gold, Mixtec and Zapotec sculptures, were stolen from Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve 1985. The alarms had not been working for three years, thieves simply removed the glass from the cases. PICTURE: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aztec_ear_flares,_Art_Institute.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia</a>

  • The United Kingdom 2003

    Not all art thieves are financially motivated. Thieves who stole Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape from the Whitworth gallery in Manchester hid the works behind a public toilet. A note pinned to the tube said they stole the paintings to highlight security gaps at the gallery. How public spirited of them. IMAGE: <a href="http://uploads4.wikipaintings.org/images/vincent-van-gogh/fortifications-of-paris-with-houses-1887(1).jpg!Large.jpg < wikipaintings" target="_hplink">Wikipaintings</a>

  • The United Kingdom: August 1961

    A rich American collector, Charles Wrightsman, bought Goya's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington and planned to take it to America with him. Due to public outrage, the government matched the sum ($392,000) and it was hung in the National Gallery. It was stolen three weeks later, and the thief demanded a ransom, which was not granted. The Duke was later deposited in the left-luggage office of New Street station in Birmingham. A 61-year-old retired truck driver confessed to the theft. IMAGE:<a href="Credit: Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" target="_hplink"> Wikimedia Commons</a> <strong>UPDATE:</strong> A previous version of this slide incorrectly stated that the artwork was still at large, when in fact the painting has been restored. We apologize for the error.

  • The United Kingdom, 2003

    Thieves overpowered the guide and chucked the painting the Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo Da Vinci out of the window, telling tourists "Don't worry love, we're the police. This is just practice". The painting was found at the offices of one of Scotland's most successful law firms. Several solicitors were arrested, some of whom were said to be scrutinizing a contract which would have allowed 'legal repatriation' of the painting. The painting was recovered and returned to the Buccleugh family. IMAGE: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leonardo_da_vinci,_madonna_dei_fusi_di_Drumlarimng_castle,_lost.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikipedia</a>

  • 2010 France

    A masked thief dressed in black stole five paintings from Paris's Musee d'Art Moderne, including Pablo Picasso's Le Pigeon aux Petits-Pois and La Pastorale by Henri Matisse. Collectively the paintings are worth about €100m. The CCTV system had failed, the intruder had trigged no alarms and the night watchmen hadn't noticed the break in until it was too late. The CCTV had been reported as broken, but hadn't been fixed adequately. IMAGE:<a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/63/Picasso_-_Le_pigeon_aux_petits_pois_1911.jpg" target="_hplink"> Wikimedia Commons</a>

  • Sweden: December 2000

    Thieves seized a Rembrandt self portrait and two Renoir paintings from the National Museum in Stockholm. One thief threatened an unarmed guard with a submachine gun while the other two grabbed paintings. They scattered nails on the floor to slow down pursuit and got away on a motorboat. The thieves went on to request $10 million per painting in ransoms through a lawyer who was then arrested in connection with the robbery. The paintings are still missing. IMAGE: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrant_Self-Portrait,_1660.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikipedia</a>

  • The United States: March 1990

    Thieves made off with $300 million worth of art works, including The Concert by Vermeer and works by Rembrandt and Manet. Two men in police uniforms turned up at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner museum claiming to be responding to a disturbance. Once let in, guards were handcuffed and locked in a cellar while the thieves went to work. Attempts to recover the paintings - for a $5 million reward - failed.

  • France 1911

    The most audacious art theft of all time, Vincenzo Peruggia, an employee of the Lourve, walked out of work one day with the Mona Lisa under his coat. The theft remained undiscovered for most of the next day, as workers thought it was being photographed. Peruggia believed the Italian painting should be in Italy, and two years later tried to sell it to the Uffizi in Florence. IMAGE: PA

  • Oslo, Norway: August 2004

    The Scream is one of the most stolen paintings of all time, made worse because there are four different versions. Most recently, it was stolen from the Munch museum in Oslo, where it was uninsured because curators felt the painting was 'priceless'. There were no demands for ransom but the painting was recovered 2 years later. IMAGE: PA