Louvre disowns stolen Iraq 'Picasso'

When Iraqi army special forces seized a stolen Pablo Picasso painting from a village hawker last Tuesday, it was considered a diplomatic success for the Iraqi authorities.

This was a chance, it was thought, to atone for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when treasure worth untold millions was stolen, including the Picasso.

But now the art world is casting doubts over the provenance of the old master painting known as The Naked Lady, according to the Guardian.

The Louvre is disowning the find and no one else is prepared to claim it as authentic.

The art canvas appeared to have been stolen from the Museum of Kuwait. It is marked "louvre" in lower case and bears several stamps from the Parisian museum.

The village hawker, Maitham al-Issawi, 33, a former solder, from Hilla, 59 miles south of Baghdad, had been asking $450,000 for the painting.

Issawi told police he had inherited the painting from his father, who was part of the 1990 invasion force.

Pundits had since suggested that it could be worth as much as £5m if returned in good condition.

But this has now been thrown into doubt, according to the Guardian report.

A Louvre Museum official told the Associated Press that the museum had never had a Picasso in its collection - and, in any case, would not sell its works because they are government property.

The London-based Art Loss Registry said it had no record of any paintings missing from the Kuwait National Museum, and no record of this particular painting as missing at all.

Tonnes of antiquities and other valuables were stolen by Saddam's forces from Kuwaiti official buildings and homes during the 1990 invasion.

Failure to round-up the treasure in the six years since Saddam's ousting has been a factor in ongoing tensions between Iraq and Kuwait.

Aside from thefts officially sanctioned by Hussein, opportunist thefts were also committed by private individuals. 

This makes finding and authenticating items difficult, Akeel al-Mendlawi, a director in Iraq's cultural ministry, told the Guardian.

Thefts and looting since the 2003 US invasion have caused further difficulties.

"The goods stolen officially were kept in cultural centres or Saddam's palaces. And in 2003 they were stolen again."

An Iraqi spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, has defended the length of time taken to round up the stolen goods.

"In 2003, every treasure in the Iraqi national museum and anything of value in Saddam's palaces was stolen, and it hasn't been returned, despite the efforts of successive governments.

"But in 2003, the government found some archives and artefacts that were stolen from Kuwait [in 1990].

"There was an inventory and it was given to the Kuwaitis… It is at our initiative that the Picasso painting was found," he added.

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