de Kooning
This painting, ‘Woman-Ochre’, by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) had been stolen from a US museum 30 years ago. Bob Demers/University of Arizona

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The owner of New Mexico-based Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques, David Van Auker, was unaware he had ‘Woman-Ochre’ in his stock until a customer asked if the abstract oil painting was a de Kooning.

Van Auker then researched online and found an image of the missing de Kooning painting.

One of a series of paintings of women by de Kooning in the 1950s, the picture was the subject of an audacious, targeted robbery in 1985 from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tuscon.

Thieves walked into the museum and while one distracted the guard, the other sliced the painting from its frame and walked out with it under his arm.

Recent purchase

Van Auker had acquired the painting, unattributed to de Kooning, in an estate contents sale earlier this month.

On realising its likely provenance, Van Auker alerted the Tuscon museum who sent experts to appraise it and confirm its authenticity.

Meg Hagyard, a museum director, told the New York Times, that seeing the picture was “sort of like Cinderella’s glass slipper. We had the original frame and remnants and were able to match the painting with that. It fits like a glove with the canvas.”

Police would not comment on whether they were re-investigating the original theft.

Ahead of restoration, ‘Woman-Ochre’ was shown at a news conference last night.

De Kooning was born in Rotterdam but moved to the US in 1927, becoming part of a group of artists known as the New York School.