De Kooning Painting Stolen From Arizona In 1985 Found

By Sky Schaudt, Katherine Fritcke
Published: Friday, August 11, 2017 - 9:05am
Updated: Monday, August 14, 2017 - 7:55am
University of Arizona Museum of Art
"Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning, 1954-1955, 30 in. x 40 in., oil on canvas
(Photo courtesy of University of Arizona)
Willem de Kooning's signature on "Woman-Ochre."
(Photo courtesy of University of Arizona)
University of Arizona officials examine "Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning in August 2017.

A priceless painting stolen during an art heist at the University of Arizona more than 30 years ago has been recovered, officials said in a statement Friday.

The abstract painting of a nude women known as “Woman-Ochre” by Willem de Kooning was found sitting inside an antiques shop in Silver City, New Mexico. It was stolen Nov. 29, 1985, from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson.

According a UA press release, David Van Auker, owner of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques, had picked it up in an estate sale and thought the oil painting might look good hanging at a guesthouse he owns.

MORE: Man Who Found Missing De Kooning Painting Alerted Arizona Republic Reporter

Van Auker contacted the museum when he realized what he had, and staff members traveled to Silver City on Monday to retrieve the painting.

"This was one of the most important moments in my life," Van Auker said. "I'm so grateful that I got to be a part of it. I'm forever bound to that painting, and to the U of A."

University officials have completed preliminary authentication of it. A painting in the same series sold for $137.5 million in 2006.

"It's a great day for the University of Arizona and great news for the art world and people who care about public art," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "I want to acknowledge and thank David Van Auker. He's the hero who worked so hard to make sure the painting was returned to its rightful home."

No additional information has been released about where Van Auker purchased the painting. The FBI is investigating.

University officials said a news conference will be held Aug. 14.

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