Stolen Willem De Kooning Painting Returned To University Of Arizona On Track For Restoration

By Chloe Jones
Published: Friday, March 15, 2019 - 8:27pm
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University of Arizona Museum of Art
"Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning, 1954-1955, 30 in. x 40 in., oil on canvas

A painting that went missing for decades after being stolen from the University of Arizona Art Museum in 1985 is now being restored. 

“Woman-Ochre” by Willem de Kooning was cut from its frame the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. It did not resurface until 2017, when it was turned in by a pawn shop owner who discovered it was stolen after doing a Google search.

Olivia Miller, curator of exhibitions for the museum, explains the fine line between restoration and changing the artist’s work.

“You wonder, ‘How far removed is this object from the artist’s original intent?’ and so we’re always going to be going back to ‘What was de Kooning’s original intent?’ and that’s where we bring in de Kooning experts, so I want to stress we aren’t making these decisions in a vacuum.”

The museum is working with the Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute to restore the painting. The project is expected to take about 18 months. 

“It’s certainly a highlight of our collection. Our collection, its strength lies in 20th-century modern art, and de Kooning was an icon of 20th-century modern art and a real innovator in the field of abstract expressionism,” said Miller.