A painting by one of Brazil’s most celebrated artists – the pioneering modernist Tarsila do Amaral – has been found stashed under the bed of an alleged trickster who was part of a multimillion pound art heist built around the bogus predictions of a phoney clairvoyant.
The artwork, worth an estimated 300m reais (£48m), was reportedly found in Rio on Wednesday morning during a police operation targeting a gang of con artists who had preyed on the elderly widow of an art dealer and collector.
Four people were arrested, included the victim’s own daughter whom police accuse of stealing 16 paintings, worth an estimated 709m reais (£114m) from her 82-year-old mother.
One of the most valuable of those artworks was Amaral’s Sol Poente (Setting Sun), a spectacular 1929 oil painting that was found concealed in the bottom of a bed during a raid on one of the suspect’s homes.
A video posted on social media showed the stunning moment when Setting Sun was recovered by officers from the civil police’s senior services division at a beachside apartment in Ipanema.
“Well, well, well – look what we have here!” one female officer says as the art work is removed from beneath the bed and unwrapped.
“Fucking hell!” a male voice replies in Portuguese as the group celebrates its immediately recognizable find.
Other artworks that were reportedly stolen from the victim included Mascarada by the modernist master Di Cavalcanti and two other Amaral paintings: Pont-Neuf and O Sono. Both are also reportedly worth tens of millions of pounds.
“You know those stories where you say: ‘I’ll only believe it when I see it’?. And then you do see it and you say: ‘I can’t believe it!’? This is one of those!” a Brazilian TV reporter declared as she brought viewers news of the outlandish crime on Wednesday lunchtime.
Some of the 16 stolen paintings were reportedly sold to overseas collectors, with two finding their way to the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Three were traced to an art gallery in São Paulo. Around £1m of jewellery was also pilfered.
According a police statement, the scam began in January 2020 when the victim’s daughter hired a fake clairvoyant who was tasked with approaching her mother as she came out of a bank in Copacabana.
The charlatan crystal gazer falsely claimed the woman’s daughter was on the verge of dying and took her to a fortune teller and an Afro-Brazilian priestess who confirmed that false prediction.
Police claim the trio offered to intervene spiritually – for a fee – and over the coming weeks received hundreds of thousands of pounds for their pseudo efforts.
When the widow became suspicious and refused to continue paying, she was forcibly confined to her home in Rio’s wealthy southern beach district, threatened, beaten and gradually robbed of the art collection she had inherited from her late husband.
Tarsila do Amaral, or Tarsila as she is widely known, is one of South America’s most important 20th century artists, known for her bold use of colour, vivacious landscapes and profoundly Brazilian style.
Born in São Paulo in 1886, she studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and became one of the key figures of Brazil’s modernist movement in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
She died in 1973 at the age of 86.