Poland’s only Monet back on view

The country’s sole painting by the French artist in a national collection was cut out of its frame and stolen ten years ago

A museum official shows off the recently recovered work, which has returned to public view--and is heavily guarded (Photo: AP/Michal Gozdzik)

The only Monet contained in Poland's national collection is back on display in Poznan following a theft that took ten years to solve.

On 19 September 2000, an employee of the National Museum in Poznan reported that Monet’s Beach at Pourville, 1882, was cut out of its frame and replaced by a forgery. But it was only in January this year, when Robert Zwolinski’s fingerprints—which had been taken for failing to make maintenance payments—were found to match those left on the picture frame in the museum.

Zwolinski, a technician from Olkusz, first came across French impressionist works of art during a stint of seasonal work in Paris, where he would regularly visit the city's museums and churches. While testifying in court, Zwolinski said his passion for impressionism grew stronger after the collapse of his first marriage. “My life was empty and without meaning,” he said. “I escaped into books. In one of them I read about the Monet. I decided to go to Poznan to see it for myself…not a day went by that I was not thinking about it”.

In the autumn of 2000 Zwolinski was granted permission to sketch in the national museum’s galleries and over the course of five hours Zwolinksi cut the Monet out of its frame with a knife. The museum had no advanced security system; the works were guarded by museum workers. Zwolinski said that “the ladies [who worked for the museum] sat in the other room chatting. They wore high heels, so I could hear them when they were approaching”. He hid the painting in his briefcase, replaced it with a copy and walked out of the museum. Uncertain about what to do with the work, he hid it behind a wardrobe in his parent’s flat. Zwolinski later confessed that in the decade the work was in his possession, he never took it out of its hiding place. On two occasions Zwolinski tried to turn himself in, but lacked the courage.

Zwolinski was sentenced to three years in prison following his arrest in January. Following extensive conservation work, the Monet has been returned to its rightful home where it is being tightly guarded.

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