Who Really Stole Odalisque In Red Pants?

This week's feature is a modern-day art heist mystery worthy of the silver screen. It's got a power-hungry president, a missing national treasure, an ensemble of shady middlemen out to make a fortune, and a beautiful FBI agent intent on cracking the case.

But -- spoiler alert -- one thing it doesn't have is a feel-good ending. Although two people went to prison for trying to sell the stolen $4 million Henri Matisse painting Odalisque in Red Pants, nobody has ever been charged with actually stealing it.

Here are a few of the suspects.

See also: Hugo Chávez, Henri Matisse, and the Art Heist That Shook the Americas


When the painting was first discovered stolen in 2002 -- a crude fake had been left in its place inside the Caracas Contemporary Art Museum -- Venezuela was in the middle of crippling strikes targeting then president Hugo Chávez. The leftist had recently replaced the leaders of most artistic institutions, including the museum, and declared a "cultural revolution." To many upper-class or exiled Venezuelans, it seemed that socialists were stripping the country of its crown jewels.

In fact, however, photos and documents eventually proved that the painting had been stolen in 2000, while the museum was still under the supervision of its anti-chavista founder, Sofía Imber.

Sofía Imber:

Because the painting disappeared under her watch, Imber has also come under suspicion. She told New Times that she knew the painting had been stolen and replaced with a fake months before the theft became public, but kept quiet because she didn't want to cause trouble for her successor.

"She was fired from her own museum!" says Wanda de Guebriant, the Matisse expert who first warned Imber that her painting was for sale on the black market. "What would you think if you have created your own museum.. and then comes a change in politics and you are kicked out? Don't you get revengeful?"

Few who know Imber, however, believe that she had anything to do with the actual art heist. After all, Imber was the one who bought the painting two decades earlier.

"She loved those paintings like her children," says her daughter, Adriana Meneses. She points out that her mother was interviewed for hours by Interpol and cleared of wrongdoing.