Image: The University of Arizona Image: The University of Arizona

This month, the piece was discovered by a New Mexico antiques dealer who acquire the work in a sale of the couple's estate. Realizing the piece, entitled Woman-Ochre, could be a stolen De Kooning, the dealer returned it to the museum.

On November 29, 1985, according to the Arizona museum, the piece was taken by a man and woman who followed a member of staff intro the gallery at 9am, local time. According to the museum's report, the woman distracted the guard whilst the man went up to the second floor, where he cut the piece out of the frame.

David Van Auker, owner of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques in New Mexico, purchased items from an estate auction. Along with his business partners Richard Dean Johnson and Buck Burns, Auker purchased the contents of the home, which included furniture and art, for $2 000. Customers at Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques commented to Auker how the piece resembled the work of De Kooning, which lead him to research the piece a little further. Upon discovering its likeliness to the stolen De Kooning, Auker alerted the University of Arizona and the FBI and returned the piece to the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

The FBI are still investigating the theft.

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