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Meg Hagyard, interim director of the University of Arizona Museum of Art, and Olivia Miller, curator of exhibitions, are thrilled that a valuable painting that was stolen from the museum in 1985 has been recovered. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com

The University of Arizona this week recovered from a New Mexico antiques shop a valuable Willem de Kooning painting that had been stolen 31 years ago.

On Monday, the painting will be available to the media for viewing and photographs at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson.

“This is what we’ve all been waiting for, and the fact that it’s actually here is really unbelievable,” said Olivia Miller, museum curator. 

RELATED: Priceless de Kooning painting recovered 31 years later

The man who has been called a “Good Samaritan” for getting the painting back to the university is also scheduled to appear at the 1 p.m. press conference announcing the painting’s recovery.

David Van Auker, owner of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques in Silver City, New Mexico, said he purchased the painting as part of an estate sale. He said he thought it was a “cool painting,” but didn’t recognize the art as being valuable. Then visitors to his shop began inquiring about whether it was a de Kooning.

Van Auker started researching the Dutch-American abstract expressionist on the internet and up popped an azcentral.com article that led him to report the discovery of the artwork to authorities.

The oil painting, “Woman-Ochre,” was looted during a daring heist in 1985 from the art museum.

On the day after Thanksgiving in 1985, police believe a woman distracted a security guard while a man headed upstairs and, unobserved, cut the canvas painting from its frame. He rolled it up and slipped it under his winter coat. The theft took no longer than 10 minutes. 

The Arizona Republic will feature an in-depth story on the painting’s recovery in Sunday’s newspaper; an online feature is available at azcentral.com.

Museum officials don’t know when the painting will be ready for public display as restoration work will likely be necessary after three decades.

For now, the mood at the museum is surreal and very emotional. 

“The collection is whole again,” said Meg Hagyard, the museum’s interim director. “And I think we’re going to be celebrating this moment for a long time to come.”

Reach the reporter at 602-444-8072 or anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com.

READ MORE:

Unsolved mystery: de Kooning painting valued at $100M missing for 30 years

The Republic’s Willem de Kooning obituary from 1997

De Kooning painting fetches $66.3M in New York

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