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The Art Of The Steal: Suspect Detained, Painting Recovered After Broad-Daylight Moscow Theft

Ai-Petri, Crimea, by Arkhip Kuindzhi

MOSCOW -- A suspect has been detained in the theft of a 20th-century painting by a Russian artist from Moscow’s state-run Tretyakov Gallery and the artwork has been recovered, officials say.

The Interior Ministry said on January 28 that the 1908 painting of mountain ridges by Arkhip Kuindzhi had been hidden at a construction site outside Moscow.

Police said the 31-year-old suspect has been on bail for drug possession since December.

The painting was stolen on January 27 from the Tretyakov Gallery during opening hours.

Video-surveillance footage published in Russian media showed a man calmly taking a painting off the wall at the Tretyakovka Gallery before carrying it through a room filled with visitors.

The stolen work -- titled Ai Petri. Crimea -- depicts a mountain on the Crimea Peninsula. It had an insurance value of $185,000.

Police told the TASS news agency that the painting’s absence was noticed after officers were called to the gallery to investigate a missing fur coat and looked through surveillance footage.

On a video published by the Interior Ministry, the detained suspect denies any involvement in the theft and says he has no idea why he has been detained.

"I do not commit crimes. I am a law-abiding citizen of Russia. I do not violate the constitution of the Russian Federation and its laws," the man on the video says, adding that he has never been charged with any crimes and has no criminal record.

Police said they were working to establish if he had any accomplices.

The Tretyakov Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition with more than 180 of Kuindzhi’s paintings.

Kuindzhi (1842-1910), a Russian artist of Greek origin, is known for his landscapes. His 1881 Birch Grove was sold at Sotheby's auction house for more than $3 million in 2008.

The Tretyakov is one of Russia's leading art galleries and has been targeted by criminals several times in recent years.

In May 2017, one of the country's most-treasured 19th-century artworks, by Russian realist painter Ilya Repin, was damaged by a man with a metal rod.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and TASS