A Henri Matisse painting titled Odalisque in Red Pants had been stolen and replaced with a rather poor fake of it "leaving it to be exhibited as if it were the real thing. And no one noticed."
The fake painting appears to have been hanging in the museum for at least two years and perhaps longer.
Marianela Balbi, a journalist who wrote a book about the theft, said that a photograph taken in September 2000 shows President Hugo Chávez standing in the museum in front of the fake Matisse. That is the earliest indication of the switch, she said.
The next month the museum heard from a Matisse expert that someone was shopping the painting around, Ms. Balbi said. But it appears no one followed up, and the theft went undiscovered for an additional two years.