Greek authorities have recovered a Picasso almost a decade after it was stolen alongside two other artworks in an audacious heist at the National Gallery in Athens.

Picasso had gifted his Cubist painting “Head of a Woman,” to Greece in 1949 in honor of their resistance to Nazi rule. On the back of the canvas he had inscribed the words, “For the Greek people, a tribute. Picasso.”

After it was stolen during an overnight raid by a builder on 9 January 2012 , Head of a Woman had lain hidden in his home for nine years alongside Stammer Windmill, a work by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

Fearing authorities were about to trace him, the thief transferred the priceless pieces to a warehouse before hiding them in a gorge in Keratea, a rural area some 45 kilometres southeast of Athens.

Police said the 49-year-old builder had confessed to stealing the artworks and had been arrested.

“Today is a special day, (a day of) great joy and emotion,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni told reporters. She added that the painting held “particular importance and sentimental value” for Greeks as it had been “personally dedicated by the great painter” to them for their fight against Nazism and fascism.

Mendoni said the inscription by Picasso would have made the painting “impossible” to sell.

According to police sources cited by news agency ANA, the self-confessed thief described himself as an “art lover” who simply wanted to “possess the pieces.” He had monitored security operations at Athens’ National Gallery, Greece’s largest state art collection, for six months prior to the burglary. The meticulous planning had led many to mistakenly assume that the art heist was the work of an experienced gang.

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