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Banksy painting, stolen from the Bataclan in Paris, to be returned to France

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A policeman stands guard near a piece of art attributed to Banksy, that was stolen at the Bataclan in Paris in 2019
A policeman stands guard near a piece of art attributed to Banksy, that was stolen at the Bataclan in Paris in 2019   -   Copyright  AFP
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A work of art attributed to the British artist Banksy is to be returned to France, from where it was stolen in 2019 before recently being found in a farm near Rome.

Depicting a sad looking girl, the artwork was a tribute to the victims of the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

The "Gate of Banksy" is to be exhibited at the Farnese Palace in Rome, which houses the French embassy in Italy, in the presence of Ambassador Christian Masset, the chief prosecutor of Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo region, where it was found at the beginning of June, and the general of the carabinieri in charge of the defence of cultural heritage.

The date and conditions of the painting's return to France were not disclosed.

The work attributed to the famous British street artist Banksy had been painted in 2018 on one of the emergency exits, located behind the Bataclan, in the passage through which many spectators of the Eagles of Death Metal concert had escaped during the terrorist attack.

Made with stencil and white paint, the work depicts a sad-looking girl as a tribute on the very spot where 90 people were killed on November 13, 2015, during a series of jihadist attacks that hit the French capital and its suburb Saint-Denis.

The criminals, hooded, had seized it by cutting the door with a grinder on the night of 25-26 January 2019. The scene was filmed by video surveillance cameras.

Six people were arrested at the end of June in France during a vast operation led by the Paris Criminal Investigation Department in the Alps and central regions.

Two of them were charged with robbery in an organised gang and the other four with receiving stolen goods from an organised gang.

According to Agi, two of the suspects are Italians born in France and a total of eight people have been arrested, while a suspected accomplice is on the run.

An artist at the heart of the debate

Banksy, who likes to keep his identity a secret but is one of the most highly regarded in his milieu, struck a big blow in June 2018 by disseminating a series of stencils, sometimes with a very political tone, in the French capital.

He had claimed authorship of eight works on his Instagram account, including the sad silhouette on the door of the Bataclan, a misappropriation of the painting "Napoleon crossing the Alps" by Jacques-Louis David, a girl drawing a pink tapestry motif on a swastika near the former "first reception centre" for refugees in Paris, and a small rat with a masked snout brandishing a pencil (or a box cutter), near the Pompidou Centre.

This last work, "made on the back of the entrance panel" of a car park, was also stolen at the beginning of September 2019. The Centre Pompidou, which houses important collections of contemporary art, had filed a complaint "for theft and damage within a space within its perimeter".

Banksy, who likes to play with the media and the art market, is now one of the most highly regarded contemporary artists in the world.

In cities such as Paris, London and New York, his works offer a formidable spotlight on subjects at the heart of societal debates, such as the question of refugees. If in Paris, elected officials have welcomed his artistic "invasion", the problem of their possible theft or degradation inevitably arises.

In October 2018, the buyer of a reproduction of one of Banksy's most famous images, "Girl with Balloon", sold for nearly 1.185 million euros at Sotheby's in London, was surprised to see the canvas partially self-destruct thanks to an ingenious mechanism hidden in its frame, partially cutting the image into thin vertical strips.

In recent weeks, he has reproduced on his Instagram account a drawing showing, next to the portrait of a black man, a lighted candle setting fire to the American flag, in homage to George Floyd. Or the drawing of anonymous people unbolting a statue, a reference to attacks on monuments or statues of historical figures linked to slavery or colonization.