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Everyone in the art world is confused: Are several world-class masterpieces just a pile of ash, or is the woman who claimed to have burned them, only to now deny the charges, finally telling the truth?

Last week, pretty much all of Western Civilization was upset when it looked like Olga Dogaru, the 50-year-old mother of one of the suspects in the multi-million euro Kunsthal museum heist, burned seven masterpieces her son allegedly stole. Those included works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse.

But then, yesterday, Dogaru told a panel of three judges that she was lying to investigators and that she really didn't burn the paintings in a panic. "I believed that what I said before was the best thing at the moment, that this was the right thing to do," she told the panel on Monday, adding "I did not burn them." 

Reports The Times:

Standing alongside her son, Radu, 29, who has admitted stealing the paintings in October from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Mrs. Dogaru, 50, told a panel of three judges that her earlier account of destroying the works in a stove at her house in the tiny village of Carcaliu was untrue. “I did not burn them,” she said in a soft voice.

But maybe her appreciation of the missing art was spurred by little more than a realization that she was going to spend a long time behind bars. Because, despite her recantation, a team of Romanian experts now says Dogaru did, in fact, destroy the art.

"We gathered overwhelming evidence that three (of the seven) paintings were destroyed by fire," Gheorghe Niculescu, head of the team from Romania's National Research Investigation Center in Physics and Chemistry, told Reuters on Monday:

Niculescu said he was now sufficiently confident that three had been destroyed that his department, a unit of the culture ministry, would be submitting a detailed report to prosecutors this week. 

It is not clear what Niculescu thinks happened to the other four paintings. The total worth of the seven paintings is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars.

For art optimists, however, there still is hope, which essentially relies on believing that Romanian forensic investigators — namely, Niculescu — are inept. Reuters notes that Niculescu's assertion has some holes in it:

[H]e could not say which of the seven paintings had been destroyed and did not explain how he was certain that the remains originated from works stolen from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum last October, rather than other paintings. 

So maybe the paintings are still safely hidden away somewhere in the Romanian countryside. If you see them around, do give a shout. Rotterdam would like them back. 

The paintings stolen were: Pablo Picasso's 1971 Harlequin Head; Monet's 1901 Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London; Henri Matisse's 1919 Reading Girl in White and Yellow; Paul Gauguin's 1898 Girl in Front of Open Window; Meyer de Haan's Self-Portrait, around 1890; and Lucian Freud's 2002 work Woman With Eyes Closed.

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