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Portrait of a Lady: Stolen Klimt mystery ‘solved’ by gardener in Italy



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Media captionThe recovered artwork was put on display by police

Nothing was heard of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady after it was stolen nearly 23 years ago from a modern art gallery in Piacenza, northern Italy.

There seemed little prospect of the masterpiece, valued at €60m (£50m; $66m), ever being found.

That was until a worker clearing ivy from the wall of the gallery where it was stolen stumbled on a metal panel.

Behind it lay a recess, within which was a black bag containing what appeared to be the missing painting.

Checks are still being carried out on the recovered work, which has been handed to police.

But gallery director Massimo Ferrari is confident the original has been found, because it has the same stamps and sealing wax on the back of the painting.

Police are investigating whether the thieves had left the painting hidden with the aim of removing it when worldwide media attention moved away from one of the most notorious art thefts in years.

Black bag of rubbish

The painting was stolen on 22 February 1997 from the Ricci-Oddi modern art gallery amid preparations for a special exhibition in Piacenza aimed at showing off Portrait of a Lady.

The frame of the painting was discarded on the roof of the building in an apparent attempt to show that thieves had broken in through the skylight. That was not the case as the skylight was too small for the painting to fit through.

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The painting was found inside this recess in a wall at the gallery

The worker who found the painting said initially he thought the black bag was just rubbish.

Gen Roberto Riccardi, head of the carabinieri unit for protecting cultural heritage, called for caution before the work is authenticated.

A group of experts will now use scientific and artistic analysis to work out if the painting is genuine and if it is has really spent the past 22 years in a hole in the wall.

Art critic Vittorio Sgarbi is already convinced. “Recovering the Portrait, an intense and lifelike work, is the best Christmas present,” he told Corriere della Sera.

An important painting

Portrait of a Lady was painted in 1916-17 by Viennese artist Gustav Klimt towards the end of his life.

  • Read more from Max Paradiso’s story: The mystery of the stolen Klimt

Klimt was part of a radical group of artists called the Secession and many of his works featured expressive and sexually evocative paintings of women.

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Media captionClaudia Maga describes her discovery

What was extraordinary about Portrait of a Lady was that, 10 months before it was stolen, art student Claudia Maga spotted that it had been painted over another Klimt painting, Portrait of a Young Lady, which had not been seen since 1912.

She managed to prove her theory by persuading the Piacenza gallery’s former director to have it X-rayed.

The original painting was of a young girl from Vienna who had died. Klimt had painted over the portrait when the girl died suddenly, to forget the pain of her death.

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Edinburgh festivals cancelled due to coronavirus




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The Edinburgh Fringe and four other major cultural festivals in the city have been cancelled this year due to concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival, will not take place for the first time in more than 70 years.

The Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Art Festival and Edinburgh International Book Festival have also been cancelled.

The five events attract audiences of about 4.4 million people each August.

More than 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries take part in 5,000 events in the Scottish capital each year.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the cancellation was “heartbreaking, but the right decision”.

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Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said the festivals would be “missed greatly”.

“But in taking this difficult decision now, everyone involved in the festivals, from staff to spectators, will be able to fully focus on their health and wellbeing which is critical during this time of great uncertainty,” she said.

“I am committed to looking into support for seasonal staff who will suffer some of the greatest impact.

“The Scottish government will work with the festivals and all partners to ensure they can build on their previous success and return to the stage in 2021.”

What are the five Edinburgh festivals?

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Edinburgh International Festival was founded in 1947, in the aftermath of World War Two, in an attempt to reconcile and reunite people and nations through art. Its programme features theatre, dance and music.

The Fringe began that same year when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform on the fringes of the festival. Since then it has grown to become the world’s biggest arts festival.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo dates back to 1950. It attracts 220,000 visitors each August, and television coverage is watched by millions around the world.

Edinburgh International Book Festival has grown since its launch in 1983 and now brings writers from across the world to exchange ideas on major issues.

Edinburgh Art Festival is the newest of the events, being founded in 2004 to bring together galleries, museums and artist-run spaces to present work by international and UK artists.

An unprecedented but inevitable decision

Like so many decisions in the current climate, it’s unprecedented.

Since they first began in 1947, a resilient celebration of culture in the aftermath of war, the Edinburgh festivals have flourished and grown.

They’ve seen off competition from other festivals, and events like the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. They’ve adapted around health scares and terrorism – but this is different.

The sheer scale of the combined might of Edinburgh’s August festivals is what makes it special, but it’s also what made today’s joint decision inevitable.

Even if we are out of lockdown in August, it will take some time for Scotland to return to whatever is the new normal. It will happen gradually, with many creative organisations continuing to work online. Emergency services may still be overstretched, or still recovering.

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As the director of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Brigadier David Allfrey, says it is “impractical and undesirable” to stage a tattoo in anything like its normal form in August.

They, like so many of the other organisations, have recorded performances (which are broadcast to millions more than the 9,500 who sit on the castle esplanade each night).

All five festivals will be exploring new ways to link performers with audiences so that they can maintain some kind of presence in Edinburgh in 2020, even if it’s a virtual one.

The last word goes to Fergus Linehan, director of the Edinburgh International Festival, who said: “This festival was born out of adversity – an urgent need to reconnect and rebuild. The current crisis presents all at the festival with a similar sense of urgency.”

For the thousands involved, as performers or audience members, stand up comics or orchestras, it will be a blow, but the Edinburgh festivals will return in 2021. That, at least, is not in doubt.

What has the other reaction been to the cancellation?

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Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said the “heartbreaking” decision had been “the only appropriate response”.

“Our thoughts today are with the doctors, nurses, health and social care professionals on the front line, as well as all those affected by this dreadful pandemic.

“Our sympathies too are with the thousands of artists and participants directly affected by today’s decision – we will do everything we can to support you over the coming months.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he was “hugely disappointed”, but added: “We are facing a unique challenge, and for the festivals this is the right thing to do.”

City of Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey and his depute, Cammy Day, said the decision was the right one – but would leave “a massive gap”.

They added: “We’ll do everything we can to assist our world-renowned cultural sector to remain at the centre of the city’s identity going forward.”

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K-Pop star sorry for coronavirus April fool’s joke




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The singer is best known as a member of the Korean pop groups JYJ and TVXQ

K-pop star Kim Jaejoong has apologised for posting on Instagram that he was in hospital having contracted Covid-19, admitting it was an April fool’s joke.

The singer told fans he had caught the virus after “ignoring” government warnings and “living carelessly”.

In a subsequent post, he claimed he had simply wanted to raise awareness of the virus.

But the now-deleted joke appears to have backfired with many of his 1.9m followers voicing their disapproval.

“How can you pull a prank like this when the situation right now is so serious?” one fan responded. “It’s really disappointing.”

South Korea was one of the first countries hit by coronavirus, and it is believed to have killed 165 people there so far.

According to some experts the government’s “rapid, intrusive measures,” including strict quarantine and testing have helped to curb the spread.

  • Coronavirus: South Korea seeing a ‘stabilising trend’
  • Coronavirus: What can the world learn from South Korea?

‘So scared’

Jaejoong, who is best known as a member of the Korean pop groups JYJ and TVXQ, wrote he wanted to “sincerely apologise” for his offensive post, saying he was simply scared that another wave of the virus could yet hit his country.

“It was not right – I know that,” wrote Jaejoong.

“I just wanted to deliver a message that we should all be aware of the risk to minimise the number of victims.

“I’m so scared that there might come the second, the third corona-panics caused by outdoor activities and contact in closed spaces.”

He added: “So, I think we all need to be alert. I just wanted to tell the people who don’t care about the virus: ‘Please listen up, people. Don’t get sick’.”

The 34-year-old, whose real name is Kim Jae-joong, has a long history of pranking fans.

His previous April fool’s jokes have included pretending to faint during a concert and announcing false marriage plans.

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How Matt Lucas’ Baked Potato Song will help feed NHS workers




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“The only creative thing I’ve done in the last two and a half weeks is rewrite the lyrics.”

When Matt Lucas updated a 20-year-old comedy song with lyrics giving advice about avoiding coronavirus, he expected about 500 people to watch it.

“That’s probably as many people as would normally look at my Twitter,” the Little Britain star says.

But the video for his revised Baked Potato Song has now had three million views, and he is about to release it to raise funds for his FeedNHS campaign.

“When the idea was put to me, it was a no brainer,” he tells BBC News.

Lucas first duetted with a baked potato on madcap comedy quiz Shooting Stars, where the singing vegetable delivered some sensible life lessons – from “Do be early, don’t be late” to “Always eat what’s on your plate”.

“Sometimes people write to me about that song because it appeared on Shooting Stars about 20 years ago, and it’s something that people still remember,” Lucas says.

He was inspired to revisit it after seeing footage of people socialising last Tuesday, when he was already in isolation.

“I was just trying to think of a way of helping to spread the message rather than the virus, and I thought, if I can connect with kids, then maybe the kids can tell their parents,” he says.

“I was sat at my piano and I just remembered the baked potato song.”

In its new incarnation, the baked potato instructs people to wash their hands, stay indoors and not touch their faces.

“I watched over the next 48 hours as it went viral, and three million people have viewed it on Twitter,” says Lucas.

“And then people started doing their own versions and their own animations. And kids were filming themselves singing it and sending it to me, and it sort of took on a life of its own.”

Feeding doctors and nurses

As that was happening, Lucas was speaking to actors Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory, as well as the boss of food chain Leon, to set up a campaign that would provide hot meals to NHS workers.

FeedNHS is aiming to take food from the thousands of cafes, restaurants and canteens that have been forced to shut down and send it to hospitals. A fundraising page has already raised almost £600,000.

“I have an aunt who’s in hospital at the moment with the virus. I know two people who’ve passed away from it,” Lucas explains.

“People message me on social media to say they work in the NHS and they’re completely oversubscribed. So it was pretty plain and simple to all of us that we should try and get them at least one hot meal a day, and it’s good quality food as well.”

So a singing baked potato will be helping to feed doctors and nurses.

Lucas is about to become the new co-host of The Great British Bake Off and is rumoured to be working on new Little Britain material with David Walliams. But he says he’s not using the time afforded by isolation to work on comedy scripts.

“The only creative thing I’ve done in the last two and a half weeks is rewrite the lyrics to this song,” he says.

“I’ve only been focused on this charity, my family and my friends.

“I want to be able to look back and think that I tried to do something to help some people during this particular crisis. I have asthma so I have to isolate. But many people are literally risking their lives to help people.”

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