The cultural department of Lucerne is investigating the mystery disappearance of 23 works of art belonging to the city, including a charcoal drawing by Ferdinand Hodler valued at SFr100,000.
For years, the pictures had been forgotten and kept in storage. Their existence was only discovered by chance when the department's head, Ueli Habegger, came across receipts documenting the loan of the art works to the Lucerne Art Society in the early 1930s and during the 1960s.
Confirming a report in the Lucerne newspaper, the "Neue Luzerner Zeitung", Habegger said it could not be excluded that other pictures had also disappeared in mysterious circumstances. "We have begun compiling a detailed inventory of what is in the possession of the city and the art society," he added.
The missing Hodler picture is entitled "Schnitter Tod" and was completed by the Swiss artist in 1902. Other works include paintings by two local artists from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Joseph Reinhard and Jakob Schwegler.
Lucerne cultural authorities are in touch with the International Museum Council, an organisation that specialises in tracing stolen or missing works of art.
But Habegger fears the search for at least some of the pictures might be in vain. He is quoted by the newspaper as saying it is a possibility that the two paintings by Reinhard ended up being thrown away as rubbish by someone unaware of their value.
by Richard Dawson