An image featuring stolen paintings from the Rotterdam Kunsthal Museum is presented during a news conference in Bucharest, Romania. Picasso's "Tête d'Arlequin" is on the bottom right. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)

Nearly seven years ago, a team of art thieves pulled an incredible haul, stealing works by Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin and Monet from a gallery in Rotterdam. The Guardian called it “one of the most spectacular art heists of modern times.”

Last weekend, a Dutch novelist thought that she’d stumbled upon one of the works — Picasso’s “Tête d’Arlequin” — buried under a tree in the Romanian countryside.

Mira Feticu, who wrote a book about the heist, said she’d received an anonymous letter about 10 days ago with instructions for tracking the painting.

Feticu’s discovery sent tremors of excitement through the art world. Though four Romanians were arrested in connection with the crime in 2014, the paintings were never found. Investigators said they believed the works had been destroyed after the thieves failed to find a buyer. Olga Dogaru, one of the perpetrators, even confessed to burning the works in her stove to protect her son.

She later retracted that statement. But specialists from Romania’s natural history museum said ashes from Dogaru’s stove contained traces of at least three of the oil paintings.

Feticu’s discovery cast doubt on those findings. She delivered the artwork to the Dutch Embassy, where investigators spent the weekend feverishly working to determine whether the work was real.

Then Sunday night, Feticu appeared on the Dutch public broadcaster NOS to say she’d been had. She alleged that the painting — and the letter she received — was part of a publicity stunt to promote a new work by Dutch artists Bart Baele and Yves Degryse.

The pair had created the fake Picasso as part of their new project “True Copy,” a meditation on the work of notorious Dutch forger Geert Jan Jansen, who made millions selling fake paintings. On their website, they said they would “abstain from any comment” until they had spoken with Feticu. “We will be back with more details on this issue within the next few days,” they wrote.

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