The Paul Klee painting Portrait in the Garden was stolen in 1989.((U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
A Montreal gallery owner is being praised by authorities for helping secure the return of a Paul Klee painting snatched two decades ago.

Agents for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have recovered the painting Portrait in the Garden, which was stolen from a New York art gallery in 1989.

Valued at about $100,000 US, the 1930 oil painting depicts a woman surrounded by flowers.

“The recovery of this painting sends a strong message to thieves that people in the art community are on the look out for stolen art,” ICE special agent James T. Hayes, Jr. said in statement released Wednesday.

Robert Landau, owner of Montreal’s Landau Fine Art, alerted authorities about the stolen artwork after he was approached at Miami’s Art Basel contemporary art fair in December by a man looking to sell the painting. He claimed to be an art dealer from Florida.

After Landau told the man he couldn’t verify the authenticity of the work on the spot, the dealer sent it to Montreal, with the understanding that the Canadian gallery owner would purchase it after closer evaluation.

“Once we found out it was stolen, we called Homeland Security in Washington,” Landau said. “We don’t deal in stolen art.”

The investigation is ongoing. The U.S. authorities who recovered the piece have since handed it over to attorney Christopher A. Marinello who is representing the insurer.

“He was very honourable,”  Christopher Marinello, said of Landau.

“We wish that every dealer were like the Landau Gallery and that they searched before they bought everything.”

Portrait in the Garden was originally stolen from New York’s Marlborough Gallery, which received a claim by its insurer, Lloyd’s of London, following the theft.

Marinello has since negotiated a release of the painting from the Florida dealer and the insurer will auction the painting at a forthcoming sale New York.

Klee was a Swiss-born painter and graphic artist whose work was influenced by several art movements of his time, such as cubism, expressionism and surrealism, as well as music and the natural world. He died in 1940.

With files from The Associated Press