John Opit with the recovered painting, said to be worth $50 million.
John Opit with the recovered painting, said to be worth $50 million. Nolan Verheij-Full

Book proves Tweed man's $50m Cezanne painting is real

TEN years since he had a "$50 million Cezanne" stolen from his Limpinwood home generating international headlines, John Opit said he is finalising a book that will prove beyond doubt the painting is authentic.

In late February 2004, thieves broke into Mr Opit's bush studio and stole more than 20 paintings from his collection, including one Mr Opit claimed was by 19th century French post-impressionist Paul Cezanne, dated 1873.

It stunned the art world and at the time it was said to be Australia's biggest art heist.

But the robbery sparked a fiery debate among art critics, who disputed the authenticity of the purported Cezanne work called "Paul Cezanne's son in a high chair" and remain sceptical to this day.

The Cezanne painting, which was stolen and recovered.
The Cezanne painting, which was stolen and recovered. EPU9

But Mr Opit maintained it was genuine.

The works were recovered by police from a Robina garage four months later after a tip-off and returned to Mr Opit.

In 2007 Gold Coast man Brett Michael Williams, then 44, was found guilty of stealing the works.

But Mr Opit said the Murwillumbah resident who masterminded the robbery got off scot-free.

He said the man, then in his 70s, had become aware of his art collection after he did some art restoration work for him.

"They (police) told me he was too cunning," he said.

But a source who attended the court case and did not want to be named said the proceedings cast doubt on Mr Opit's claim of authenticity and the involvement of a second person.

Despite all the fuss made about the Cezanne, Mr Opit said he was more upset about the theft of a painting of his great-great-aunt.

For the last decade the Italian-trained art restorer has been working for a range of private collectors throughout Australia and New Zealand.

He's also in the final stages of completing his fourth book, The Cezanne Code, which he will self-publish later this year.

He said it will contain "indisputable evidence" the stolen painting was authentic.

"It's linking my painting with all the other early works (by Cezanne) by the iconic images it contains," he said.

He said one of the key errors made by art experts in the assessment of his Cezanne was basing the date it was painted on the commercial production of pigmentation, rather than when it was first used.

Another problem was the experts wrongly assumed if auction houses had no record of a work then it didn't exist.

"I'm going to send a free copy (of the book) to every major art gallery in the world," he said.

"I've written things that are going to make their jaw drop."

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