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The Paul Klees painting Portrait in the Garden was stolen in 1989, but Montreal gallery owner Robert Landau has helped secure its return, said U.S. authorities. ((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."

'We wish that every dealer were like the Landau Gallery and that they searched before they bought everything.' —Christopher Marinello, Art Loss Register

The investigation is ongoing. The U.S. authorities who recovered the piece have since handed it over to the international organization Art Loss Register, which maintains a vast database of details about stolen fine art.

"He was very honourable," Art Loss Register's executive director, 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.

The Art Loss Register, the work's current owner/broker, will auction the painting at a forthcoming sale with Christie's in 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