Keane "big eyes" painting returned 50 years after it was stolen from the waiting room of a dentist whose daughter is depicted in the artwork

In 1972, someone swiped this gorgeous Margaret Keane painting from a dentist's office waiting room in Honolulu, Hawaii. Last week, it was finally returned to the dentist's family, including his daughter who at age 7 was the model for one of the big-eyed children in the painting. From Heritage Auctions:

A native of Tennessee, Keane was living in Honolulu in 1972. There, she saw a little girl she wanted to include in a painting of several children. The girl's father provided Keane with a photo of his daughter (seen at left), who was then 7 years old. The girl appears in the center of the painting, which was intended to represent the racial diversity of Hawaii's population. It took Keane three months to complete.

The girl's father purchased the work and displayed it in his dentist's office waiting room.

According to family members and former employees interviewed by Wittman, the dentist and his employees went to lunch each day around noon, but left the door to the waiting room unlocked for patients who arrived early for their 1 p.m. appointments. When they returned from lunch on Nov. 14, 1972, they noticed the painting was gone. Honolulu police were contacted, a story appeared in the newspaper, and an ad ran for several days offering a reward for its return – "no questions asked."

The family then spent the next five decades, on and off, looking for the work, with no luck. A fortuitous Google search earlier this year revealed that the painting had been sold through Heritage Auctions in December.

In April the family contacted [art recovery expert Robert] Wittman, who began researching the theft and interviewing family members and former employees. He then contacted Heritage Auctions, which immediately contacted the seller and buyer of the painting; both were cooperative in facilitating the painting's return to its original owner. Heritage also refunded the buyer in full.

Here's the trailer for Big Eyes, Tim Burton's excellent 2014 film about Margaret Keane: