Missing for nearly 20 years, a stolen Pablo Picasso painting worth £21 million has been recently recovered by Arthur Brand, a Dutch art detective.

Brand famously earned the title “the Indiana Jones of the art world” for recovering over 200 stolen works of art. On Thursday 14 March, the detective added another find to his portfolio after receiving the missing painting at his home “wrapped in a sheet and black bin bags”.

You fear that it will be fake, but when I had it in my hands, I knew right away: this is real,” enthused Brand.

The recovered portrait of Picasso’s mistress is the Buste de femme (Dora Maar), which Picasso completed on 26 April 1938. It remains unsigned as the painting was never sold during the artist’s lifetime.

Nearly 60 years later, the portrait was stolen in 1999 from Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik al-Sheikh’s superyacht in the French Riviera port of Antibes. Despite a €400,000 (£344,000) reward, French authorities failed to find the valuable Picasso, and its whereabouts has remained a mystery until now.

Brand states he was tipped off about 3 years ago that a stolen Picasso had been “bobbing around in the Dutch underworld, apparently since about 2002.” Once its current owner, a real estate agent, had realised the painting was stolen he quickly arranged for it to be delivered to Brand’s home.

Describing the drop-off, Brand commented that the painting was “one of Picasso’s personal favourites; it was hanging in his home when he died in 1973. And now it was in mine.”

Police were swiftly contacted and within 24 hours Picasso’s portrait was given to an insurance company to convey it back to its legitimate owner.

Verification of the painting’s authenticity was provided by Dick Ellis, the retired founder of Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad, and an expert from Pace Gallery in New York, which sold the painting for the Picasso estate in 1980 to a Saudi prince.

According to an interview, Brand speculates that the Buste de femme could have been traded more than “10 times” in the Amsterdam underworld. He warned that paintings like this one are often employed in drugs and weapon deals as collateral.

Since the statute of limitations has expired for the 1999 theft, Dutch police will reportedly not be taking any further action.

Brand specialises in negotiating with criminals and tracing stolen art works from World War II. Although he claims that he does not make much money from his career, he commented “but sometimes, you know, I can get rich emotionally. This is such a beautiful painting.”