By BERNARD ORSMAN



The French masterpiece Still on Top by James Tissot is back on public show at the Auckland Art Gallery, having being restored following the daring shotgun raid that saw it stolen three years ago.



The 1874 oil painting was valued at $8 million before being badly torn when Anthony Sannd jemmied it from its frame, rolled it up and fled on a motorcycle on a quiet Sunday morning in August 1998.



He later demanded a $500,000 ransom for the return of the Tissot, which police found eight days after the robbery hidden under a bed at the home he rented in Waikaretu, south of Port Waikato.

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He was sentenced to nearly 17 years' jail for that robbery and others involving a security van and a bank.



A sophisticated restoration project involving meticulous physical repair and retouching by the gallery's principal conservator, Sarah Hillary, has followed the robbery.



This, and a glistening new gilt frame made of red cedar and 23-carat gold leaf, has brought the painting back to life.



The two-year restoration project cost $140,000 and the research and analysis associated with it has revealed an intimate knowledge of the techniques and materials used by the original artist.



Experts from the major international auction house of Sotheby's and a leading Tissot scholar from the United States, Michael Wentworth, have estimated damage to the painting had resulted in a $4 million loss in its value.



The 88cm by 54cm painting is a famous work by Tissot.



It shows two women helped by an elderly man in the artist's garden in London.



Tissot spent 11 years in England as a political exile.

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The restored work will be on show until October 14.



The exhibition includes photographs of the restoration process, including one of the painting under ultraviolet light which shows where the work has been repaired.



Other works by Tissot are also on display.