The paintings were seized following a tip-off from art database firm Art Loss Register (ALR). The three artworks were among five Bacon pictures taken in June 2015 alongside jewellery and other objects from the belongings of Spanish banker José Capelo, who was a friend of the Dublin-born artist.
Last year the ALR was contacted by an individual in Sitges, a resort to the southwest of Barcelona, who requested a check against its database of one of the paintings.
The artwork was discovered to have been stolen, having been recorded as so at the ALR after Interpol issued the alert in 2015.
ALR then contacted the Spanish police to alert them.
In a statement, the Spanish national police said the email from the individual to ALR contained unpublished photographs of the artworks taken after the theft. With these, it was possible to find the specific model of camera that the photographs were taken with. The police traced it to a camera rental company and then the lessee of the photographic equipment. This information led the police to the suspected thieves and eventually to the stolen artworks.
Ten arrests have now been made related to the case.
The ALR’s director of recoveries and general counsel, James Ratcliffe, said: “The return of the pictures is testament to the value of collaboration between the public and private sector. We gave the police this lead to help them track down these individuals. The Spanish police have done a fantastic job.”