French customs agents have recovered a painting by Degas on a bus more than eight years after it was stolen from a museum in Marseille.

DegasDegas’ Les Choristes

Les Choristes (1877) was discovered in a suitcase in the vehicle’s luggage compartment during a stopover outside of Paris. It is thought to be valued at an estimated $1 million. None of the passengers claimed the suitcase.

The small painting, depicting choristers singing in a scene from Don Giovanni, was stolen from the Cantini museum in Marseille, France in December 2009. Investigators believed it was an inside job – the painting had been unscrewed from the wall and there was no evidence of a break-in. Customs agents were simply performing a routine check of the long-distance bus, with the find a complete surprise.

France Culture Minister Françoise Nyssen said that the resurfacing of the painting was “a happy rediscovery of a precious work belonging to the national collections, whose disappearance represented a heavy loss for French impressionist heritage”.

Experts at the Musée d’Orsay, which had loaned the work to the Cantini, confirmed the painting’s authenticity.

“It is wonderful,” said a spokesman for the museum. “It is the centenary of his death and we are organising a huge show about Degas and the opera for 2019. It would have been a terrible loss for us to do it without this painting.”