Barrie Police are investigating the possible theft of a Group of Seven artist's painting, but there's an outside chance a digital copy of the artwork might have been purloined instead.

Shaaron Hayman-Howard, president of the Barrie Art Club, told on Wednesday night that it's possible the thief or thieves took a giclee reproduction of A.J. Casson's "House and Hills."

A giclee is a three-dimensional copy of a painting made by a specialized inkjet printer. To the untrained eye, it's essentially a duplicate of the original.

"When I went in this morning, I realized I'm pretty sure it was the original that was taken," Hayman-Howard said. But she will have a dealer study the remaining copy to confirm it was the original that was stolen.

The theft occurred Tuesday. It's the first theft ever at the club, which has good security but no cameras, she said.

Hayman-Howard said Casson created the painting in 1959 while conducting a workshop at the club. He left it as a gift.

If you hunt around on the Internet for a photo of the painting, you won't have much luck.

"You won't see it anywhere," Hayman-Howard said, adding it's rarely been seen outside the Barrie area.

She said the painting was appraised at $25,000 in value in 2002, but the price of Group of Seven works has skyrocketed since then.

"It has a lot of sentimental value," Hayman-Howard said. "Our club's been around for 60 years. To have him give it to us and to have it disappear like that is disheartening."

Casson was born in Toronto in 1898. He joined the Group of Seven, which primarily drew its inspiration from the Canadian landscape, in 1926. He died in Toronto in 1992 and is buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, along with five other group members. His works hang in major collections across the nation.

The website of Markham-based Bremner Fine Art, which handles Casson's work, describes him this way: "Casson went on to become known as a painter of Ontario, as was (Franklin) Carmichael. He was able to document many of our rural settings and buildings, as well as his great study of the Ontario landscape with all of the riches that are found in his interpretive paintings of sharply defined colour, shape and contrast."