Daring Art Heist Nets Picasso, Matisse

Oct 16, 2012 2:08pm
ht monet charing cross bridge jef 121016 wblog Daring Art Heist Nets Picasso, Matisse

Peter Dejong/AP Photo

It sounds just like a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie blockbuster. Just after 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, thieves broke into Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum and stole seven paintings by famous modern artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet.

In what is being called one of the most dramatic and daring art heists in recent years, the masterpieces that were stolen are worth $100 million or more.

But Christopher Marinello of The Art Loss Register told ABC News’ Jeffrey Kofman that the value doesn’t mean much because the works are so well known.

“They are worthless, they can’t sell them,” he said. “However, to thieves they can trade for weapons, guns, they can use them for a get out of jail free card. They can try to make some demands for a reward from some insurance company or try and get some sort of a ransom out of them.”

At a press conference today, the museum described the theft as a ”nightmare for the museum, and a real bombshell.”

The director of the Kunsthal museum says all the paintings are registered in special databases and they work closely with the Art Loss Register in England, the world’s largest database of stolen art.  Marinello said it was clear some of the most valuable pieces in the collection were targeted and that “those thieves got one hell of a haul.”

Security expert from the Museum Security Network, Ton Cremers, believes the ”paintings will remain in the crime scene for many years. Maybe because they can’t sell them they might destroy them, but again it’s impossible to sell them.”

Dutch police are searching for clues by reviewing surveillance camera footage. A Rotterdam TV station reports that police officers have already taken plaster casts possibly to discern what kind of vehicles were used as the  getaway car. Police have said they believe the thieves entered the museum from the back.

According to Cremers, the museum has a ”very modern security system in this museum and the alarm response was very quick, so the thieves were not able to steal many paintings but unfortunately they managed to get out with a few paintings.”

On a radio program, the former director of the museum said that the priceless paintings might mean the theft was commissioned or “kidnapped” so that that the burglars could ask for a ransom.

The museum had just opened a new exhibition a few days ago to celebrate its 20th anniversary, showing different genres such as impressionism, expressionism, and other modern art movements. More than 150 paintings were on display in the exhibit and came from the privately owned Triton Foundation collection.

The stolen paintings listed on the Dutch police website include: 1. Pablo Picasso: “Tête d’Arlequin” 2. Henri Matisse: “la Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune” 3. Claude Monet: “Waterloo Bridge, London” 4. Claude Monet: “Charing Cross Bridge, London” 5. Paul Gauguin: “Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte, dite la Fiancée” 6. Meyer de Haan: “Autoportrait” (circa 1889 – ’91) 7. Lucian Freud: “Woman with Eyes Closed” (2002).

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