Video Released of Daring Rotterdam Art Heist

Oct 19, 2012 5:00pm

Dutch police have released security footage from a daring art heist in which thieves broke into Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum and stole seven paintings by famous modern artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

In the video, the two black-hooded thieves can be seen rushing in to the museum through what appears to be a side door, leaving the door swinging open while they gather the paintings. Less than two minutes later, they return with large parcels on their backs and run outside.

Moments later, one of the burglars returns and runs back in, but is back out the door in about 15 seconds. It is unclear what he or she was doing. There is some movement in the dark, but within seconds, the door is closed and the robbers are gone.

Police arrived at the museum less than five minutes after alarms started ringing, but it was too late. The thieves were gone.

Authorities are hoping that the release of the video could help them gather more tips.

It is being called one of the most dramatic and daring art heists in recent years. The masterpieces that were stolen have been valued at $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 on Oct. 16, 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 that the museum works 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.”

Ton Cremers, who founded the Museum Security Network, said he 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 reviewing the surveillance camera footage. A Rotterdam TV station reports that police have already taken plaster casts outside the museum, possibly to discern what kind of vehicle was used as a getaway car. Police have said they believe the thieves entered the museum from the back.

According to Cremers, there is 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 that the works were “kidnapped” so that that the burglars could ask for a ransom.
 

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(Image credit: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza)

The museum had just opened a new exhibition a few days earlier 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”
  • Henri Matisse: “la Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune”
  • Claude Monet: “Waterloo Bridge, London”
  • Claude Monet: “Charing Cross Bridge, London”
  • Paul Gauguin: “Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte, dite la Fiancée”
  • Meyer de Haan: “Autoportrait” (c. 1889 – ’91)
  • Lucian Freud: “Woman with Eyes Closed” (2002).
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