Museum Security Network

The dark shadow on the Bührle paintings

MSN’s Video of the Week,

The arms dealer who loved art
The dark shadow on the Bührle paintings.

The German industrialist Emil Georg Bührle became a Swiss citizen in
the 1920s. The founder of the Zurich art gallery – the scene of a
spectacular robbery on February 10, 2008 – started his collection
during the Second World War. The unclear provenance of some paintings
from Jewish owners has led the foundation to return 13 of them. A look
back on the life of the arms dealer who wanted to be remembered as an
arts lover. (SF1)



Related story:
Armed robbers steal art worth SFr180 million from Bührle Collection in
Zurich (2008)

Thieves have made off with works by Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet
in the biggest art robbery of its kind in Switzerland.
The theft happened on Sunday at the Bührle Collection – a private
museum for Impressionist and post-Impressionist art in Zurich.

Three masked men who entered the building with pistols are still at
large, police said on Monday, describing the heist as a “spectacular
art robbery”.

“It’s the biggest ever robbery committed in Switzerland and certainly
even in Europe,” Zurich police spokesman Marco Cortesi told a media

The four works are Cézanne’s The Boy in the Red Vest – worth SFr100m
on its own – van Gogh’s Blossoming Chestnut Branches, Monet’s Poppies
near Vétheuil and Degas’ Count Lepic and His Daughters.

A SFr100,000 reward has been offered for any information leading to
the recovery of the paintings.

While one of the men used a pistol to force museum personnel to the
floor, the two others went into the exhibition hall and collected the
four paintings. The museum was open at the time with around 15
visitors inside the building during the robbery.

The men were about 175 cm tall and one of them spoke German with a
Slavic accent, the police said. They loaded the paintings into a white
vehicle parked in front of the museum.

“I think they knew exactly what they wanted to steal because it was
over in three minutes. They came in and went directly to the right
room and took the four most highly valued pictures,” Cortesi told

“It is one possibility that they were stolen to order, but what do you
want to do with these pictures at home? Everybody now knows these
pictures have been stolen.”

Spiritual value
Museum director Lukas Gloor told journalists that he had not ruled out
that a ransom demand would be made, but until now no such
communication has been received.

“There is the financial value, but there is also the spiritual value,
and we are facing the fact that these paintings are some of the most
important in our collection,” Gloor told swissinfo.

“We are devastated. I feel like the father of a family who has lost
four of his children,” he added.

“Regretfully, it has in the past repeatedly been the fact that
collectors’ museums of this type have been the victims of robberies.”

The art collection of Emil Georg Bührle (1890-1956), a Zurich
industrialist, is among the most important private collections amassed
in the 20th century of European art. In 1960 his family placed 200
works in a foundation and opened it to the public.

Picasso thefts
The theft comes three days after two paintings by Spanish artist Pablo
Picasso were stolen from an exhibition of the artist’s works near

The oil paintings, believed to be worth several million Swiss francs,
vanished on Wednesday evening after closing time at the Seedamm
culture centre in Pfäffikon, canton Schwyz. Police are still not sure
how the thieves got into the building, but they set off an alarm as
they left.

Cortesi told swissinfo that it is too early to say if there is a
connection between the two thefts. He added that police are
investigating the possibility of inside help, but that there is no
evidence at this stage.

The FBI estimates the market for stolen art at $6 billion annually,
and Interpol has about 30,000 pieces of stolen art in its database.

While only a fraction of pieces is ever found, the theft of iconic
objects, especially by force, is rarer because of the intense police
work that follows and because the works are so difficult to sell.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said he regretted the theft and
hoped the police would quickly find out who committed the crime and
how. Asked whether the museum ought to be better guarded, he said:
“Probably, if something like this can happen.”

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