Masked thief steals priceless masterpieces from Paris museum
May 20, 2010

Masked thief steals priceless masterpieces from Paris museum

"Le pigeon aux petits pois" picasso

Le pigeon aux petits pois (Dove with Green Peas, 1912, Pablo Picasso)

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Charles Bremner in Paris

A lone masked intruder stole five priceless paintings, including a Matisse and a Picasso, from the Paris Museum of Modern Art last night.

Guards discovered the theft as they made their rounds at dawn and police have described the raid as one of the most daring thefts for many years. Security cameras at the museum showed a hooded man cutting open a window, breaking locks and climbing inside, police said.

He apparently cut the art works from their frames, leaving them empty on the wall. It was not clear whether the man could have been working alone or had accomplices inside the museum.

The stolen Picasso is a 1912 oil painting, Le pigeon aux petits pois (Dove with Green Peas). Also taken were Henri Matisse’s La Pastorale (Pastoral, 1905), Georges Braque’s L’Olivier près de l’Estaque (Olive tree near Estaque, 1906), Amédéo Modigliani’s La femme a l’éventail (Woman with a Fan, 1919), and Fernand Léger’s Nature Morte au Chandelier (Still Life with a Chandelier, 1922).

The prosecutor’s office initially estimated the five paintings’ total worth at as much as €500 million. Christophe Girard, deputy culture secretary at Paris City Hall, later said the total value was “just under €100 million”.

As stolen goods with well-known histories, however, they might be worth more for possible ransom, police speculated.

The museum was closed to visitors this morning as police and investigators cordoned off the area in the Palais de Tokyo, across the River Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

A notice on the door said “Closed today for technical reasons”.

The Brigade de Répression du Banditisme, the elite police unit that fights organised crime and art theft, has taken charge of the investigation.

Picasso is the world’s most stolen artist, according to the London-based Art Loss Register.

In June last year a sketchbook worth more than €8 million was stolen from the Picasso museum in Paris. It has not been recovered.

In 2007, two paintings by the artist vanished from his granddaughter’s home in Paris.

Paris suffered three major art thefts in one day in 1990, forcing the city to step up security at its art collections.

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