museum theft: French police recover four paintings stolen from Nice museum

MARSEILLE, France — French police recovered four paintings, including a Monet landscape, that were stolen by masked gunmen in August from a museum on the French Riviera, judicial officials said.


The paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts in Nice were discovered Wednesday in a utility vehicle parked in the port city of Marseille, the Marseille prosecutor’s office said.


About 10 people were brought in for questioning in simultaneous sweeps in Nice, Marseille and nearby Bandol in the case, and their homes were searched, the prosecutor’s office said. They had been tracked for weeks by France’s Office for the Fight Against Traffic in Cultural Goods.


Police said they moved in as suspects were planning a sale of the art later in the day.


The paintings were stolen Aug. 5 by gunmen as a handful of visitors milled about the museum.


The stolen paintings were Monet’s 1897 “Cliffs near Dieppe,” Alfred Sisley’s 1890 “Lane of Poplars near Moret,” and Flemish master Jan Brueghel the Elder’s 17th century “Allegory of Earth” and “Allegory of Water.”


The Monet and Sisley had vanished from the museum’s walls before. In 1998, the curator at the time, Jean Forneris, staged a theft in which masked, armed men took him “hostage” and forced him to take them to the museum. The men overpowered guards and tied up the staff members before fleeing with the paintings – in the curator’s car.


He soon confessed, and the paintings were found in a boat docked in Nice harbour. He was convicted and served 18 months in prison. The Sisley is on its third theft. It was also stolen in 1978 while on loan at an exhibit in Marseille.