Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:23 am (KSA) 21:23 pm (GMT)

100 million euros museum robbery stuns France

A photo dating back to 2006 showing a woman looking at the painting "Olive Tree near Estaque" by French painter Georges Braque (File)
A photo dating back to 2006 showing a woman looking at the painting "Olive Tree near Estaque" by French painter Georges Braque (File)

A lone thief stole 100 million euros worth of paintings, including masterpieces by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, in the biggest known raid on a Paris museum, officials said Thursday.

The canvases were discovered missing just before the Musee d'Art Moderne was to open. The museum, near the Eiffel Tower, was sealed off as police sought clues to who was behind the latest stunning robbery that raised new questions about museum security in the French capital.

Investigators found a broken window and a sheared-off padlock. Video surveillance cameras recorded only one person entering through a window though.

Besides the Matisse and the Picasso, works by Georges Braque, Ferdinand Leger and Amedeo Modigliani were also plucked from the walls of the city-run museum, one of the most-visited in the French capital.

The prosecutor's office initially estimated the five paintings' total worth at as much as 500 million ($613 million) but later downgraded that to 90 million ($112 million). Girard said the total value was "just under 100 million euros."

The stolen paintings included Picasso's cubist "Dove with Green Peas," which the Spanish artist created in 1912, and his French contemporary Matisse's "Pastoral" from 1905.

The others were Braque's "Olive Tree near Estaque," Modigliani's "Woman with a Fan" and Leger's "Still Life with Candlestick," according to the website of Le Parisien newspaper.

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe expressed shock at the theft which he called "an intolerable attack on the universal cultural heritage in Paris."

But France has seen a growing number of art thefts in recent months.

In January, about 30 paintings -- including some by Picasso and Henri 'Douanier' Rousseau -- were stolen from a private villa in the Cote d'Azur, with a total estimated value of around one million euro.

On New Year's Eve, a pastel by Edgar Degas disappeared from the Cantini museum in Marseille, also in the south of France. The 1877 painting worth 800,000 euros had been lent for an exhibition by the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

It had been unscrewed from the wall and there was no evidence of a break-in, police said, indicating the thief or thieves knew how to get round the museum's security system.

In June last yar, the Picasso Museum in Paris was robbed in broad daylight of a book of drawings by the celebrated 20th century artist, worth an estimated three million euros.

Stolen masterpieces are rarely recovered, but three men are being tried in France for the 2007 theft of three Picassos worth more than 50 million euros from the Paris home of his grand-daughter Diana Widmaier-Picasso.

The paintings were found after a five-month investigation.

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