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Theft of 4 Masterworks Zurich Museum

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Theft of 4 Masterworks Zurich Museum

Post by shammy on Tue Feb 12, 2008 7:18 am

12th February, 2008

ZURICH — Three men wearing ski masks walked into a private museum here in daylight, grabbed four 19th-century masterpieces, tossed them into a van and sped off, pulling off one of the largest and most audacious art robberies of all time. It was the second multimillion-dollar art heist in Switzerland in less than a week.

Switzerland was stunned, not just by the loss of half a dozen masterpieces by the likes of Picasso and Monet but, based on police reports emerging Monday, by the seeming ease with which they disappeared.

On Sunday, the three men who entered the E. G. Bührle Collection here took four paintings — a Cézanne, a Degas, a van Gogh and a Monet together worth an estimated $163 million — but not the most valuable works in the collection. The four just happened to be hanging in the same room.

The Wednesday before, in a nighttime theft in the nearby town of Pfäffikon, thieves stole two Picassos worth an estimated $4.4 million.

The twin robberies have focused attention on art theft as nothing has done since criminals in Norway stole the iconic painting “The Scream,” as well as “The Madonna,” by Munch in August 2004.

The Zurich theft was “probably the biggest art robbery in Europe,” according to Marco Cortesi, spokesman for the Zurich police, but did not appear to be the largest in history.

Estimates vary widely for such rare and rarely sold works, but the value of the paintings taken in the infamous 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the biggest art theft in American history, has been estimated as high as $300 million, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Web site.

Like the stolen Munch paintings, which were valued at $121 million, those stolen in Zurich are considered major works and so widely known as to be “unsalable,” said Richard Kendall, a prominent scholar of late-19th-century French art and a curator at large at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass.

The 1879 Monet, “Poppies Near Vertheuil,” and the 1890 van Gogh, “Blossoming Chestnut Branches,” “are classic statements by these two artists,” Mr. Kendall said in a telephone interview. He called the Cézanne, “Boy in a Red Vest” from 1895, “fabulous, stunning, powerful” and one of the artist’s “greatest achievements.”

The Degas, “Count Lepic and His Daughters” (circa 1871), he said, was less impressive than the other works seized and inferior to the artist’s best portraits.

The mix of value and quality added to the impression that the robbery was as haphazard as it was brazen.

According to the local police and officials at the Bührle Collection, one of the top private museums for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in Europe, three men wearing ski masks entered the museum barely a half hour before the 5 p.m. closing time on Sunday.

One of the thieves pulled a handgun and ordered terrified staff members and visitors to lie down on the floor, as the other two men pulled the paintings off the wall. The police said paintings appeared to be sticking out of the back of the white van the men used to make their getaway.

The museum’s director, Lukas Gloor, said the museum generally did not check visitors’ bags and had no metal detectors, which he said the entry hall of the building was too narrow to accommodate. The collection is housed in a 19th-century villa in a quiet residential neighborhood, where state-of-the art offices border on ancient villas with large private parks.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/12/world/europe/12swiss.html?ref=europe
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shammy

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