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Major artworks stolen in Paris
Five paintings including a Picasso and Matisse taken in theft worth estimated $124m.
Last Modified: 20 May 2010 18:29 GMT
The Olive Tree near l'Estaque by French painter Georges Braque was one of the stolen paintings [AFP]

Five masterpieces including works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse worth an estimated $124m have been stolen from a museum in Paris, in what could be one of the world's biggest art thefts.

The robbery at the Musee d'Art Moderne in the French capital was discovered by employees on Thursday morning when they noticed a smashed window pane.

Video surveillance cameras showed one person entering the museum through a window, but it is unclear whether more thieves were involved.

The stolen works included Picasso's Dove with Green Peas, Matisse's Pastoral, George Braque's Olive Tree near l'Estaque, Amedeo Modigliani's Woman with a Fan and Ferdinand Leger's Still Life with Candlestick.

"This is a serious crime to the heritage of humanity," Christophe Girard, culture deputy for the mayor of Paris told a news conference.

"These are key paintings by major artists," he said, adding the theft was committed by "one or more individuals who were obviously organised".

Police have launched an investigation into the theft, a spokesman for the Paris prosecutor's office said.

High profile thefts

The Musee d'Art Moderne, located in the well-off 16th arrondissement, a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower, is home to more than 8,000 works of art from the 20th century.

Art theft timeline

 February 2008: Four paintings by Cezanne, Degas, Van Gogh and Monet, valued at over $162m, stolen from Zurich museum.

 August 2007: Two Bruegels, a Sisley and a Monet, stolen from Jules Cheret Museum in Nice, France. Recovered the following year.

 February 2006: Works by Salvador Dali, Picasso, Matisse and Monet taken from museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 August 2004: Edvard Munch's The Scream and Madonna, valued at $100m, stolen from Oslo museum. Recovered, damaged, in 2006.

 December 2007: Two Van Gogh paintings stolen from museum in Amsterdam.

Source: AFP news agency

The museum, which had initially estimated the worth of the paintings at $600m, revised the figure later in the day.

The robbery has come amid a growing number of thefts in recent months.

In January, about 30 paintings, including some by Picasso and  Henri Rousseau, were stolen from a private villa in the Cote d'Azur, with a total estimated value of around $1.2m.

On 31 January, a pastel by Edgar Degas disappeared from the Cantini museum in Marseille, also in the south of France.

The 1877 painting worth nearly $1m 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.

Stolen masterpieces are rarely recovered, but three men are being tried in France for the 2007 theft of three Picassos worth more than $62m from the Paris home of his grand-daughter.

The paintings were found after a five-month investigation.

Source:
Agencies
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