Seven stolen masterpieces by some of the world's most famous artists are feared to have gone up in smoke.

A Romanian museum official said on Wednesday that ash from the oven of a woman whose son stands accused of stealing seven multimillion-dollar paintings, contains paint, canvas and nails.

The finding appears to be evidence that Olga Dogaru may have been telling the truth when she claimed to have burned the paintings.

Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, director of Romania's National History Museum, told the AP news agency that some of the remains pre-dated the 20th century.

"We discovered a series of substances which are specific to paintings and pictures," he said.

The masterpieces were taken in an art heist in the Netherlands in October - all in broad daylight and all stripped off the walls in just two minutes.

The paintings were Pablo Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin Head", Claude Monet's 1901 "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London", Henri Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow", Paul Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window", Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait" of around 1890 and Lucian Freud's 2002 work "Woman with Eyes Closed."

Oberlander-Tarnoveanu refused to say definitively that the ashes were those of the paintings but forensic specialists at the museum have been analyzing them from Dogaru's stove since March, and will hand their results to prosecutors next week.

Three Romanian suspects were arrested in January, but the paintings have not been found. The stolen works have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars if they were sold at auction.

Art market experts said the Rotterdam thieves may have discovered what many art thieves have before them _ that easily identifiable paintings by famous artists are extremely difficult to sell at anything like their auction

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies