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Picasso, Matisse Paintings Stolen From Paris Museum

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Picasso, Matisse paintings stolen from Paris museum
A policeman, right, shows to an investigator a window of the Paris Musee d'Art Moderne (Paris modern art museum) where five works including paintings by modern masters Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso have been stolen. Photographer: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

May 20 (Bloomberg) -- A thief stole five paintings, together worth about 100 million euros ($123 million) and including works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, from the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris, French officials said.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said in a statement that the museum’s alarm system was not functioning properly. Three security officials are stationed in the museum every night, the statement said. The paintings were discovered missing between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. today, according to a detective at the scene who declined to be identified by name.

The works stolen were Picasso’s 1911 “Pigeon With Peas,” Matisse’s “Pastorale,” Amedeo Modigliani’s 1919 “Woman With a Fan,” Georges Braque’s “The Olive Tree Near l’Estaque,” and Fernand Leger’s “Still Life With Candlesticks,” according to a museum spokeswoman.

“I am saddened and shocked by this theft, which is an intolerable assault on Paris’s universal cultural heritage,” Delanoe said. He said he has called for an inquiry by the city’s general inspectors to examine whether “technical or human deficiencies made this break-in possible.”

Christophe Girard, the city official responsible for culture, said as he visited the crime scene today that the heist was well organized. He dismissed earlier reports that had said the art was worth as much as 500 million euros.

Sawn-Off Padlock

Officials found a broken window and sawn-off padlock, Girard said. Surveillance cameras showed someone entering the museum by a window, French news agency AFP said. Delanoe said the museum determined that the alarm was not operating correctly on March 30, and had immediately informed the service company. The company responded in 24 hours, yet a demand for new parts from its supplier still hasn’t been met, Delanoe said.

The mayor said the museum was closed to allow the police investigation to proceed unhindered.

Anthony Amore, director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, said the first few hours after such a theft are the most critical. The Boston museum is trying to recover $500 million worth of art stolen in 1990.

Amore said in a telephone interview that he is contacting the Musee d’Art Moderne to offer advice.

“I wasn’t here 20 years ago and there are lots of things I wish had been done that weren’t,” he said. “Every minute counts. You need to gather every detail, no matter how seemingly minute. As times goes on, these details become harder and harder to get your hands on.”

French Thefts

The theft follows other robberies from French museums. In December, thieves stole a pastel drawing by Edgar Degas worth 800,000 euros from the Musee Cantini in Marseille while it was on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. A Picasso sketchbook was stolen from the Picasso Museum in Paris in June last year.

In 2007, a Monet, a Sisley and two Brueghel paintings were stolen from the Musee des Beaux Arts in Nice and five people broke into the Musee d’Orsay in November that year.

Amore, who is writing a book about Rembrandt thefts, said that an estimated $6 billion worth of art is stolen every year.

“Thefts are alarmingly common around the world,” he said. “There is a problem everywhere with museum security.”

He said 90 percent of all art theft involves a museum insider.

“Generally, a theft like this will either be solved very quickly, or not until a generation from now,” Amore said. “If they move quickly enough, there could be a quick recovery.”

The Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris opened in 1961 and is located on Avenue du President Wilson. Its alarm system was updated between 2004 and 2006, Delanoe said.

To contact the writers on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net; A. Craig Copetas in Paris at ccopetas@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net

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