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Thieves Exploited Security Flaw to Steal Monets, Picasso

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'La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune'
"La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune" by Henri Matisse. Source: Police Rotterdam/AP via Bloomberg

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- The thieves who stole seven paintings including works by Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet from the Rotterdam Kunsthal on Oct. 16 probably exploited a flaw in the locking security system, the museum said in a statement.

The museum said it has an electronic locking system that responds to the alarm. After some time, the electronic system deactivates automatically, although the doors remain mechanically locked, according to a Kunsthal e-mailed statement sent today.

“The investigation into the theft that took place on Monday evening has revealed that the burglars probably forced the locks” after the electronic locking system automatically deactivated, the Kunsthal said. Camera images show the burglary took just two minutes, the museum said.

Seven paintings, including works by Picasso, Monet, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Lucian Freud were stolen from the Kunsthal in the Dutch port city. The combined value may be as much as $130 million, making the burglary one of the most spectacular art heists of the last few decades.

The paintings stolen were Picasso’s “Tete d’Arlequin;” Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London;” Freud’s “Woman with Eyes Closed;” Matisse’s “La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune;” Gauguin’s “Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite la Fiancee,” and Meyer de Haan’s “Autoportrait.”

Fire System

The museum has since made adjustments to its locking system, according to the statement. Its alarm, camera and entrance control systems were all inspected in the past months and a new fire alarm and smoke detectors were installed earlier this year, it said.

The theft took place at about 3.15 a.m. on Oct. 16, the Rotterdam-Rijnmond police said. Investigators have released camera pictures on which the faces of the thieves are unidentifiable. They are hoping that people may recognize the combination of two or more figures and their distinctive bags, a statement on the police website said. Investigators have received 60 leads so far, it said.

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on Scottish dining and Craig Seligman on books.

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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