Paris thieves net Picasso, Matisse in $124 million heist

Thu May 20, 2010 2:33pm EDT
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By Elisabeth Pineau and John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - Art thieves stole paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and two other well-known artists from a Paris museum overnight in a heist worth 100 million euros ($124 million).

Officials from the Musee d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris said they discovered the five paintings, which included works by Fernand Leger and Georges Braque, were missing after noticing a smashed window pane as they opened for business on Thursday.

"This is a serious crime against the heritage of humanity," said Christophe Girard, culture deputy for the mayor of Paris. He did not know how many thieves were involved.

Museum officials said the paintings were worth about 100 million euros in total, revising an earlier figure of 500 million euros released by the police and public prosecutors.

The last big art theft in Paris was that of 32 drawings at the Picasso Museum worth 8 million euros last June. Both thefts raise the question of what could be done with the works.

Robert Read, head of art and private clients at specialist insurer Hiscox in London, said private buyers were unlikely to have ordered the robbery as art was acquired to be exhibited.

"It's more likely to be criminals trying to extort money from the museum or state, or who trade it in the underworld for drugs or weapons," he said.

The stolen works were Picasso's "Dove with Green Peas," Matisse's "Pastorale," Braque's "Olive tree near l'Estaque," Modigliani's "Woman on the range" and Leger's "Still life with candlesticks."   Continued...

<p>A reproduction of "Pastorale, Nympe et Faune" painted in 1906 by Henri Matisse is seen in this undated handout. REUTERS/Handout</p>