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Rotterdam Museum Shuts Down After Seven Paintings Are Stolen Overnight - NYTimes.com

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A Picasso and a Gauguin Are Among 7 Works Stolen From a Dutch Museum

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PARIS — With impeccable timing and taste, thieves in the wee hours of Tuesday morning plundered an art museum in the Netherlands that was celebrating its 20th birthday and made away with seven borrowed paintings, including valuable works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud.

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Art Theft Strips Dutch Museum of Masterpieces

The Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam — which was exhibiting a private collection owned by the Triton Foundation — was closed to the public after the theft, but the bare spaces on its walls were visible to photographers through windows in its modern building by Rotterdam’s museum park and busy Maasboulevard.

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Rotterdam Museum Shuts Down After Seven Paintings Are Stolen Overnight - NYTimes.com

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12/12/12 8:49 AM

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Europe, now a prime hunting ground for art thieves. In 2010 five paintings, including a Picasso and a Matisse, together valued at about 100 million euros, or about $130 million, were stolen from the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris; they are still missing.

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Police investigators combed the grounds of the museum and studied surveillance video for clues to the burglary, which they said happened about 3 a.m. and set off an alarm linked to a security agency. But by the time police arrived soon after, the works had vanished.

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The art, part of a collection amassed by a Dutch investor, Willem Cordia, who died in 2011, was exhibited in public for the first time last week at the Kunsthal, which does not Twitter List: Reporters and Editors have a collection of its own. The stolen paintings span parts of three centuries: Meyer de Haan’s “Self-Portrait” of 1890 and Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London,” both from 1901; Matisse’s 1919 “Reading Girl in White and Yellow” and Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head”; and Freud’s haunting 2002 portrait “Woman With Eyes Closed.”

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The theft “was carefully thought out, cleverly conceived and it was quickly executed, so that suggests professionals,” said Charles Hill, a retired Scotland Yard art detective turned private investigator who went undercover to retrieve a version of “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch, after it was stolen in 1994 in Oslo. “The volume,” he added, “suggests that whoever stole it owes somebody a lot of money, and it’s got to be a major-league villain.” “My best guess is that someone doesn’t have the cash to repay a loan,” he said. Marc Masurovsky, a historian and an expert on plundered art in Washington, noted the possibility that the theft was “a contract job,” adding: “These works were picked out. Could it be they had been targeted well before the theft, and the exhibit was the opportunity to strike?” Willem van Hassel, the chairman of the Kunsthal’s board, announced the closing of the museum on Tuesday and later held a news conference to declare that adequate security measures had been taken. At the same conference, the museum’s director, Emily Ansenk, said that night measures involved “technical security,” with no guards but camera surveillance and alarms. Museum officials said that the police had arrived on the museum grounds within five minutes of the alarm. Ms. Ansenk told reporters that the burglary “has hit the art world like a bomb” and described it “as a nightmare for any museum director.” Kunsthal officials declined to estimate the value of the stolen works, though experts say they are collectively worth many millions of dollars, possibly hundreds of millions. Still, it would be difficult for thieves to sell such easily identifiable artworks, contributing to suspicions about underworld finances.

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“I think it’s a form of repayment in kind, a barter — 'I don’t have cash, but I have these paintings,’ ” said Mr. Hill, the art investigator.

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Rotterdam Museum Shuts Down After Seven Paintings Are Stolen Overnight - NYTimes.com

12/12/12 8:49 AM

Kunsthal officials vowed that the museum would reopen on Wednesday. A version of this article appeared in print on October 17, 2012, on page C2 of the New York edition with the headline: A Picasso and a Gauguin Are Among 7 Works Stolen From a Dutch Museum. SAVE

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