Works valued at €100 million stolen from the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Picasso's Le pigeon aux petits pois is amongst the paintings stolen from a Paris museum

Five paintings, in total valued at almost €100 million. were stolen from the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris overnight on Wednesday. The works were Le pigeon aux petits pois by Pablo Picasso, La Pastorale by Henri Matisse, L'Olivier Près de l'Estaque by Georges Braque, La Femme a l'Eventail by Amedeo Modigliani and Nature Morte aux Chandeliers by Fernand Léger.

The museum itself has been closed and cordoned off by police investigating the theft. The thief is believed to have entered the museum by climbing through a window and the museum is investigating how the theft took place despite the presence of guards and a complex security system.

Christophe Girard, deputy mayor of Paris with responsibility for culture, told a press conference: "This is a serious crime to the heritage of humanity", adding that the perpetrator or perpetrators were "obviously organised". It is thought that the paintings are too well known to be easily sold and there has been speculation that they will be used as "currency" by criminal gangs, as opposed to having been "stolen for hire" on behalf of a collector.

An unnamed source told The Daily Telegraph: "It's an enormous crime, one of the biggest in art history" while the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, called the theft "an intolerable attack on Paris's universal cultural heritage" and art historian Tim Marlow commented that the thief obviously "knew what he was taking".

The theft was discovered at approximately 7a.m. local time (5a.m. UTC) by museum staff. The Paris prosecutor's office said that a single masked man was captured on CCTV walking away with the works, which had been removed from their frames with care rather than being sliced out. The paintings belong to the museum's permanent collection.

Investigators are questioning museum staff after speculation that the perpetrator may have had assistance from somebody on "the inside". The investigation into the thefts is being led by the Brigade de Répression du Banditisme, an elite French police unit.