News brief: Five masterpieces stolen from a Paris museum

Credit: AP / Jacques Brinon

It’s the kind of story you’d think only belongs in mystery books – the kind of plot reminiscent of that retro hero of French novels, Arsene Lupin, “gentleman burglar”, thief in white gloves. To me, art thefts have always had this curious blend of crime and romance. It’s silly and naive, I know – especially when mafias are behind the heist, and when the black market for art is one of the largest illegal trades in the world, right up there with arms and drugs. But works of art are not ordinary objects; maybe that’s why there is something so strange – and, I’ll admit, fascinating – about a painting disappearing. It’s like a talisman on the loose.

Well it happened right here – at Paris’ Museum of Modern Art – right now – just this past night. Five paintings were stolen right under security’s nose: a padlock was hacked, a window was broken, and nobody noticed until 7am… Despite the presence of security cameras. And it is quite a haul:

one Picasso – le Pigeon aux Petits Pois,

one Matisse  – la Pastorale,

one Braque – l’Olivier près de l’Estaque,

one Fernand Leger – Nature morte aux Chandeliers,

and one Modigliani – la Femme à l’Eventail,

Paris City Hall has placed their total value at a conservative 100 million euros. Mayor Bertrand Delanoe says he is “shocked and saddened”. It really is hard to believe. Who would ever try to resell such well-known masterpieces? Who would burden themselves with the least liquid assets in the known universe? Alternately, what mad business deal would involve such hefty asides? What crazed collector would want for his eyes only a piece of Paris heritage? And can you imagine these paintings – bundles of wealth and energy – circulating out there, somewhere?

On a practical note, if you were planning on visiting Paris’ Museum of Modern Art today, you will want to reconsider – it is closed for investigation at the moment.

Credit: Reuters / Benoit Tessier

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