New art theft in France: police

22nd May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Robbers attacked a pensioner in his home and stole five art works, including a Picasso lithograph, only hours after a major theft of paintings in a Paris museum, police said Saturday.

The assault occurred early Friday, after two unidentified men rang the doorbell at the victim's home in Marseille, southern France.

On opening the door he was violently punched as the men rushed into the living room and seized the pictures before making their escape.

The victim, who was not named, was taken to hospital for treatment. Police said Saturday they were hunting for the robbers and the value of the haul had not yet been determined.

On Wednesday night a thief broke into the Modern Art Museum in Paris in a swift and simple raid, seizing five paintings valued at between 90 and 100 million euros (112 and 125 million dollars).

Three guards were on duty but one of the alarms was defective and other security systems were apparently overcome.

The paintings cut from their frames were by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Fernand Leger and Amedeo Modigliani. Experts said they would be impossible to sell openly.

Interpol said Saturday it had circulated images and descriptions of the stolen works to its 188 member states at France's request.

The images have also been added to the international police organisation's stolen works of art database, which can be accessed online not only by law enforcement agencies but also by bodies such as culture ministries, museums, auction houses, art galleries, foundations and collectors "who may have vital information relating to the theft," it said.

Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol's executive director, was quoted as saying, "These extraordinary paintings by these great masters are so recognisable that they will be difficult to sell in any market.

"Their inclusion in Interpol's publicly accessible works of art database will allow any legitimate buyer of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Leger and Modigliani to determine whether their purchase would be legal and for the public to remain alert as to what has been reported stolen."

Interpol said that officers from its headquarters in Lyon, southwest France, were liaising with French police investigators.

In January, about 30 paintings -- including some by Picasso and Henri 'Douanier' Rousseau -- were stolen from a private villa in the Cote d'Azur, with a total estimated value of around one million euros.

On New Year's Eve, a pastel by Edgar Degas disappeared from the Cantini museum in Marseille. The 1877 painting worth 800,000 euros had been lent for an exhibition by the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

In June last year, the Picasso Museum in Paris was robbed in broad daylight of a book of drawings by the celebrated 20th century artist, worth an estimated three million euros.

© 2010 AFP

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