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French officials search for thieves behind shocking art heist

Authorities in Paris on Thursday were hunting for the perpetrators behind a brazen art heist at the Museum of Modern Art, in which five paintings worth as much as $123 million were stolen.

Municipal officials also issued a public plea to the burglars, begging them not to damage the pieces by Picasso, Matisse and others, which authorities believe were stolen by just one individual in a late-night break-in Wednesday evening, according to The Associated Press:

“My only worry today, to be completely honest, is the safety of these paintings,” Christophe Girard told AP Television News. “These people who have taken them, I beg them not to do anything to these paintings …. These are masterpieces that belong to millions of people.”

“Don’t touch them. Give them back,” he pleaded.

Radio France reported on Thursday that the elite “Banditry Repression Brigade” of the Paris police, which was investigating the crime, had uncovered security footage that showed just one man slipping into the museum through a shattered window. The alarm in the museum was broken, officials said, and investigators found a sawed-off lock at the scene.

Some have blamed museum officials for the security lapses, according to The Los Angeles Times:

“The director of the museum should be fired right away,” said Ton Cremers, a museum security consultant and former head of security at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. “It’s unthinkable that your security system not be fully working for two months. It’s like inviting the thieves in.”

The paintings may have a dollar amount attached to them, but as the BBC notes, they are worth much more than their price tags: “If you wanted to start a modern art museum, these paintings would be high on your list of acquisitions as between them they tell the story of modern art’s emergence.”

Authorities in Paris have expressed shock at the daring-do. But as France 24 noted, this is not the first time burglars have lifted valuable works of art from the country’s most cherished museums:

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, also in the south of France. 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.

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  • Mary Carter

    oui, the French couldn’t wouldn’t stop the Germans from stealing their country for 4 years as well as Art because they are incompetent, always were and evidently still are…they know how to cook and then again a Great American, Julie Child proved they were not special at cooking…
    Go figure! Who knew the French were so careless? Answer – The World.

  • Laura Stone

    I hope the new owner can appreciate the kind of experience these paintings offer.
    If so, they will be enriched by the expression of a limitless dance between color, line and shape,
    and captured by that fascination begin to see it themselves beyond the paintings’ boundaries. With
    that, may the need for ownership be dispelled by the need’s absurdity.

  • NYCStef

    What a completely biased and ignorant statement! How is it carelessness when the art pieces were stolen from museums and a private home? Unfortunately thievery is a world-wide occurrence. Please make the world a nicer place by keeping your comments relevant to the news story and not generalizing about an entire country and it’s inhabitants.