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.