October 16, 2012

Experts opine professional thieves may have stolen seven paintings from Rottendam gallery for ransom or to be sold later on the black market for a fraction of their worth

Monet's "Charing Cross Bridge, London" 1901/AP
On October 7, Kunsthal Rotterdam, a showcase of temporary exhibitions, opened "Avante Garde" to celebrate the art gallery's 20 anniversary and to display for the first time in public 150 works collected by Willem and Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan.  Just nine days later, the Kunsthal's alarm system went off shortly after 3 a.m., alerting the exhibition hall's private security detail.  Security personnel arriving by car noticed that seven paintings were missing and informed the Dutch police who began their investigation -- sending in a forensics team to fingerprint the area and collect any physical evidence, interviewing potential witnesses in the area, and reviewing security camera footage.

Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" 1901/AP
Within hours, Dutch police and museum officials released the names of the stolen artwork: Pablo Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin"/"Harlequin Head" (1971); Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" (1901) and "Charing Cross Bridge, London" (1901); Henri Matisse's 'La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune'/"Reading Girl in White and Yellow" (1919); Paul Gauguin's 'Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte, dite la Fiancée'/"Girl in Front of Open Window"/(1898); Meyer de Haan's 'Autoportrait'/"Self-Portrait"/ (circa 1890); and Lucian Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed" (2002). (The images of the paintings here were provided by the Rottendam police to the Associated Press and made available through Spiegel Online).

Gauguin's "Girl in Front of Open Window" 1898
According to security consultant Ton Cremers, the high visibility of the art through the art gallery windows was more of a vulnerability than the lack of night time security guards who could have been taken hostage.  Noah Charney, founder of ARCA, writes that the paintings were likely stolen for ransom.  Chris Marinello of the Art Loss Registry also speculates that the paintings would be ransomed or sold for a fraction of their worth.  Retired Scotland Yard art detective and private investigator Charley Hill believes that the thieves were professionals.

The Kunsthal gallery, normally closed on Mondays, remained closed on Tuesday for the police investigation but planned to reopen on Wednesday.

Picasso's "Harlequin Head" 1971
Spiegel Online offers a photo gallery of the crime scene and the stolen artworks.

Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow"
Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait" c. 1890


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