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September 30, 2016

February 10, 2008 - Museum Theft, Foundation E.G. Bührle, Switzerland

An art heist at gunpoint occurred on February 10, 2008 at the private Zürich gallery run by the Foundation E.G. Bührle in Switzerland. Emil Bührle was a German-born industrialist who sold arms to the Nazis during World War II.  The private museum was established by the Bührle family foundation in order to make the Emil Georg Bührle's collection, of mostly European sculptures and paintings more accessible to the public. The art collection is housed in an elegant Zurich villa adjoining Bührle's former residence.

On the day of the heist, three thieves rushed the gallery shortly before its specified closing time.  Brandishing a handgun, the staff on duty were ordered to lay face-down on the floor, after which the thieves removed four late nineteenth century artworks from the wall.  

The artworks taken were:

Blossoming Chestnut Branches, 1890
by Vincent Van Gogh
Oil on canvas 72.0 x 91.0 cm
Completed in Auvers-sur-Oise

Poppies near Vétheuil, 1879
Signed lower right: Claude Monet
Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm
Wildenstein 536

Count Lepic and His Daughters, 1871
by Edgar Degas
oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm
Lemoisne 272

Boy in the Red Waistcoat, 1895
by Paul Cézanne 
oil on canvas: overall: 89.5 x 72.4 cm

On February 18, 2008, eight days after the theft, two of the stolen paintings, Poppies near Vétheuil and Blossoming Chestnut Branches, were found. The artworks were discovered undamaged in the rear seat of the unlocked getaway car  which had been abandoned in the parking area of a nearby Zurich psychiatric hospital a short distance away from the Bührle.

The painting Count Lepic and His Daughters by Edgar Degas, regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, was recovered four years later in April 2012. Information about its initial recovery was withheld from the public to avoid compromising an ongoing investigation with Swiss and Serbian authorities who were still actively working to recover the final painting by Paul Cézanne.

Lukas Gloor, director of the E.G. Buehrle Collection, speaks at a news conference
in front of the recovered paintings 'Blossoming Chestnut Branches,'
by Vincent van Gogh, Credit Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Cezanne's £68.3 million The Boy in the Red Vest was the last painting to be recovered.  It was located on April 12, 2012 inside a hidden roof car panel inside an automobile belonging to a suspect arrested in Belgrade, Serbia.