Art Heist at the Kunstal Museum

Seven Masterpieces Robbed
in Rotterdam

Nélida Nassar  10.16.2012

The Kunsthal museum located in Rotterdam, the Netherlands is a display space that has
no permanent collection of its own but exhibits the artworks of various foundations —
thus the name means “art gallery” in Dutch. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, 150 paintings from the Triton foundation collection representing the bulk of its collection
and of considerable value were presented for the first time as a single exhibition that opened last week.  It is one of two exhibitions planned and arranged to honor the museum’s anniversary.

The unthinkable happened when seven paintings, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Meyer de Haan and Lucien Freud were stolen during Monday to Tuesday night. The television channel NOS broadcasted that the Dutch police announced “Seven masterpieces were stolen from the Kunsthal museum. At first, the police refused to release images of the paintings then with the consent of the paintings’ owners, they recanted publishing the artworks’ photographs accompanied with a press release.” Dutch public television showed footage of police experts looking for fingerprints on the Kunsthal’s exterior doors.

The Triton Foundation is the repository of a collection of avant-garde art put together by multi-millionaire Willem Cordia, an investor and businessman who died last year. The museum’s website describes the foundation as being “of an international reputation and owns artworks of the most important and influential artists of the late 19th century
to today.”

The looted works include Pablo Picasso’s Harlequin Head, Reading Girl in White and
Yellow by Henri Matisse, Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London
signed Claude Monet and Girl in Front of Open Window, called the Bride by Paul Gauguin.  Part of the theft is also Meyer de Haan’s Self-Portrait and Woman with Eyes Closed by Lucian Freud.

It is the largest pillage of artworks in the Netherlands since 1991 when 20 paintings were robbed from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. “An investigation has been opened and experts are on the scene,” the Rotterdam police spokesperson, Patricia Wessels declared: “We are trying to find out how the robbers accessed the museum, at what time the theft happened and who are the culprits?” The plunder is estimated to have taken place around 3:00 (0100 GMT), police added.

“The police is interviewing potential witnesses and is examining the closed-circuit video footage of the museum” the statement said, adding “according to preliminary results, it appears that the theft has been well prepared.” The police was alerted during the night, according to the spokesperson, when an alarm was triggered, but the thief or thieves were already gone when police arrived on the scene.

The stolen paintings are so famous that it should, however, be difficult to obtain a sum close to their real value on the black market. This type of paintings targeted were likely stolen for ransom, as there is no black market in which such high-profile art can be sold.  Whether or not the looters realize this, is another question.

Originally Published in Berkshire Fine Arts

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