By Calvin Palmer
A lone thief broke into a Paris art museum last night and made off with five modern masterpieces, including works by Matisse and Picasso.
The paintings, with a value of $125 million, were found to be missing just before the Musee d’Art Moderne was to open today.
The gallery was sealed off by police as they searched for clues.
The thief sheared off a gate padlock and broke a window to get into the gallery and then disabled the alarm system to carry out the daring heist.
“According to estimates by the management of the Musee d’Art Moderne, the value of the stolen canvases totals between €90 and €100 million,” said a spokesman for Paris city hall, which operates the museum.
The paintings stolen were Pigeon with Green Peas by Picasso; Pastoral by Henri Matisse; The Olive Tree near Estaque by Georges Braque; The Woman with the Fan by Amedeo Modigliani ; and Still Life with Chandeliers by Fernand Leger.
“The Picasso might be worth €40 to €50 million ($50 to $62 million), the Braque €10 to €20 million ($12 to $25 million),” said Didier Rykner, editor of the specialist magazine The Art Tribune.
“But in any case, we’re talking about a theoretical value, they don’t have a market value, because you couldn’t openly sell them. They’re too well known.”
Video surveillance cameras recorded only one person entering through a window. Police gave few other details, although the city spokesman said an alarm system had been disabled.
Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe expressed shock at the theft which he called “an intolerable attack on the universal cultural heritage in Paris”.
The burglary is the biggest art theft since four paintings by Cezanne, Degas, Van Gogh and Monet valued at more than 180 million Swiss francs ($156 million) were stolen from a Zurich museum in February 2008.
Located in the well-heeled 16th arrondissement or district in leafy western Paris, the Musee d’Art Moderne is located in the 16th arrondissement in leafy western Paris and close to the Eiffel Tower. Operated by the city authorities, it is home to more than 8,000 20th century works of art.