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Seven masterpieces stolen in Dutch museum heist

  • Police stands guard at the Rotterdam Kunsthal museum on October 16, 2012. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN UTRECHT

THE HAGUE: Seven masterpieces, including priceless works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Gauguin, were stolen in a night heist at Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum, the biggest such theft in decades.

"On Tuesday morning seven artworks were stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. In consultation with the owners the police can now release their photos," police said in a statement after initially declining to name the works.

"A major investigation is under way and forensics are at the scene," Rotterdam police spokeswoman Patricia Wessels told AFP. "We're investigating how they got access, what time it happened and who did it."

Dutch state television showed a police forensic team dusting one of the Kunsthal's outer doors for fingerprints. The museum's director is flying back from Turkey after hearing news of the theft, television said.

The NOS broadcaster said the haul was worth "millions and millions of euros (dollars)", but the paintings are so famous that it will be difficult to get anything like their real value on the black market.

It is the biggest art theft in The Netherlands since 20 paintings were stolen from Amsterdam's Van Gogh museum in 1991.

The paintings are Pablo Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin", Henri Matisse's "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune", Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London", Paul Gauguin's "Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite La Fiancee", Meyer de Haan's "Autoportrait" and Lucian Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed".

The robbery took place at around 3:00 am (0100 GMT), police said.

"Police are interviewing possible witnesses and examining closed-circuit video footage," the statement said. "An initial investigation suggests that the robbery was well prepared."

She said that police were alerted during the night when an alarm went off but the thief or thieves had made off by the time police arrived at the scene.

A statement on the museum's website quoted director Willem van Hassel as saying that the museum would be closed to the public on Tuesday.

The museum is in Rotterdam's museum park where few people go at night.

The works were among the 150-strong Triton Foundation's collection, which was being shown in its entirety to the public for the first time to mark the museum's 20th anniversary, the Kunsthal's website said.

The collection "has developed into one with an international reputation and which comprises representative works by the most important and influential artists of the late 19th century to the present day," it said.

The exhibition "comprises works from almost every significant art movement", it added.

The Kunsthal, which means "art hall", has no permanent collection of its own.

 
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