Art thieves in real life: Rotterdam

The empty space where Matisse’s “La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune” used to be.
Next to a painting by Maurice Denis.

Turns out the life of an art thief might not be all that glamorous after all. The problem with stealing something so rare, is that it can be very hard to get rid of when it’s something everyone is looking for, plus close to impossible to sell for all the money it’s really worth.

In the recent heist at the gallery in Rotterdam, the thieves stole seven works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse, and others estimated at being worth more than $100 million at auction. This article today on Fox News doubts whether the thieves even have a plan. If they don’t the works they stole can become more of a burden that they were worth to steal in the first place.

“Reading Girl in White and Yellow”
Stolen Matisse work from 1919 

One illegal art trafficker tried for 20 years to sell a statue of Nero’s mother stolen from Pompeii before it was announced as recovered last Thursday.

After drugs and illicit arms sales, art theft is the third most profitable crime in the world. A lot of stolen art is never found, and experts say that for criminals with connections, the lesser known pieces hardly have any trouble making a return for the thief who stole it.

But according to a recent CBS article, these thieves weren’t the savvy type, and mostly managed success through brute force, yanking the paintings from the walls, leaving only white space and broken hanging wires behind.

“Charing Cross Bridge, London”
Stolen Monet from 1901

They set off the alarm at 3am on Tuesday morning, and even though officers were on the scene within five minutes, the thieves were already gone. Some say this is probably due to the location of the gallery, placed right next to three main highways. Tire tracks were visible outside the emergency exit that played a part in the supposed getaway route.

Twenty-five officers have been assigned to the case but right now the getaway car hasn’t been found and there are no suspects. The Kunsthal museum was shut down only the day of the theft. The director of the museum, Emily Ansenk released this as a part of her statement Tuesday:

“These are unique works which have already been exhibited all over the world, are well documented and were now being exhibited together for the first time ever. We, the Kunsthal, and the Triton Foundation Board are deeply shocked by what has happened, but we will not allow it to defeat us. We have all decided that the exhibition will go ahead as usual tomorrow.”

All images from this NYTimes slideshow.

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